In Search of the Stepford Wives

The Stepford Wife refuses to balance her high heels on the steps of Cincinnati's landmark Music Hall. It doesn't matter if Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO) Music Director Paavo J#228rvi makes her

The Stepford Wife refuses to balance her high heels on the steps of Cincinnati's landmark Music Hall. It doesn't matter if Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO) Music Director Paavo J#228rvi makes her giggle like a schoolgirl or that attending a Cincinnati Opera production has become the "it" thing to do with her suburban friends. The steps of Music Hall are too gritty for her liking, and the streets surrounding the stately brick performance hall smell bad and look worse.

There are homeless people in Washington Park across the street. At least they look like homeless people. She's heard of panhandlers who come up close when they ask for money. Why on earth would she put on her best Nordstrom-By-Mail heels just so some panhandler could scuff them with his dirty sneakers?

City life, even if it involves world-class orchestras and acclaimed opera companies, is not for the Stepford Wife as long as sidewalk litter, panhandlers or homeless people are nearby. That's not her idea of culture, no matter how beautiful Music Hall might appear inside or how wonderful the performances are on the stage.

Have you watched the 1975 Hollywood sci-fi mystery The Stepford Wives lately?

Its tale — based on Ira Levin's novel about women who blissfully go about their daily chores — will soon return to movie screens. Actress Nicole Kidman is starring in a remake by director Frank Oz, due sometime next year.

In the movie, the Wives are robots created to better serve their husbands. I'll leave it to you to determine exactly what that phrase means.

In Cincinnati's arts land, Stepford Wives are the suburban women with plenty of disposable income but little interest in coming downtown to spend it. Their reluctance to make trips into the city for a cultural night out is driving arts administrators crazy — so much so that a current CSO marketing survey raises the question of leaving Music Hall for a different, more appealing venue.

Stepford Wives like everything put together perfectly. Music Hall, its Over-the-Rhine surroundings and downtown, for that matter, will never be as orderly as some suburban community, no matter how scrubbed clean they are.

The irony is that there are plenty of Music Hall regulars, myself included, who enjoy the experience for many of the reasons the Stepford Wives refuse to come. The Over-the-Rhine neighborhood has a special place in our hearts. As far as feeling secure, a line of police officers before and after shows is sufficient to make most of us feel safe.

Additional parking would be great, although I have no problem finding open meters on Central Parkway on even the busiest opera nights. I'd like to see some bars and restaurants adjacent to Music Hall, but their absence won't keep me away.

The fact of the matter is I have different values than the Stepford Wives. But they have all the clout these days. They're the golden goose to powers-that-be at CSO, Cincinnati Opera and Cincinnati Ballet. They represent the requisite component for larger audiences and the financial solvency that comes with them.

City lovers and dwellers can attend Music Hall until we're blue in the face, but the Stepford Wives will still call arts administrators to demand ample, free parking and security tight enough to prevent any contact between them and Over-the-Rhine residents.

The Stepford Wives are a hard-to-please crowd, perhaps impossible. But that won't stop city arts organizations from trying to win their patronage, perhaps even at the cost of Music Hall.

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