LCT Introduces “Stage Insights”

This season, LCT is proud to introduce its new program "Stage Insights". In place of our usual reviewing process, Stage Insights provides more in-depth, personal reviews from a select number of our contributors dedicated to each of the theatres they are reviewing. In addition, they will be providing exciting Sneak Peaks of upcoming productions. Look for our Sneak Peaks on the front page of our website and our weekly reviews on the Review Page starting this January.

LCT Reviews in New Location

LCT reviews have been moved to a new location, our Review Page. Click on the Review tab above or the following link:

LCT Review Page

Covedale Blends Broadway and Celtic Magic in “Brigadoon”

Check out this wonderful video Sneak Peek of Covedale‘s upcoming Brigadoon by our newest contributor, Laura Petracco:

Brigadoon is playing at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, April 28th-May 22nd. Tickets may be obtained at their website, http://www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com/ccpa/.

Miami University Takes Japanese Puppetry to Another Level in “The Long Christmas Ride Home”

Check out these video Sneak Peeks of “The Long Christmas Ride Home” by contributor Shawn Maus, posted on Miami’s website:

http://www.miamioh.edu/cca/academics/departments/theatre/production-season/current-season/xmas-ride/index.html

Falcon’s Upcoming “Next Fall” Tackles Today’s Topical Issues

Sneak Peek of by Laurel Humes of Next Fall: Falcon Theatre

FalconNextFallImage

Brian Anderson and Mathew Wilson in Falcon’s “Next Fall”

Luke and Adam are in a committed, five-year relationship in Next Fall, opening at Falcon Theater May 6. Luke is 12 years younger than Adam, but that is not their biggest difference: Luke is devoutly religious and Adam is an atheist.

Further, Luke’s parents do not know he is gay. That becomes an important plot point when Luke lies in a coma after an accident and family and friends gather at the hospital.

Geoffrey Naufft’s play, which made its New York debut in 2009, takes on big issues of religion and sexual orientation with wit and warmth.

“The challenge of the play is to not feel we are taking sides, but presenting both sides,” said co-director Tara Williams. “The play is more about people with different beliefs than about a same-sex couple. It is a bit of a period piece already, being first produced in 2009. If it was today, they would be married.”

The action of the play moves back and forth between the hospital and vignettes to show how Luke (played by Mathew Wilson) and Adam (Brian Anderson) met and how their relationship exists despite their religious differences. Rounding out the cast are Allen Middleton and Tracy Schoster as Luke’s divorced parents and Lauren Carr and Michael Monks as friends.

Co-directing the Falcon production with Williams is Clink Ibele, head of the theater’s Falcon Takes Flight community outreach program.

“The philosophy at Falcon is a working man’s theater – we give training to others in theater,” Williams said. “Clint had never done a full production all the way through, and this is an opportunity to have him ride alongside. We are making decisions together. And he brings things to the show I don’t have – he grew up with a religious background and he’s a man .”

Williams is a Falcon board member and production and costume coordinator. “We each wear a lot of hats at Falcon,” she noted. Last year, she directed The Eight: Reindeer Monologues at Falcon. Most recently, she and Schoster played the leads in Falcon’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane.

Next Fall runs May 6-21 at Falcon Theatre, 636 Monmouth St., Newport. Tickets are available at 513-479-6783 or at http://falcontheater.net.

 

 

Know Theatre To Light Up the “Silent Sky”

Sneak Peek by Grace Eichler of Silent Sky: Know Theatre

Maggie Lou Rader as Henrietta Leavitt in "Silent Sky"

Maggie Lou Rader as Henrietta Leavitt in “Silent Sky”

Know Theatre of Cincinnati’s season continues, and the theme of examining the “often overlooked” seems to prevail, with Silent Sky, directed by Tamara Winters. Silent Sky retells the true story of Henrietta Swan Leavitt, a “human computer” hired by the Harvard Observatory to perform complex calculations for the male astronomers.

Playwright Lauren Gunderson’s works are not unfamiliar to the Cincinnati stages — Know produced Toil and Trouble several years ago and Playhouse in the Park just closed The Revolutionists this season. Silent Sky ties together themes of scientific discovery, feminism, romance and the bond of sisterhood, and a star-studded cast brings together an intensely promising performance.

Maggie Lou Rader heads the ensemble as Henrietta Leavitt, flanked by Annie Fitzpatrick and Regina Pugh, two additional “computers” at Harvard. Miranda McGee returns to the Know Mainstage as Henrietta’s sister, Margaret, providing a fierce sisterly love and support. Justin McCombs joins the cast as Peter Shaw, the rival-turned-romance who pushes Henrietta’s quest for discovery.

Equally exciting is the show’s director & Know’s Associate Artistic Director, Tamara Winters, who has brought highly regarded productions to the Know stages in the past: Bureau of Missing Persons, Hearts Like Fists, and, most recently, All Childish Things. Winters believes the show is incredibly timely, as women are still underrepresented within the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) fields. “Henrietta Leavitt’s role in the history of astronomy has largely been forgotten, and overshadowed by the men whose work would later be made possible by her discovery–a fate sadly familiar to many high-achieving women. The time is right for us to shine a light on her work, and by extension, shine a light on the fierce and brilliant spirits that drive trailblazing women to succeed,” says Winters.

Know Theatre is combating the gender inequalities within STEM by inviting tri-state students to special performances of Silent Sky, preceded by a panel of Greater Cincinnati women working in STEM fields. Know is also collaborating with & bringing attention to The Cincinnati Observatory, the Birthplace of American Astronomy.

Artistic Director Andrew Hungerford also serves as scenic & lighting designer for the show. With the entire realm of space & astronomy as the backdrop for the production, it is very interesting and promising to note that Hungerford himself studied astrophysics in undergrad. Hungerford notes, “the synthesis of art and science in this show is beautiful and compelling,” and those who have come to know his creations can expect something inspiring.

Silent Sky is presented by Know Theatre of Cincinnati from April 15-May 14, 2016. Tickets are available by calling 513-300-5669

Selling is Life, An Art that Can’t be Imitated: Cast Reflections on Preparing for “Glengarry Glen Ross”

Sneak Peek by Kenneth Stern of Glengarry Glen Ross: Incline Theatre

How does an actor prepare for his role when the story is despairing and everyone in the cast is wrung out, stuck, and success lies in being brutal and a con? Glengarry Glen Ross, playing at the Incline Theatre through April 24th, is a play full of desperation. If success is out there, it is slippery and not certain to be held onto for long. Greg Procaccino, director for this final production of the inaugural year District Series, knew that this—any—David Mamet play offers “unrelenting language.” In a conversation after the preview performance, he reflected on the bleakness of the story and the cast’s preparation. Cast members chimed in with email responses to questions emailed to them.

Procaccino appreciated the cast’s preparation ahead of the start of rehearsals, saying they came in already off-book, that they were prepared from the start. David Levy, who portrayed the “gentlest,” that is the most humane of the sales force, reflected “I found everything I needed to learn about George Aaranow in Mamet’s masterful script,” then shared the back story he created: “Aaranow’s own inability to successfully employ dishonesty as a sales tactic has led to drastically fewer sales for him and, subsequently, the grave certainty that his career is near an end. This, as far as he’s concerned, might as well mean that his life is near an end, too.”

Mike Dennis plays the tops salesman in the group, Ricky Roma, He readily relates to the hustling, commission dependent income in real estate. Dennis’s has been serving in restaurants for decades. For him, “I don’t live paycheck to paycheck, I live day to day. Depending on how much I make in tips each will decide what I eat the next day.” Dennis’s reflection fits his work and theatrical lives: “I can only eat what I kill.”

Joel Lind, as Shelly Levine, also found parallels in his day job. He is not in sales but has seen salesmen in action throughout his career, and reality and fiction coincide. Lind shared “I can recall hearing many times ‘We got the mother***er!’ ‘We closed the ***sucker.’ ‘We took their money!’ And once, I swear, a salesperson told me, before calling on a client to pitch a big piece of business: ‘You watch. We are gonna f*** em with their clothes on!’ Not only does art imitate life, but you can’t make this stuff up.

For Mike Hall, who plays office manager John Williamson, his character’s life is simple: Williamson ‘s “biggest fear is losing his job. He could not care less about whether his employees all make their quotas. What matters is that he stays employed.”

Then there is customer James Lingk, played by Scott Unes. Unes meditated on the world we all live in:

“My role model for this character -or at least, my inspiration- is anyone who ever got ripped off or swindled financially. Although I don’t feel like I’ve ever been part of a financial scam on the scale that Lingk is in this play, I think about the Bernie Madoff scandal, or Enron, or any situation where a corporation may be mistreating its employees by overworking and underpaying. . . . I think it is very sad how Roma takes advantage of all these vulnerabilities in order to make a buck. Even more sad is, these kinds of ripoffs happen all around us every day in this world. The elderly and the lonely are preyed upon, they are seen simply as dollar signs, their weaknesses to be exploited for whatever savings or assets they may have.”

The cast, and the director, know that the world they bring alive on stage is very much like the world they come from before they enter the dressing room. The actors, the roles they play, the audience that watches them perform Glengarry Glen Ross, share the vulnerabilities, and the fears, of being human. In that world—our world—some choose to be predators. Some of us become prey.

When you go see Glengarry Glen Ross see if you find yourself represented on stage.

Glengarry Glen Ross plays through April 24th at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater. For tickets, call

513-241-6550 or click on http://www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com/Incline/Default.aspx.

 

New Edgecliff Returns with “The Shape of Things”

New Edgecliff Returns with The Shape of Things

Sneak Peek by Abby Rowold of The Shape of Things: New Edgecliff Theatre

Cincinnati theatregoers should be eagerly awaiting New Edgecliff Theatre’s next production, The Shape of Things. New Edgecliff has been using local talent in its powerful productions since 1998. Last fall’s Frankie and Johnny at the Clare de Lune was a true gift, finely acted and skillfully directed.

The Shape of Things by Neil LaBute premiered in 2001 starring Paul Rudd as Adam and Rachel Weisz as Evelyn; they also starred in the film version which came out in 2003. It tells the story of poor overweight loser Adam, who loses his girlfriend to his best friend. He meets Evelyn in an art museum as she is about to graffiti some artwork. She sees an opportunity in Adam and begins to date him. Over the course of their relationship, Adam trims down and starts to dress better. He is even able to recapture the admiration of his ex. The audience is treated to an artful surprise about three quarters of the way through the play.

The strong cast is made up of a couple of Clifton Performance Theatre regulars, Carter Bratton and Leah Strasser, as Phillip and Jenny. Rebecca Whatley plays Evelyn. Her work in NET’s 2013 production of Proof, for which she earned an LCT nomination, was praised as “natural and unforced,” “a touching mixture of bewilderment, bravado, and brokenness that commanded my attention and did not let up.” Matt Krieg, who you may remember from The Warsaw Federal Incline Theatre’s fine production of 1776 last July, rounds out the cast as Adam.

Elizabeth A. Harris, former artistic director of NET, is directing. I asked her a few questions about the upcoming production.

This play was written 15 years ago? Was it dated at all, or does it hold up?

This show speaks to not only the question of what is art, how do we define art, but it also speaks to identifying self-worth in a society where image and looks are everything. We see it all the time on magazine covers and on TV and in movies, a person’s worthiness as a human is defined by how beautiful or handsome they are and not by their intelligence or their humanitarian efforts. We are so mired in this that there has to be a positive body image movement. So despite the play being written 15 years ago it still holds up because these are issue we still tackle today.

Why did LaBute choose the names Adam and Evelyn? What does the Garden of Eden have to do with art?

This play has themes of creation and the creator but also sin. Is it destined that the beauty of creativity turns dark and sinful and if so at what point does it happen? Do we have the power of higher reasoning to avoid the sin? These questions parallel the garden of Eden and Adam and Eve. I think that’s why LaBute chose Adam and Evelyn.

What stood out about your cast? How did they win the roles?

It’s a great cast. I’m so lucky to have them in this show. Some of the finest talent in Cincinnati!

The Shape of Things plays April 14-30 7:30 pm, at the Hoffner Lodge in Northside (4120 Hamilton Ave, Cincinnati, OH 45223)
tickets: 513 428 7311 | cincyticket.com

Keep your eyes peeled for the NET 2016-2017 season announcement coming soon. Go to newedgecliff.com for more details.

 

 

The Melting Pot that Melded: “Street Scene’s” Creative Collaborators

Contributor Kenneth Stern discusses the history and contributors to Kurt Weill’s Street Scene, to be performed by Miami University’s theatre and voice department April 7th-9th. For more on the production itself and an interview with producer Benjamin Smolder, see the following post. 

First, Street Scene was an original and a success in its 1929 Broadway birth, running for 601 performances and winning its author, Elmer Rice, the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Street Scene was Rice’s second innovative play. Unwieldy, with 50 characters engaged in what seemed an improvisation, it brought to life a day in the life of the slums. Rice took over the direction after the second day of rehearsals, when director George Cukor abandoned it as un-stageable. Its unconventional narrative style and naturalism drew audiences to it, making it a long running hit.

Rice was a master of the disorienting. His The Adding Machine (1923) was perhaps the most original, and controversial, work to play Broadway. It ushered in twentieth century modernism, as the first American Expressionist stage drama, shocking in its portrayal of a nobody bookkeeper, Mr. Zero, who when replaced by a machine at work, breaks, and murders his boss. Noted critic Brooks Atkinson found it “the most original and brilliant play any American had written up to that time…the harshest and most illuminating play about modern society.”

A social critic, Rice was philosophically in step with Kurt Weill. Weill saw Street Scene produced in Berlin in 1930 and then saw the movie (1931). Best known for his work with Bertolt Brecht (The Threepenny Opera), Weill’s career and life was threatened by the rise of Nazism. Weill left Germany in 1933 and came to the United States in 1935. He suggested musicalizing Street Scene to Rice in 1936, but Rice declined. In 1945 Rice agreed.

Langston Hughes was the inspired choice of Rice and Weill to write the opera’s lyrics. A playwright as well as a poet, his 1935 play Mulatto had the longest run on Broadway of any play written by an African-American until Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. Hughes poetry reflected his political activism and his emphasis on race and class issues, celebrating working and lower class peoples.

Hughes had grown up in poverty. Rice and Weill were immigrant Jews (Rice shortened his name from Reizenstein; his grandparents were also German). The three’s lived experience as outsiders to mainstream society made them soul, as well as artistic, brothers. Street Scene is set in the New York slums of 1929. Jason Victor Serinus calls Hughes and Weill “twin souls who came together for the purpose of elevating the lives and struggles of everyday men and women of all races.” Rice had been influenced by his grandfather, a German political activist, and by his self-education, having read widely, including Shaw, H.G. Wells, Galsworthy, Gorky, Frank Norris, and Upton Sinclair. These were his soul brothers.

Hughes brought Weill into Harlem, immersing him into all aspects of African American culture, but particularly in Harlem’s nightclubs, with their blues and jazz rhythms. Yale professor “wcd2” wrote “that turned out to be the most nontrivial input into the opera, giving it not only its street vernacular but also creating in its musical rhythm the contradictory changes, the languor and the impudence of jazz.”

Street Scene‘s opened on Broadway at the Adelphi Theatre on January 9, 1947. The critics loved it and it had a great two month run. Audience enthusiasm dimmed, however, and in May it closed, after 148 performances. Called the first American opera, it still holds the record as one of the three longest first runs ever of an opera composed for Broadway. Weill wrote a friend “for six weeks an opera has been running in a Broadway theater without subsidies.”

Author and composer Mark Grant observed: “The musical demands of Street Scene went well beyond Broadway norms of the day. Like the score of The Firebrand of Florence, Street Scene employs every major orchestral instrument.” Sums up Jillian Mauro, of Muhlenberg College:

Combining operatic arias, influences of jazz and blues, and musical theatre style song-and-dance numbers, Street Scene stands at a crossroads between classical and more contemporary theatre and serves as a melting pot for all of the musical traditions present in America at the time. It is one of the only musicals whose songs are consistently found in the canons of both opera and musical theatre.

Weill’s music for Street Scene won the first Tony Award for Best Original Score.

Miami Opera Performs “Street Scene”: An American Classic Current Today

Sneak Peek by Kenneth Stern of Street Scene: Miami University

It is not every day, or theatrical season, that Street Scene, an American opera (as composer Kurt Weill termed it) is produced, either professionally or on campus. Make your reservations and go to Oxford, where it is being performed by Miami University’ s award winning opera program April 7th through 9th.

Set in front of a brownstone in the slums of New York on a hot August day in 1929, Street Scene portrays the “gritty story of immigrants in desperate pursuit of the American Dream,” says Benjamin Smolder, associate professor of voice, producer and conductor of the University’s Opera and co-director of the production. The number of unwashed masses—there are 39 named characters in the cast of 46, and then there is the full orchestra, the 85 costume changes, the children, and the dog—makes staging productions a challenge.

Smolder finds his students up to the demands: “This piece is undaunted. It is hard to pick up; it is avoided because it requires so many people to pull it off.” He thought it was a perfect fit and watched as his cast “matured into it.” Weill, the classical, if 20th century, German composer, strove to create “a living theatre, not a dead art form. He lived between the worlds of opera and the musical. Street Scene is cabaret, but it needs ‘legitimate singers,’” emphasized Smolder.

The collaboration, starting with Elmer Rice’s 1929 Pulitzer Prize winning play, and enriched by Langston Hughes writing the lyrics, turned out to be a perfect fit. Weill and Rice shared a German immigrant back story, complete with political activism, and Hughes used his poetry to hold up working class and poor people, black and white. He had traveled to the Soviet Union and reported on the Spanish Civil War. All three men intimately as well as instinctively understood the history and backstory of Rice’s setting.

Hughes was a huge influence on Weill, exposing him to the people and culture of Harlem as well as its blues and jazz rhythms. They had the backbone of Rice’s play: a polyglot of people living in abject poverty, not all getting along, and the problems any people in stressed situations face. Weill composed to appeal to the people. He wanted to take European operatic style and fuse it with American popular music. Smolder says Weill called Street Scene “an opera for Broadway.” He had been influenced by Gershwin, by Porgy and Bess, long before he met Hughes.

Smolder says Weill wrote in verismo, or real to life, opera, the movement away from gods and myths to stories of every day people. And while there is the American influences of blues, jazz, and musicals, the opera is an opera, with “legitimate singing” by trained performers. There are arias, duets, trios, quartets, ensemble pieces, and more. Weill was as committed to his art as to his values. He wedded the music to people struggling. It is Weill and not Rice (though with Hughes) who has the radical Kaplan challenge Maurrant to not beat his child, that “by beatings you can get maybe submission but not a change in kerecter.”

And while it is Rice’s sentiments (not Bernie Sanders) captured by Kaplan’s “We must have a new conception of society, based upon human need, not human greed, and dis will require maybe a revolution,” it is Weill and Hughes who developed: “My father’s name is Rockefeller. / He shovels diamonds in the cellar. / He’s got a hanky made of gold / to blow his nose when he gets a cold.”

Weill embraced Street Scene because he saw its subject matter in the German culture he had left. Smolder says conflict and class antagonisms were present in 1940s America and Weill wanted to address the same issue of disparate people in the same situations here that he observed in Germany. Weill wanted people in the theatre to see on stage their own life experiences.

Street Scene is the American story, in 1929, 1947, or 2016. Immigrants—and violence (warning: guns get fired more than once)—are white America’s foundational story. Long before the 2016 presidential race, citizens and immigrants alike had disparaging names and attitudes for the teeming masses who made their way onto these shores.

Smolder warns of some “painful stereotypes” that date the script’s 1929 origins. Hearing those insulting terms today, by candidates for president, is painful to our present sensibilities. But as American conductor John Mauceri writes in his liner notes “Throughout it all, there is Weill, the maser composer and master communicator, sharing the pain of his life through his characters and sharing his irrepressible optimism so that we can all learn how to behave, learn to be kind, and learn to care.”

Street Scene is be presented by the Miami University departments of music and theatre at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, April 7-9, in Gates-Abegglen Theatre, Center for Performing Arts.

Tickets are $15 adults, $10 students, and are available at the H.O.M.E. box office in 129 Campus Avenue Building.

 

The Kurt Weill Foundation offers more information on Street Scene:

http://www.kwf.org/pages/ww-street-scene.html