25: The Season (at Ensemble Theatre)

OK, I’m a little behind the curve in sharing the word about Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati’s 25th season, which was actually announced about a week ago. It was a tad anticlimactic, since Producing Artistic Director D. Lynn Meyers had announced some of this information back in early June. Nevertheless, with the opening of the 2010-2011 season just a few weeks away, the complete picture is now in place. ETC will offer four regional premieres, a premiere musical revue and several special limited performance events.—-

ETC will open its silver anniversary season with the regional premiere of Donald Margulies’ Collected Stories (Sept. 8-26). Margulies is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and the show just had a strong Broadway run. It’s likely to play well with Cincinnati audiences. (ETC has done sterling work with other scripts by Margulies, including Dinner With Friends and Sight Unseen.) It’s the story of an accomplished author with a romantic past and her bright-eyed young protégé.

The season’s second production will be another regional premiere, Thurgood (Oct.13-31) by George Stevens Jr., a one-actor tribute to the legendary civil rights attorney Thurgood Marshall, who eventually found himself in a seat on the United States Supreme Court. He started out as a troubled kid from the backstreets of Baltimore. The play describes his journey.

Running during the same period as Thurgood will be six performances of Kathy Y. Wilson’s Your Negro Tour Guide, a one-woman adaptation of columns and commentaries by the outspoken former CityBeat columnist. Her columns for the paper and commentaries for National Public Radio have been turned into a one-woman performance by CCM drama grad Torie Wiggins. (The piece was presented locally during the 2009 Fringe Festival; it has subsequently toured around the country.)

ETC has a way with the holidays, and this year they’re resurrecting Cinderella (Dec. 1-30), an original fairytale musical that was a big hit with local audiences back in 2005. It’s a clever retelling of a familiar story with a book by local playwright Joe McDonough, lyrics by David Kisor and music by Fitz Patton.

Moving into 2011, ETC will present a 2010 Tony nominee for best play, Gregory Nauffts’ Next Fall (Jan. 26-Feb. 13), winner of the Outer Critics Circle Award for best new American play. The story explores issues of faith, gay partnership, families and what it means to love in a world that is trying to come to grips with new ways of defining who we are.

Another award winner follows, Deborah Zoe Laufer’s End Days (March 16-April 3). The regional premiere of the play that received a 2008 citation from the Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association is about the apocalypse coming Wednesday — in the midst of a raft of other personal traumas facing Rachel Stein that include her reclusive father, her mother (who’s made friends with Jesus) and a 16-year-old neighbor who’s an Elvis impersonator. Laufer’s play Sirens was a big hit at the 2010 Humana Festival at Actors Theatre of Louisville.

To wrap up the regular season, ETC is cobbling together a greatest-hits compilation of music from its 25 seasons — ranging from Hedwig and the Angry Inch and The Great American Trailer Park Musical to Grey Gardens, Souvenir and The Marvelous Wonderettes. I suspect that fans of ETC will love 25: The Musical (May 4-22).

ETC had enough box office success during its last season to decide to add a Saturday matinee subscription series. The theater has also decided to seek a summer audience, a venture ETC has not undertaken for quite a few years. They’ll present With Glee (June 15-July 3), with book music and lyrics by John Gregor. It has nothing to do with the hit TV series: It’s a musical comedy about five nerdy teenage boys sent away to a boarding school in Maine. As they revel in the trials of their freshman year the show offers the notion that every life must be lived to its fullest, every song sung with glee. The show recently had an extended off-Broadway run and it seems like the kind of show that audiences will love during the summer months.

Subscriptions go on sale Monday. With Glee, not part of the season package, will be available for purchase by subscribers in early November. Find more info here.

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