December 26, 2018

Impactful Shows From Cincinnati Stages in 2018 According to CityBeat's Theater Critic

Lots of great theater happened on Cincinnati stages during 2018, making it tough to single out the “best” shows of 2018. So I’m simply offering my opinions regarding the shows that I’m still thinking about as the year draws to a close.

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Misery at the Playhouse in the Park
At the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, the mainstage production that keeps coming back to me is the 2018-2019 season-opener, a theatrical adaptation of Stephen King’s Misery. Truth to tell, there’s not a lot of opportunity for suspense in this tale, since it was a best-selling novel as well as a much remembered 1990 movie (for which Kathy Bates won an Academy Award). But the Playhouse production was a showcase for actors, with Barbara Chisholm playing the psychopathic “No. 1 Fan” Annie Wilkes, and David Whalen as the unfortunate novelist who falls into her clutches after a car accident. Even while some theatergoers remembered Chisholm as funny, pragmatic Erma Bombeck from a prior season, she brought Annie to creepy, demented life and kept everyone on the edge of their seats.
Photo: Mikki Schaffner Photography

Misery at the Playhouse in the Park

At the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, the mainstage production that keeps coming back to me is the 2018-2019 season-opener, a theatrical adaptation of Stephen King’s Misery. Truth to tell, there’s not a lot of opportunity for suspense in this tale, since it was a best-selling novel as well as a much remembered 1990 movie (for which Kathy Bates won an Academy Award). But the Playhouse production was a showcase for actors, with Barbara Chisholm playing the psychopathic “No. 1 Fan” Annie Wilkes, and David Whalen as the unfortunate novelist who falls into her clutches after a car accident. Even while some theatergoers remembered Chisholm as funny, pragmatic Erma Bombeck from a prior season, she brought Annie to creepy, demented life and kept everyone on the edge of their seats.
Photo: Mikki Schaffner Photography
Cincinnati King at the Playhouse in the Park
The Playhouse’s Shelterhouse is where new plays are frequently staged and this year the lineup was again all by female playwrights. Deborah Zoe Laufer’s Be Here Now, about an unexpected love affair, and Allyson Currin’s Sooner/Later, about coincidences and unsuccessful dates, were both excellent. But KJ Sanchez’s Cincinnati King, chronicling the ups and downs of Cincinnati’s own King Records from the 1940s to the 1960s, will stick with me. It’s a great piece of local entertainment history.
Photo: Mikki Schaffner Photography

Cincinnati King at the Playhouse in the Park

The Playhouse’s Shelterhouse is where new plays are frequently staged and this year the lineup was again all by female playwrights. Deborah Zoe Laufer’s Be Here Now, about an unexpected love affair, and Allyson Currin’s Sooner/Later, about coincidences and unsuccessful dates, were both excellent. But KJ Sanchez’s Cincinnati King, chronicling the ups and downs of Cincinnati’s own King Records from the 1940s to the 1960s, will stick with me. It’s a great piece of local entertainment history.
Photo: Mikki Schaffner Photography
His Eye is on the Sparrow at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati
Fine acting has become the hallmark of productions by Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, and it was a rare treat to have Todd Almond back in town for Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which he starred in back in 2001 and 2003. But my vote for the most memorable performance goes to Torie Wiggins, who brought legendary singer Ethel Waters to life in His Eye Is on the Sparrow this spring. With simple piano accompaniment by Scot Woolley, Wiggins’ captivating rendition of Jazz, Pop and Gospel classics — while recreating the trials and tribulations of Waters’ never-easy life — was one to admire.
Photo: Ryan Kurtz

His Eye is on the Sparrow at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati

Fine acting has become the hallmark of productions by Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, and it was a rare treat to have Todd Almond back in town for Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which he starred in back in 2001 and 2003. But my vote for the most memorable performance goes to Torie Wiggins, who brought legendary singer Ethel Waters to life in His Eye Is on the Sparrow this spring. With simple piano accompaniment by Scot Woolley, Wiggins’ captivating rendition of Jazz, Pop and Gospel classics — while recreating the trials and tribulations of Waters’ never-easy life — was one to admire.
Photo: Ryan Kurtz
1984 at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company
Settling into its new Over-the-Rhine theater, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company had the chance to show off with productions that could never have happened on its former stage. Of course, works by Shakespeare were well done, but the frightening video projections for the October stage adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 are surely seared into my brain in a production that felt startlingly timely in 2018. The collaboration with Brave Berlin, the creative organization that produced the BLINK art and light festival in 2017, was a stroke of genius.
Photo: Mikki Schaffner Photography

1984 at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

Settling into its new Over-the-Rhine theater, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company had the chance to show off with productions that could never have happened on its former stage. Of course, works by Shakespeare were well done, but the frightening video projections for the October stage adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 are surely seared into my brain in a production that felt startlingly timely in 2018. The collaboration with Brave Berlin, the creative organization that produced the BLINK art and light festival in 2017, was a stroke of genius.
Photo: Mikki Schaffner Photography
The Man-Beast at Know Theatre
In addition to the annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival, Know Theatre keeps audiences entertained with shows by lesser known playwrights and stories that dance around the edges of our imagination. Joseph Zettelmaier’s The Man-Beast in October told a two-character werewolf tale with some surprising twists and turns. Set in 18th-century France, it caught audiences unaware more than once. Jim Hopkins and Jennifer Joplin, regulars with Cincy Shakes, turned in physically demanding and gripping performances.
Photo: Dan R. Winters

The Man-Beast at Know Theatre

In addition to the annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival, Know Theatre keeps audiences entertained with shows by lesser known playwrights and stories that dance around the edges of our imagination. Joseph Zettelmaier’s The Man-Beast in October told a two-character werewolf tale with some surprising twists and turns. Set in 18th-century France, it caught audiences unaware more than once. Jim Hopkins and Jennifer Joplin, regulars with Cincy Shakes, turned in physically demanding and gripping performances.
Photo: Dan R. Winters
Waitress at the Aronoff Center
A few other theater productions that I’ll remember kicked off with a January tour stop by Waitress at the Aronoff Center. It’s the rare Broadway production (this show is still running in New York, in fact) that tells a heartfelt story about characters who create magic in everyday life — through baking, in this case. 
Photo: Joan Marcus

Waitress at the Aronoff Center

A few other theater productions that I’ll remember kicked off with a January tour stop by Waitress at the Aronoff Center. It’s the rare Broadway production (this show is still running in New York, in fact) that tells a heartfelt story about characters who create magic in everyday life — through baking, in this case.
Photo: Joan Marcus
Dreamgirls at The Carnegie
In August The Carnegie in Covington staged the 1981 Broadway musical Dreamgirls, about the rise, fall and rise of a Pop trio resembling The Supremes. Directed by Torie Wiggins (not long after playing Ethel Waters at ETC), the production featured a cast of talented, diverse performers, several of whom would be great to see more frequently. 
Photo: Mikki Schaffner Photography

Dreamgirls at The Carnegie

In August The Carnegie in Covington staged the 1981 Broadway musical Dreamgirls, about the rise, fall and rise of a Pop trio resembling The Supremes. Directed by Torie Wiggins (not long after playing Ethel Waters at ETC), the production featured a cast of talented, diverse performers, several of whom would be great to see more frequently.
Photo: Mikki Schaffner Photography
The Pillowman at Falcon Theatre
Tiny Falcon Theatre (at its own 100-seat venue in Newport) gave a powerful rendering of Martin McDonough’s harrowing The Pillowman, set in a nameless police state where a man is abusively interrogated about some violent child murders that he may or may not have committed.
Photo: Falcon Theatre Facebook

The Pillowman at Falcon Theatre

Tiny Falcon Theatre (at its own 100-seat venue in Newport) gave a powerful rendering of Martin McDonough’s harrowing The Pillowman, set in a nameless police state where a man is abusively interrogated about some violent child murders that he may or may not have committed.
Photo: Falcon Theatre Facebook