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“Jesus Christ Superstar” Rocks Out at the Incline

Review by Grace Eichler of Jesus Christ Superstar: Incline Theatre

From the precurtain speech to the opening guitar solo, Warsaw Federal Incline Theatre’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar is set to be a biblical rock concert in two hours. Director/Choreographer Maggie Perrino takes the Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera to new heights as we meet the apostles, priests, and, of course, Jesus Christ himself.

As one of Webber’s earlier works, the format is similar to Cats: songs back to back with very little dialogue. The core of this production is literally the band, seated center stage, led by Music Director Greg Dastillung. Highlighting the score is the rock concert lighting, designed by Denny Reed.

The musical begins with the apostles following Jesus around, and Judas (played by Chris Logan Carter) makes himself known as the storyteller. Jesus (played by Kyle Taylor) is a celebrity in his day, much to the dismay of the priests and Judas himself, who remarks that it’s “all gone sour.” Taylor and Carter have two of the most notoriously difficult vocal tracks to execute but do so valiantly. Carter particularly soars in the title song, “Superstar,” and Taylor steps into his own during the agonizing internal debate in the garden of “Gethsemane.” Rounding off the trio is Mary Magdalene, who seems to be driving a wedge between Judas and Jesus. Maddie Vaughn stands out from the rock vocals, where she shines best in her soulful, soothing melodies.

Some moments of the show were chaotic, and rightfully so, but in a vocally reliant show like Superstar it felt like some exposition was lost amongst the sound and the spectacle. Of course, most audiences are highly familiar with the plot, so filling in the blanks is by no means difficult.

It would be remiss to not mention the comedic highlight of the show, every bit the Jonathan Groff-esque turn of royalty. Tyler Gau’s King Herod embraces “Herod’s Song” in a delicious, yet slightly manic, chokehold. Amidst the wailing vocal riffs and complex rhythmic structures of the production, Gau’s four minutes on stage are a brief respite of musical theatre silliness.

Jesus Christ Superstar plays August 15-September 9, 2018 at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theatre. Tickets are available online or through the Cincinnati Landmark Productions Box Offices at 513-241-6550.

Know Theatre’s “Whisper House” is a Ghost Story that Sneaks Up on You


Review by Liz Eichler of “Whisper House”: Know Theatre

Set in a haunted lighthouse in WWII, Know Theatre’s “Whisper House” presents a gossamer thin story-line, but the performances sneak up and grab you.  Written by Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening, American Psycho) and Kyle Jarrow (SpongeBob SquarePants the musical), a strong cast and interesting premise carry this production.

Christopher, (the charming Andrew Ramos) a boy whose pilot father is killed during the War and whose mother is sent to an asylum, is placed in an old Maine lighthouse with a self-described curmudgeon of an aunt (Kelly Mengelkoch), not used to being around children let alone this headstrong one, who tosses between the shores of doing what’s right and a consuming desire to escape it all.  His confusion is aided by the unhappy ghosts who whisper and sing his name. Ghosts (Erin Ward and Cary Davenport) dance and undulate around the stage, casting a spell on the audience. They sing the mournful lyrics such as “Don’t look now the world is ending.” Complicating matters is Aunt Lilly’s helper, a Japanese national Yasuhiro (Adam Tran), recently banned from living in the area, and Sheriff Charles (Brant Russell), sent to ferret him out. The indoctrinated Christopher spouts hatred for all things Japanese and foreign, spurred on by the Sheriff, eliciting audience reactions. Even as the bad guy, the Vince Vaughn-like Brant provides a lot of the show’s humor and warmth. Mengelkoch’s Aunt Lily also shows she can have a sense of humor, and a well-developed story, as love hammers on her hard shell.

Ward casts her spell with her mesmerizing voice and eerie movements, setting the tone for this musical, lyrical story of loss and the living. Director Dan Winters and Erin McCamley’s musical direction interweaves the music with the characters, aiding to the dreamlike effect. “How it Feels” is especially effective mourning “hearts break and never heal.” The mystery keeps changing course, keeping us wondering what is next.

“Whisper House” opens Know Theatre’s 21st season and runs through August 19. For tickets contact knowtheatre.com.

“Complete Shakespeare” Works Well for Cincy Audiences

 

Review By Liz Eichler of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)”: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

“There’s a lotta love in this room” the actors agree in a riff with the audience during “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)” at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. Very True. The Opening Night audience LOVED the show, because the performers clearly LOVE what they are doing. They are joyful, silly, a wee bit naughty, but quite masterful at making the performance personal, engaging, and laugh-out-loudfunny.

Justin McCombs alone is worth the ticket price, as he reigns as one of Cincinnati’s best comedic actors. He’s a master of physical comedy, and has impeccable timing with a bad pun as well as a beautiful speech. Add Miranda McGee, another member of Cincy’s royal family of top performers, and you have a strong bill.  CSC hits the trifecta with the amazing Geoffrey Warren Barnes II who showcases his range of skill, including a reference to a character from CSC’s The Tempest, an Easter Egg for ardent followers. The team delivers the clever script (by Reduced Shakespeare Company members Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield) and tailors the banter to the appreciative CSC audience.

The production is rich in sight and sound, with giant tomes by scenic designer Shannon More (we expect to see these signature pieces again), fabulous costumes by Denise Vulhop Watkins (lots of quick changes), a myriad of silly props by Lacey Ballard, lighting with personality by Justen N. Locke, and sound by the inimitable Doug Borntrager.  All parts are brought together by Sara Clark, orchestrating the fun, directing the mayhem, and personalizing the show for Cincinnati.

Without giving up too much, the team presents at least a portion of all of Shakespeare’s plays (and is prepared to do the Sonnets as well).  One is presented in four different ways, another is “Hamilton-ized,” the histories are all combined into one football game, and Barnes does some testifying.

“Complete Works” runs through August 11 (so be sure to catch it!)  Go to www.cincyshakes.com for tickets.  It’s the perfect summer show to gather up a group of family or friends, to enjoy the slapstick antics of this talented crew. Whether you’re a Shakespeare scholar or not, you will become a fan of CSC.

Incline’s “Irma Vep” Shows the Dark Side of the Farce

Review by Laurel Humes of The Mystery of Irma Vep: Incline Theatre

The Mystery of Irma Vep, now onstage at Warsaw Federal Incline Theater, is a slapstick comic mix of werewolves, vampires and mummies, set in an English manor ruled by the ghostly portrait of the former lady of the house.

Oh, and two male actors play seven characters. The crew of dressers is larger than the cast!

But the real mystery is why Incline Theater chose to produce this play. All best efforts by the actors and technical crew cannot, in the end, overcome the weak script.

Incline has done top-notch productions of basically silly shows in the past. I’m remembering Rocky Horror Show last year and Monty Python’s Spamalot in March. Those shows mixed plenty of slapstick and over-the-top acting with an ingredient missing from Irma Vep – wit.

The 1984 play by the late Charles Ludlam is described as a satire of Victorian melodrama. I guess I missed that English lit course.

The Irma Vep of the title is the deceased first wife of Lord Edgar (Tyler Gau). He is now married to Lady Enid (Ryan J. Poole), who jealously wants to remove all traces of Irma from the home, including her candlelit portrait.

The two other major characters are the sometimes creepy manor staff, Nicodemus (Poole) and Jane (Gau).

There is a vampire attack. Edgar, a historian of Egypt, travels there hoping to find answers among the mummies. He is unknowingly swindled, in one of the show’s most humorous scenes.

Edgar returns with a sarcophagus, whose mummy joins the vampire and werewolf, plus human characters, as the mystery is eventually and slightly gruesomely solved.

For a gimmick, I guess, the playwright decided all the characters, human and otherwise, should be played by two actors. For the most part, Gau and Poole (and their dressers) do it well and stay in whichever character they are playing. The changes are quick, and off-stage voices used to good effect.

The cast was rewarded with laughs from an appreciative audience on a recent evening. Still, when this was the biggest laugh line – “Marry an Egyptologist and find out he’s hung up on his mummy” – I did long for Monty Python.

The Mystery of Irma Vep continues through Aug. 5 at Warsaw Federal Incline Theater, 801 Matson Place, in the Incline District of East Price Hill. For tickets, call 513-241-6550 or go to www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com.

Incline’s “Irma Vep” Provides Plenty of Summer Camp

Review by Doug Iden of The Mystery of Irma Vep: Incline Theatre

Consider Halloween in July. What could be better on a warm summer evening than visits from werewolves, vampires, ghosts, mummies and other assorted crazies?  This is not P. T. Barnum but rather the comedy farce The Mystery of Irma Vep which is now showing at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater.

This hilarious, bizarre and outrageous show parodies Victorian melodrama, horror stories and the Alfred Hitchcock movie Rebecca among others.  Two actors, Ryan Poole and Tyler Gau, portray multiple characters (both men and women) in a major acting tour-de-force.  Just keeping the accents straight ranging from Scottish to English to Egyptian and from male to female is a major accomplishment.  The play is propelled by quick cuts, lighting flashes, exaggerated expressions, rapid costume changes, sight gags and lots of door slamming.

There is a plot which parallels that of Rebecca but this is not a play where you worry much about the story.  The show is funny-bone driven and not plot or character driven.  Just sit back and allow the insanity to inundate you.  If you “go with the flow”, you’ll enjoy the play, but if you are trying to figure out what’s happening, you may get a little lost.  The humor derives from a combination of genre spoofing, physical slapstick and significant verbal innuendo with many deliciously outrageous puns.  There are also comedic allusions to other genres of movies, theater and music.

The story, such as it is, is about Egyptologist Lord Edgar who has remarried after the tragic death of his first wife Irma Vep (which is an anagram). He is entranced by the second wife Lady Enid but is still mesmerized by Irma.  Most of the action takes place in Lord Edgar’s manor home which is overseen by the maid (Jane) who is still distraught by Irma’s death and dutifully maintains a small shrine beneath Irma’s portrait in the living room.  A stableman, Nicodemus, is simultaneously trying to seduce Jane while fighting his own demons (wolves?).  Lady Enid is attacked by a monster (vampire?) which leads Lord Edgar to Egypt to find a missing tomb and seek answers from an ancient mummy.  Then the fun begins.

One of the zaniest aspects is the quick costume changing. Three dressers, Keri Baggs, Steven Ducker and Richard Zenk, are listed in the playbill helping the actors change costumes, designed by Caren Brady.  The costumes are fairly elaborate representing Victorian dress and the actors are frequently flipping between men’s and women’s costumes.  Sometimes the plot is advanced by one actor on stage and, at other times, you hear the action strictly by the voices of the characters off stage.  The foreign accents actually help distinguish between the characters when you cannot see them and both actors are true to the accents.

Director Bob Brunner keeps the action moving well assisted by a busy Stage Manager Holly Davis.

Lighting becomes a bit of a character as well with red (blood?) lights accenting the exaggerated horror plus frequent highlights of Irma Vep’s portrait which also bleeds at one point. The audio completes the illusion with a combination of eerie music, lightning flashes, a strange tapping sound and the frequent howling of wolves.

As usual, Brett Bowling’s set design plays a major role in the production. There is a static set this time with most of the action in the manor house but with a brief interlude into Egypt.  The main set is almost cartoonish in keeping with the play and somewhat reminiscent of the Addams Family comics.  There are two doors which receive a lot of action, one going into other parts of the house and one set of sliding doors leading to the outside.  An Egyptian sarcophagus (with a rather unusual cartouche) plays a significant role in the action.

So, if you haven’t taken your campy trip this summer and would like to ramp with Vep, spend some time in the “ghoul, ghoul of the evening” so the The Mystery of Irma Vep continues at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater through August 5.  Their next production is Jesus Christ Superstar running from August 15 through September 9.

Prepare to be Charmed by Incline’s “Once On This Island”

Review by Laurel Humes of Once On This Island: Incline Theatre

Enchanting is the one-word description of Once On This Island, now onstage at Warsaw Federal Incline Theater.

The musical is a fairy tale, where gods rule, and it’s a story of star-crossed lovers.

It’s also a story of class differences: two groups of people, poor and rich, share this Caribbean island. And never meet. Until … well, that’s the fairy tale.

The beautiful peasant Ti Moune (Shonda Moore) rescues the rich Daniel (Jared Roper) after he crashes his car in a storm. She nurses the unconscious young man, falls in love with him and imagines he loves her, too.

When his family takes him back to his side of the island, Ti Moune follows, against all advice. There she is shunned, then loved by Daniel, then – I hope you’ll see the show to learn the outcome.

Once On This Island is a collaboration of Stephen Flaherty (music) and Lynn Ahrens (book and lyrics), who also created the imaginative shows Ragtime and Seussical. The uniqueness of Island is the lively Caribbean style music and a script that is mostly sung, with limited spoken dialogue.

For Incline Theater, director and choreographer Jay Goodlett has created an enthralling and charming show. The 11-member cast is terrific.

In this story, four gods rule the lives and are worshipped by the peasants. It is no accident that our lovers meet. After hearing Ti Moune’s “Waiting for Life” plea for broader horizons, the gods bet on whether love or death is stronger.

DeAndre Smith is the commanding water god Agwe, who creates the storm that causes Daniel’s car crash. His finest onstage moment is “Rain.”

Tia Seay is earth mother Asaka. She leads a wonderfully sung and danced “Mama Will Provide.”

Brittany Hayes as love goddess Erzulie and Chandler Hoffer as death demon Papa Ge are on opposite sides of the bet. Both have strong voices and dance skills.

Other standouts are El More and Tim Judah as Ti Moune’s loving, protective parents.

Scenic designer Brett Bowling places us in the Caribbean with colorful hanging fabrics, palm trees, and a multi-purpose shack. Costumer Caren Brady’s bright costumes add much to the overall effect.

Once On This Island, first produced on Broadway 1990, just won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. Thanks to Incline Theater, we don’t have to travel to New York to see a stellar production of this charming show.

Once On This Island continues through July 1 at Warsaw Federal Incline Theater, 801 Matson Place, in the Incline District of East Price Hill. For tickets, call 513-241-6550 or go to www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com.

 

 

Incline’s “Once On This Island” Celebrates the Power of Storytelling and Myth

Review by Doug Iden of Once On This Island: Incline Theatre

Care to take a trip to a Caribbean island complete with colorful natives, calypso music and enthusiastic storytellers?  If so, you can forget your plane ticket and merely sashay down to the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater for their latest production, Once On This Island. Based upon a 1985 novel by Rosa Guy, the play tells the redemptive story of a young, native woman whose love for a mixed-race man eventually helps to unite people of differing economic and social classes on a fictitious island in the French Antilles.

Part fantasy, part reality, the play opens with a tremendous storm which causes intensive flooding and the destruction of several villages. A young girl (Little Ti played by Kiree Harris) is stranded in a tree but is rescued and adopted by Mama Euralie (El More) and her husband Tonton Julian (Tim Judah).  They can not afford to raise the young girl but she is so adorable that they make the sacrifice.

The storytellers (the entire chorus) try to soothe the girl and tell her the story of the island in the song “Prologue/We Dance”.  The song relates the division between the black natives and the lighter-skinned French immigrants who live in mansions and plantations on the other side of the island.

Years later, the young woman (now called Ti Moune played by Shonda Moore) calls upon the gods to let her know their bidding.  The gods, including Asaka, Mother Earth (Tia Seay), Agwe, God of Water (R. Deandre Smith), Erzulie, God of Love (Brittany Hayes) and Papa Ge, Demon of Earth (Chandler Hoffert) belittle her in the song “Waiting for Life”.  Ti Moune is intrigued by the fast-moving cars driven by the elitist “grands hommes” but is horrified by an accident in which one of the drivers Daniel Beauxhomme (Jared Roper) is severely injured.  Despite fears from her village, Ti Moune nurses Daniel back to health using native medicines.  During her ministrations, Ti Moune falls for Daniel, who we later discover is already engaged to a woman of his own class, Andrea (Loren Richardson).

Ti Moune travels to the other side of the island with the help of the gods to find her love, and is confronted with the realities of the tension and prejudices between the two sides. Her enduring love leads to a tragic sacrifice but ultimately helps to reconcile the biases shown by both classes on the island.

This is an enchanting presentation of a seldom shown play.  It was, however, revived on Broadway in 2017.  The show is virtually an opera.  There is some dialogue, mostly spoken by the storytellers, but there are 23 songs in the production and, no, you won’t know any of them.  The music, a combination of calypso and other Caribbean motifs, is written by CCM grad Stephen Flaherty with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens.  The duo later collaborated on Seussical and Ragtime.  All of the performers in the all-black cast have excellent voices led by Music Director Damon Stevens.  There is a lot of dancing and movement on stage as the ensemble flows between storytellers, villagers, gods and specific characters in the play.  The timing in this constantly moving show is crucial and well directed and choreographed by Jay Goodlett.

The set designed by Brett Bowling is intriguing with a distinctly shabby island appearance.  An enormous tree dominates one side of the stage with a variety of fabrics dangling from the ceiling while a dilapidated shack appears on the opposite side.  Various props including a car, a gate, risers and staves help propel the story.  There are several video projections showing the storm and Denny Reed has used lighting to good effect.

As villagers, the costumes designed by Caron Brady are colorful but simple and traditional but the gods are bedecked representing their various realms.  The God of Water looks like Neptune and the Demon has a skeleton mask reminding us of death.  Both Ti Moune and Little Ti Moune wear distinctive red dresses throughout which contrasts well with the other costumes.

This show is a fable depicting a culture we seldom see.  It takes a while to get into the show and follow the plot and it does require your close attention.  But, if you stay with it, the play is engaging and, ultimately, very satisfying. The redemptive quality in the end turns the tragedy into joy.

So, grab your Mai Tai and snorkels and wend your way to an island you probably have not visited before.  The next production at the Incline is the comedy, The Mystery of Irma Vep, running from July 11 through August 5

Lots of Low Brow Laughs in “Complete Works of Shakespeare” at Human Race

Review by Liz Eichler of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) Revised”: Human Race

If you want a guaranteed evening of laughs, see Human Race Theatre’s “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) Revised,” originally produced by the Reduced Shakespeare Company. You don’t have to know a lot about Shakespeare to enjoy your evening as it has all the comedic elements to guarantee giggles: silly sight gags, puns and word play, and jolly juxtapositions.

Almost as big of a star as Shakespeare, local legend Bruce Cromer is the elder statesman of the ensemble and alleged Shakespeare expert—he is, after all professor of theatre at Wright State University, and developed “the Cromer Method,” part of the good-natured fun of the banters and asides to the audience.

The two other performers, one a former pupil, can match or may even exceed Cromer in the antics required for this ridiculous farce. Jordan LaRoya manages most of the female characters with skill and connects well with the audience in all characters. Shaun Patrick Tubbs also presents directly to the audience and conjures up some great guffaws.

Without giving up too much, the team presents at least a portion of all of Shakespeare’s plays (and is prepared to do the Sonnets as well).  One is presented in four different ways!  Another is “Hamilton-ized!” The histories are all combined into one football game!  Director Aaron Vega ensures the actors cover the stage, the material, and local references well.

The set is full of the other stars of the show—the props.  Heather Powell, Prop Master, and Noelle Wedig-Johnston, Costume Designer, ensure that the audience has strong visuals, which range from a Godzilla costume to rubber chicken swords.  Cromer’s costume sets the tone with exaggerated Elizabethan ruff, colorful pumpkin breeches, ample codpiece, and shimmery pink lycra tights. There’s layers and layers of imaginative clothing choices and props all stored on an inviting set by Eric Barker, lit by John Rensel.  The lobby is covered with table games to get you in the mood for fun. (I recommend they engage the audience even more with a contest to identify which props were seen in previous shows—I recognized a few oversized items!)

So get ready for some audience involvement, with a play heavily sponsored by our friends at Heidelberg Distributing Company and Buckeye Vodka, as well as Marion’s, Emerson, and more. “Complete Works” runs through June 17.  Get your tickets at ticketcenterstage.com or call 937-228-3630.