This season, LCT continues its 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.
Sneak Peek compiled by Liz Eichler of Broadway in Cincinnati’s Something Rotten, from their press kit.
Most Broadway newcomers don’t get their first show produced by Tony Award-winner Kevin McCollum, and they don’t typically land Tony-winner Casey Nicholaw as their director-choreographer. But brothers Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick and British comedy writer John O’Farrell, the creators of the Tony Award-nominated Something Rotten!, aren’t like most Broadway first-timers.
Growing up in Louisiana, the Kirkpatrick brothers fell in love with musical theater, appearing in high school shows and going to what’s now the Baton Rouge River Center to see touring productions of Broadway hits. In 1983, Karey Kirkpatrick saw his first show on Broadway, My One and Only, starring Tommy Tune and Twiggy, at the St. James Theatre – the theater that’s now home to Something Rotten!.
Careers took the brothers and their Something Rotten! collaborator O’Farrell in different creative directions – Karey to success as a screenwriter, songwriter and director, with credits including The Rescuers Down Under, James and the Giant Peach and Chicken Run; Wayne to acclaim as a Grammy Award-winning songwriter (Eric Clapton’s Song of the Year “Change the World” and Garth Brooks’ “Wrapped Up in You” are his); O’Farrell to multifaceted success in the UK as a comic novelist, columnist and TV/film writer.
The seeds of Something Rotten! were sewn in the mid-1990s when Karey, who now lives in Los Angeles, and Wayne, who calls Nashville home, would get together for holidays or catch up by phone.
“We were big history buffs. It started with, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if Shakespeare’s London were a lot like what Broadway was in the 1930s?’” Karey says. “Then it was, ‘What would it be like to be writing plays in the shadow of William Shakespeare, after Romeo and Juliet just opened?’”
“We thought of two writers,” Wayne says. “What if one went to a soothsayer? Then somewhere along the way it was, ‘What if the two writers were brothers? What if the soothsayer’s name was Nostradamus, but he wasn’t the Nostradamus? What if he was a senile, bad soothsayer, his nephew?’ Eventually it was, ‘If we’re going to do this, we should really get serious about it.’”
The brothers buckled down, and in 2010, Karey reached out to his friend Kevin McCollum, producer of original hits like Rent and Avenue Q.
“We called Kevin and said, ‘What do you need?’ He said that Avenue Q was three songs and an idea,” Karey says. “He came to my house and we pitched him five songs and the idea. He said, ‘I think you’ve got something here.’”
Karey brought in O’Farrell, whom he’d met on Chicken Run, to help write the show’s story. The brothers crafted the music and lyrics, eventually writing more than 50 songs. What they had, after plenty of revisions and a multi-year developmental process, is a buoyant musical set in Shakespeare’s day that imagines the creation of the very first musical.
Something Rotten! centers around Nick and Nigel Bottom (the last name comes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream), brothers desperate for a hit in Elizabethan London, where William Shakespeare is a rock star-like god of the stage lately given to cribbing plots.
Nick’s wife Bea, a can-do gal in the style of Shakespearean heroines who cross-dress to get things done, tries to help. Nigel falls for a pretty Puritan named Portia, whose daddy strongly disapproves. Unreliable soothsayer Thomas Nostradamus, nephew of the Nostradamus, looks into the future and tells Nick that theater’s next big thing will be – tahdah! – “musicals”, where people sing, dance and act all at the same time!
Something Rotten! is laced throughout with humor for Shakespeare aficionados and musical theater geeks.
But as O’Farrell observes, “If it works as a musical for people who don’t know musicals or Shakespeare, then I’m happy. It’s about show business and putting on a show. Just doing that in Tudor times gives it an extra spin.”
“I think it doesn’t matter how much you know,” says director-choreographer Nicholaw, whose other current Broadway shows are Aladdin and The Book of Mormon. “My nieces and nephews say it’s their favorite show that I’ve done, and they don’t know any of the references.”
For the no-longer-green creative team, Something Rotten! has been a challenge, an education and a joy, an experience they still savor as the touring production plays cities all over the United States.
“This was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but [it was] so rewarding to sit in a theater and watch all these amazing contributions from people who took it beyond our idea to create this magical, happy experience,” Wayne says.
Sneak Peek by Laurel Humes of “The Rocky Horror Show”: Incline Theatre
“We are throwing a big, huge, crazy, sexy party at Incline, and the more people who come to a party, the more fun it is.”
That is director Matt Wilson’s pitch for The Rocky Horror Show, opening Feb. 16 at Warsaw Federal Incline Theater.
And, yes, there is audience participation on certain nights.
The cult-like popularity of the movie version may have obscured the fact that The Rocky Horror Show started life as a stage musical in London in 1973. A short-lived Broadway run followed. Then came the movie musical, The Rocky Horror Picture Show – which can still be seen at midnight every other Saturday night at Cincinnati’s Esquire Theatre.
“Our cast went to see it at the Esquire,” Wilson said. “It is a cult phenomenon, because the audience participation has made it so much more than a movie. We think we can capitalize on that cult phenomenon.”
Richard O’Brien (book, music, lyrics) based the musical on old sci-fi and horror B movies. It is a dark and stormy night when the young, straitlaced couple Brad (played by Dakota Mullins) and Janet (Caroline Chisholm) are forced by car trouble to seek shelter at an old castle. Not any old castle – ha! – but occupied by mad transvestite scientist Dr. Frank ‘n Furter (Matt Krieg) and his household of sexually adventuresome Transylvanians.
Dr. Frank ‘n Furter has created a Frankenstein-style monster, except Rocky Horror (played by Tyler Kuhlman) is a physically perfect muscle man, complete with “blond hair and a tan.”
The zaniness that flows from that point includes various couplings, space aliens and songs like “Dammit Janet,” “Sweet Transvestite,” “I Can Make You a Man” and “Time Warp.”
“You do have to have an open mind and a good sense of humor to enjoy the show,” Wilson noted. “I cannot think of a show more pure camp and fun.”
“The challenge for the actors is this acting style – this is not Tennessee Williams or Hamlet,” where you’re digging deep to ‘find’ the character, Wilson said. “This is really kind of cheesy, B-movie, outlandish situations. It calls for over-the-top acting.”
Another challenge: The audience gets to talk back.
Embracing the tradition that has evolved around the stage show and movie, Incline has designated half its Rocky Horror shows for audience participation: Feb. 17, 18, 22, 24, 25 and March 1, 3, 4. Audience members are encouraged to wear costumes, shout out responses to lines or sing along. They also may hold up or toss props during the show; the theater will sell prop bags of toast, water gun, playing cards, glow sticks and newspaper.
“There is no script for shout-outs,” Wilson said. “Some audience lines are standard, some are regional. We’ve built it in for the audience to be encouraged and maybe even prompted.”
In its second season, the Incline’s District Series has continued to present contemporary, edgy plays and musicals. The first season included the musicals Rent and Avenue Q. But The Rocky Horror Show has always been on the short list, according to Tim Perrino, executive artistic director for Cincinnati Landmark Productions, which includes Warsaw Federal incline and Covedale theaters.
“We saved this show, to guarantee we brought the sass, spice and outrageous fun in Year 2,” Perrino said. “It is so cool to have a no-holds-barred, whacked out, sexy and crazy comic musical like The Rocky Horror Show to light up the late winter.”
The Rocky Horror Show runs through March 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.
Sneak Peek by Ken Stern of 26 Pebbles: Human Race Theatre
The Cast of 26 Pebbles
Ahead of the world premiere opening of 26 Pebbles at the Human Race Theatre in Dayton this Thursday, February 2nd, playwright Eric Ulloa, director Igor Goldin, and actor Caitlin McWethy sat down to discuss the play.
Ulloa, a New York actor and playwright, couldn’t get the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, the murdering of 20 small children and six adults on December 14, 2012, out of his head. “I was so angry and couldn’t shake that anger,” he recounts. “I realized I wasn’t doing anything about it but that I had a voice as an actor and a writer. I determined to go to Newtown.”
With a poet’s perspective, he recalled how he went to Newton May 1st, having given folks time to breathe and process and “letting the season turn from the barrenness of winter . . . to spring: the skies were blues, buds were blossoming.” Ulloa sought interviews to learn where townspeople were at in the moment. He spoke with over 60 people in conversations that lasted 90 to 120 minutes. Those transcripts became 26 Pebbles, a 90 minute play with six characters playing 24 roles, each capturing the “arc of character,” explained actor Caitlin McWethy, who has two parts. For one, “by combining both of their experiences [we made] a full journey for a character as they process this whole event and hopefully something that the audience can latch on to as well. They can see how you go from shock to grief to anger to acceptance, the full process.”
The 60 people interviewed ranged from parents whose children were in the school to a pair of Australian transplants newly settled. Eric saw the varied positions and beliefs people held. “There was tension in town and disagreements. Movements started” but not everyone shared the same one. He realized the “overwhelming thrust for the people of Newtown was to endure.”
Director Igor Goldin is a friend of Ulloa’s. The two had many discussions as the script evolved. Goldin knew words can be stagnant, needing to be “cracked open for conversation and action.” The stage setting is a town hall, so there are “six entities with everyone in the theatre” and the audience is drawn in as the townspeople “acknowledge and come to terms with the aftermath of the tragedy.”
Goldin noted, “it is interesting to create dramatic structure from a real situation because life doesn’t have dramatic structure. That is what Caitlin is talking about. How do you take these words, these experiences that people lived, these dramatic moments that people have lived and somehow organize it? Eric did a brilliant a job of this so that there is dramatic structure without veering from the truth of the matter. Once the words were on the page it is our job to interpret their meaning,
McWethy shared that the words “resonated in ways we didn’t expect . . . . we found connective tissue, their words are true, and real.” The audience “can see how you go from shock to grief to anger to acceptance, the full process.” For her, “it is an honor to say their text and their thoughts.”
Ulloa spoke to the complexity as well as fragility of being human, for the audience as well as Newtown’s residents. “As odd as the term may seem I would say the show in a way is a 90 minute experience because it is not like a regular play. We have to build it because of the subject matter. We are treating the audience safely. We know that the subject matter can be tough in some parts but we know that there are tremendous amounts of joy and hope and moments of sheer laughter that are just funny. And so you go from moments of tears to moments of laughing out loud in the show. That was the hardest part of structuring it.
“I understand the overwhelming thrust not only to present these words, that the people of Newtown gave me permission to tell their story, but also I have to remember the care I have to have, that we all have to have, for our audience, so we never feel that we are making a sensational statement or we are giving them sadness for sadness because we are going to make you feel terrible. We know we are giving them the true form of theatre.”
Again and again Ulloa returned to the theme of hope, saying, “Come to the theatre for 90 minutes of hope. We all need hope. There is no better time than this for this story of hope.” The playwright and actor ended with this reflection: “Come support local theatre. Theatre does what it did in ancient Greece: comments on society. For a theatre company to take this on is awesome. Come support them.”
Catharsis is an 18th century term amalgamated from the Greek words for purge and cleanse. That is Ulloa’s gift to the citizens of Dayton, Newtown, all of us.
If you were a dragon, what kind of dragon would you be? A solitary creature? Or one with a passion burning inside?
Playwright Jenny Connell Davis explores relationships between dragons and people in Dragon Play opening this week at Know Theatre Cincinnati, “where people are sometimes dragons, and time and reality twist.” A teenage boy and a dragon fall in love in Texas Hill Country. A thousand miles north, a woman’s marriage is tested when her fire-breathing ex-lover shows up at her home. These two stories encourage the audience to ponder the meaning and costs of “love, longing and moving on,” according to author Davis.
“When I read Dragon Play,” Know Theatre Associate Artistic Director Tamara Winters shares, “I was struck by both the poetry of the ideas and the fierceness of the characters (particularly the women). It’s a play that speaks to our deep need to be loved and the consequences of letting love consume you. And on top of that, it has deliciously theatrical elements that are just a dream for a director to dig into.”
“This is a play that has one foot in a familiar world, and one foot in a heightened reality where dragons walk among us. It’s both an intimate romantic drama, and a dreamlike expression of the extremes of love” continues Winters, who directs the production. “This is a play about a moment of crisis; the moment where you have to choose between the obsession you’ve carried with you far too long and the life you’ve sacrificed everything to build. But in this play, nothing is as it seems — and as the two storylines and timelines unfold, you will realize the stakes are even higher than you could have imagined.”
“And, thanks to Jenny Connell Davis’ skillful writing, it’s also quite funny, while still having the satisfying dramatic impact you want out of a contemporary play.”
Dragon Play opens this Friday, January 27 at Know Theatre and runs through February 18, featuring, Kearston Hawkins-Johnson, Josh Reiter, Claron Hayden, Torrie Wiggins Paul Strickland, directed by Tamara Winters. For tickets: www.knowtheatre.com or 513-300-KNOW
Sneak Peek by Laurel Humes of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: Falcon Theatre
When is the last time you have seen a Western produced on stage? Like, never?
Well, get ready for Falcon Theatre’s production of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, opening Jan. 27.
The play by (ironically) British playwright Jethro Compton was first staged in London in 2014. There is plenty of source material: a 1953 short story by Dorothy M. Johnson, which also was the basis for the 1962 movie starring James Stewart and John Wayne.
Falcon director Tara Williams said that while the stage and movie versions of Liberty Valance share the same story, the play is “more truthful and the people are closer to real life.”
“Many Western films are full of stereotypes – the bumbling marshal, the woman saved by a man, the hero who is John Wayne playing John Wayne,” Williams said. “These characters, in this play, are not like that.”
The plot begins with the arrival in the dusty Western town of Twotrees by young scholar Ransome Foster (played by Craig Branch) from New York. He arrives beaten and bloodied, possibly at the hands of outlaw Liberty Valance. Foster will become friends with saloon owner Hallie (Erin Carr) and her employee, a young black man Jim (Derek snow). Other key characters are local gunslinger Bert Barricune (Allen R. Middleton), in love with Hallie; Marshal Johnson (Terry Gosdin), and, of course, Liberty Valance (Michael Hall). Cincinnati audiences may also recognize local director and actor Ed Cohen as the narrator.
Although the setting is that mythical “Old West,” the play’s themes are relevant today, Williams said. The woman is a business owner, making real choices. The black man is in danger because of his race.
“These characters are relatable. This is a story about people and how we treat others,” Williams said. “The good guy does win, but not necessarily the way you think.”
Playwright Compton was asked in an interview, “How do you put a cowboy on stage?” There will be no horses on the Falcon stage, no stagecoach robbery. But, Williams said with a laugh, “When you give an actor a gun belt, they all turn into 12-year-old boys again.”
The play will be highlighted by live music, including the Gene Pitney song “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (try to get that out of your head now!).
And, Williams promises, we will learn who did shoot Liberty Valance. It may not be who you think.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance opens Jan. 27, then runs weekends through Feb. 11 at Falcon Theatre, 636 Monmouth St., Newport. Tickets are available at 513-479-6783 or at http://falcontheater.net.
Sneak Peek by Alan Jozwiak of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”: Broadway Series at Aronoff Center
National Touring Company. (L-R) Dani Marcus as Miss Barley, Kevin Massey as Monty Navarro and John Rapson as Asquith D’Ysquith, Jr. in a scene from “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder”
Killing off eight relatives who are in line for your inheritance might sound like the subject of a particular graphic episode of Dateline. Instead, this scenario is the basis of the latest comedic Broadway musical coming next to the Aronoff Center for the Arts as part of the Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Cincinnati 16/17 Season presented by TriHealth —A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder.
The musical was created by two graduates of the NYU’s Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program, Robert L. Freedman (book and lyrics) and Steven Lutvak (music and lyrics).
When it made its appearance on Broadway, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder went onto win four Tony Awards, including the 2014 Tony Award for Best Musical, as well as the 2014 Best Musical prizes from the Drama League, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle.
Gentleman’s Guide tells the story of a penniless young man named Monty Navarro, who discovers that he is the ninth in line to become the Earl of Highhurst. Since the aristocratic family, the D’Ysquiths, disinherited his deceased mother and treated her terribly, Monty decides to get even by killing off each of his relatives in line for the title, one by one, in outrageously amusing ways. In order to reach his goal, this underdog antihero also ends up courting two women at the same time.
This seemingly serious plot is played for camp within the musical. Care was taken with Monty’s characters, as creator Robert Freedman explains about Monty: “He’s an underdog. Not only did he grow up poor, but he was denied the kind of life that he should have been born into and should’ve had. I think there’s a bit of fantasy or wish fulfillment, in seeing him be able to get revenge on the people who made it impossible for him to advance in the world.”
Another way the production pokes fun of the seriousness of the situation is by having one actor play all the D’Ysquiths. “If you have a talented actor getting killed over and over again,” says the Broadway director Darko Tresnjak, “then each murder is a reward, because he’s going to come back as another delightful characterization.” Apart from the campy fun that one actor brings, the lone actor can also explore more fully the range of the D’Yquiths’ arrogance. This makes the audience secretly cheer when each of them gets his or her comeuppance.
A final interesting element to the musical is the staging and music. There’s a toy stage inside a larger proscenium, which constantly opens to reveal new two-dimensional settings for the murders (a parish church, a frozen lake, a garden, etc.). This staging is somewhat reminiscent of another throwback musical of recent years, The Drowsy Chaperone. Drawing on Gilbert and Sullivan and the English music hall tradition, composer Lutvak sums up the musical by saying “what we are, in a way, is a very low comedy in a very fancy box. There’s all that faux classical music and it’s all very proper. . .but, in reality, it’s a low comedy; it’s a Bert Lahr, laugh-your-ass-off comedy.”
So there you have it—a throwback musical comedy that takes its inspiration from several classical sources to create a delightful Tony Award-winning musical experience. You only have one week to catch this wonderful musical. It runs from January 3-8, 2017 at the Aronoff Center for the Arts. Tickets for this show can be purchased from the Aronoff Center Box Office downtown at 650 Walnut Street, online at CincinnatiArts.org or by phone at 513.621.ARTS.