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.

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Should I Stay or Should I Go? Broadway Cincinnati Presents “If/Then”

Sneak Peek by Alan Jozwiak: of If/Then: Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Cincinnati series presented by TriHealth

BroadwayIfThenImage BroadwayIfThenImageIf/Then, the latest Broadway musical coming to the Aronoff Center, deals with a turning point in the life of Elizabeth, a middle-aged woman who moves back to New York to restart her life after getting a divorce. As the play progresses, the audience gets to see two different life paths that Elizabeth could take based on her initial choice of whether or not to stay in a park.

Each act depicts a different life path for Elizabeth based on that initial choice.

Essentially, the musical acts as a “What if?” exercise–What if I had gone out for cross country, continued studying the piano, taken that out-of-town job, married another person, etc.?

In the spirit of those choices and the different paths that people can take in life, I am going to construct the rest of this piece as a set of two alternatives based on a single choice.

If you go to see If/Then:

  • You will see one of the rare Broadway musicals these days not based on a movie or song list from a popular rock group.   The musical was created by the creative team of Tom Kitt (music), Brian Yorkey (book and lyrics), and Michael Greif (director) who were behind the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning musical, Next to Normal. Kitt and Yorkey were nominated for a Tony Award for Best Original Score.
  • You will get to see two cast members from the original Broadway show– Jackie Burns (If/Then, Wicked, Hair) who plays the lead as Elizabeth and Anthony Rapp (Rent, Six Degrees of Separation, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown) who plays the part of community organizer Lucas. Jackie Burns was the understudy for Idina Menzel, who originated the role of Elizabeth on Broadway.
  • On a personal note, if you go to see If/Then, you will meet this fantastic person who accidentally spills their water into your lap while you are sitting in your seat during intermission. As this person profusely apologizes, your eyes will meet and sparks will fly.
  • After almost a year of dating, they will propose. You will accept. After the wedding and honeymoon in Hawaii, your life will be filled with children and warm evenings by the fire with lots of snuggling.

If you don’t go to see If/Then:

  • You won’t get a chance to see how people survive and thrive in New York City. According to the production notes, “New York City is a major character in this show –the random connections and sense of possibility that make city life so singular and surprising.”
  • You also won’t get a chance to explore the role that we can create community in our lives. If/Then is a show about the way that community is created in a large metropolitan city like New York City and how that community can end up becoming our family of choice.
  • On a personal note, if you don’t go to see If/Then, you will end up at home, eating lots of junk food and binge watching Making of a Murderer.
  • You will then answer a knock on your door. It is a cult member who woos you to join their ashram.
  • While at the ashram, you will spend your days eating bulgur wheat, chanting Aztec lullabies, and forgetting all about great Broadway shows.
  • One day, you will realize the error of your ways and want to see If/Then, but it will have moved on to another city and you will be left with nothing but bitterness and regret.

The choice is clear—go to see If/Then and your life will be better and more complete.

If/Then runs from February 2 – 7, 2016 at the Aronoff Center as a part of the 2015/2016 Fifth Third Broadway in Cincinnati season presented by TriHealth. For ticket information, go to the Aronoff Center Box Office downtown at 650 Walnut Street, online at CincinnatiArts.org or by phone at 513.621.ARTS

Know’s “BlackTop Sky” Explores the Barriers of Today’s Society

Sneak Peek by Grace Eichler of Blacktop Sky: Know Theatre

KnowBlacktopSkyKnow Theatre‘s upcoming production, BlackTop Sky, takes on an environment that many of us can’t quite remember. While written in 2001, the play is set in 2008. Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland and Tamir Rice were all alive in 2008. America had just elected its first African-American President. Director Kimberly Faith Hickman brings playwright Christina Anderson’s words to life as she examines love, violence, community and justice in almost modern-day America.

Unique to this production is the youthful cast, all with local training at either NKU, CCM or as an Ensemble Intern. The cast is comprised of Landon Horton, Aziza Macklin and Kameron Richardson, who tackle the nuances of the play, especially in today’s current socioeconomic and political climate.

The play follows Ida, a Chicago housing project resident, who befriends a young homeless man, Klass, who lives near the projects. Her boyfriend struggles to understand Ida’s interest in Klass, as fear and misunderstanding create a barrier that prevents communication.

Echoing the theme of communication, Hickman notes that the interesting challenges this script present are mainly the moments without dialogue: “it has been interesting to explore the relationship dynamics in this play, and examine what these characters are communicating to one another when they are speaking or when they are not.”

BlackTop Sky runs January 29 – February 20 at Know Theatre. More information and tickets are available at http://knowtheatre.com/blacktop-sky/ or 513-300-5669.

Falcon Director Tom Peters Revisiting “Prelude to a Kiss”

Sneak Peek by Alan Jozwiak of Prelude to a Kiss: Falcon Theatre

An Interview with Falcon’s Prelude to a Kiss director Tom Peters:

Arny Stoller, Matthew David Gellin, and Becca Howell in "Prelude to a Kiss"

Arny Stoller, Matthew David Gellin, and Becca Howell in “Prelude to a Kiss”

Falcon Theatre’s latest theatrical offering is Craig Lucas’ Prelude to a Kiss, a romantic comedy about Pete and Rita, who face a surprising supernatural obstacle to their marital happiness while on their honeymoon. (In the interest of not spoiling the play, I won’t state the nature of the supernatural obstacle.)

The play is being directed by theater veteran Tom Peters. A long-time high school Speech and Drama teacher, Peters currently teaches at Summit Country Day School and has also taught at Walnut Hills High School, where he initially directed Prelude to a Kiss in the 1990s.

Since this production offers a unique opportunity for Peters to revisit this material, I asked him some questions about directing Prelude to a Kiss for a second time around and what he learned from the experience.

What has changed for you since the first time you directed Prelude to a Kiss?  

This was one of the first shows I directed when I was teaching at Walnut Hills High School. The show was new back then and I did it with a student cast sans editing. It is a mature play and it might have seemed provocative at the time for a high school theatre program, but Walnut Hills has a history of doing material that challenges the students and the audience. The students were able to connect with the intensity of young love and that helped to make the production successful.

The biggest difference I sense out of my second attempt is because I am 25 years older and have been married for 25 years longer, my personal understanding of love and commitment has grown and deepened.

Is there anything special about this production that makes it stand out?

After working with high school actors for over 30 years, it is a treat for me to work with age appropriate actors. They bring a depth to their roles that 17 year old actors can only hint at in performance.

What has been the most challenging thing about this script?

The most challenging aspect of this production is the speed in which we are putting it up. Blocking, set, sound, lights and costume are all coming together in just under four weeks.

What do you hope audiences will take away with them after seeing this production?

I hope the audience asks the right questions of themselves. What does it mean to be in love? What does it mean to say “for better and for worse until death us do part”? It is easy to “be in love” when you are young, firm and sexy. What happens to love as we age? Are we prepared for those changes? Love and marriage aren’t for the weak of spirit.

Peters has assembled a talented cast, which include Vernon Burns, Matthew David Gellin, Terry Gosdin, Becca Howell, Russ D. Mcgee, Joy Rolland-Oba, Holly Sauerbrunn, Brieanne Sheehan, Derek Snow, and Arny Stoller.

Prelude to a Kiss run January 29, 30 and February 4, 5, 6, 11, 12, and 13, 2016—closing just in time for Valentine’s Day weekend. For more information about the production, including ticketing information, visit Falcon Theatre’s website at http://falcontheater.net.

Carnegie Theater Transporting us “Over the Rainbow” this Winter

scarecrowSneak Peek by Charlie Roetting of “The Wizard of Oz”: Carnegie Theatre

Color! Excitement! Energy! Puppets! Munchkins!

These are just a handful of the wonders I was greeted with when I visited the cast of THE WIZARD OF OZ, the third sure-to-be-fantastic production in The Carnegie’s 2015-2016 season and the first full collaboration between The Carnegie‘s three departments (education, art gallery, theatre).

For a sneak peek of rehearsal photos and personal invitations from the cast, check out the You-tube video here: 

Carnegie Wizard of Oz Sneak Peek

The reasons to be excited for this production are many, only one of which is a classic script that has more than stood the test of time! The production is led by keen Director Matt Wilson. The music is being provided by Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, under the watchful eye and conductor’s wand of JR Cassidy. The set is being designed by local artist Pam Kravetz, well known for “THE ART OF FOOD” and her use of vibrant color. Add in Maggie Perrino for Choreography (as well as Props and the Producer hat) and you have a creative dream team!

The cast is no less star studded, led by Caroline Chisholm as Dorothy and featuring local favorites Sean P. Mette, Lesley Hitch, Will Reed, Jeff Richardson, Sarah Viola, Jack Manion, and Tyler Kuhlman, among others. Then there are the Munchkins! These eight young people (four from The Carnegie’s Education Center) are as energetic and talented as they are hard-working and adorable, which is quite a lot!

Also, there are puppets. Awesome. Amazing. Puppets.

Director Matt Wilson was kind enough to answer a few questions that I had about the production.

Question 1: What has been your favorite part (or parts) of developing this production?

WILSON: We have 8 children in our cast and they are all fantastic.  I love seeing such young performers come to a project and treat it with the same respect and diligence as the adults.  It is so much about the fun and the joy of being on stage for them.  That can be very infectious.  

Question 2: How is the show being re-imagined? What makes this production of THE WIZARD OF OZ stand out from others?

WILSON: The script calls for A LOT of special effects that are easy to do in film but aren’t so easy to do in a live setting, regardless of  your budget.  I think we have come up with some clever ways to do some of those things.  I also think audiences will see characters they are familiar with but that are presented in slightly different ways than they are expecting.  There are nods to the film but we aren’t just re-creating the movie on stage.  

Question 3: What part or parts of the show are you most looking forward to audiences experiencing?

WILSON: I think the audience will love Dorothy and her friends.  We’ve got some excellent performers in these roles and they’ve bonded off stage as well and that chemistry is apparent on stage.  

Question 4: THE WIZARD OF OZ is often thought of as a children’s show; many of us first experience it when we are young. How does the show, and this production in particular, transcend demographic? What can audiences of any age enjoy?

WILSON: I think the show appeals to children because of all the bright colors and fun characters, but the story has layers.  I think it speaks to people differently at different times in their lives.  The show says a lot about finding things within yourself you didn’t know were there, and I think it asks you to really examine what it means to have brains, a heart or courage.  The Wizard of OZ is a HUGE show that can seem very daunting to stage, but this production shows you what you can achieve if you open yourself up to creativity, let your passions lead you and are willing to take some risks.  The story is about characters seeking brains, a heart and courage this production is an example of a lot of folks coming together and using all three. 

When asked to comment on the production, actor Sean P. Mette had this to say.

“It’s the kind of story that inherently has magic behind it and people want to be a part of magic. I think it’s one of those stories that wants to invite you in and have fun.”

Come be a part of the magic.

THE WIZARD OF OZ, by L. Frank Baum with music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, is being presented by The Carnegie from January 21-31.

From: http://www.thecarnegie.com/ :

Based on the hit MGM film, THE WIZARD OF OZ brings out the child in all of us with songs like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and “We’re Off to See the Wizard.” THE WIZARD OF OZ will be a lightly staged production reminiscent of our sold-out staging of THE SOUND OF MUSIC presented in 2014.

Tickets $30, $27 for Carnegie Members and Enjoy the Arts Members, $21 for students. For THE WIZARD OF OZ, The Carnegie has added a family ticket package. Patrons can purchase two half-priced tickets for children (17 and under) with the purchase of one full-priced adult ticket. Please call The Carnegie Box Office to take advantage of this special package. Tickets are available at The Carnegie Box Office, open Tuesday through Friday 12 p.m. – 5 p.m., online at www.thecarnegie.com, or by phone at (859) 957-1940.

Don’t Miss Your “Rent” at Incline Theatre

Review by Laurel Humes of Rent: Incline Theatre

Lisa Glover and Tyler Kuhlman in "Rent"

Lisa Glover and Tyler Kuhlman in “Rent”

Rent, now at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater, is an unlikely holiday show, with its themes of struggle, poverty and death. But the year-in-the-life of this group of young artists and musicians does take place between two Christmases. And there are heartwarming themes of friendship, creativity and – the title of the show’s best-known song – “Seasons of Love.”

The story, loosely based on the Puccini opera La Boheme, follows Mark, an aspiring filmmaker, and roommate Roger, a rock musician who is HIV positive. Their circle of friends includes Mark’s former lover, Maureen; transvestite Angel, and Mimi, who struggles with drug addiction.

Incline Theater’s version of the rock musical from the late 1990s is energized by an overall strong cast of 15 young singer-actors with a depth of talent; even those playing minor roles are impressive in their brief solos. The back-up band also is quite good, conducted by musical director Michael Kennedy.

The most polished cast member is Kelcey Steele as Mark, the same role he played in a fine production of Rent at Miami University a few years ago. Mark is the narrator who guides us through the story, introducing each of the other characters, always filming the action. He sets himself apart for the most part, an observer like we are, as he contemplates “selling out” for a job.

There is a powerful performance from Tyler Kuhlman as Roger. Especially poignant is the duet “Without You” performed with Lisa Glover as Mimi. Glover is at her best in the quieter songs; the showy “Out Tonight” seemed beyond her vocal skills, although her sexy dance routine elevates the number.

We hear about Maureen, the performance artist, long before she takes the stage late in the first act. Part of the advance warning is a great performance of “Tango Maureen,” sung and danced by former lover Mark and current lover Joanne (Allison Muennich).

Even with all the buildup, Aiden Sims as Maureen does not disappoint. Sims’ version of Maureen’s performance art piece, “Over the Moon,” is the best I have ever seen.

Also notable is the first act closer, “La Vie Boheme,” with all the characters lined up on one side of the table, reminiscent of a painting of the Last Supper.

Overall, the choreography by Matthew Wilson, who also directed, is very fine, helped by an athletic young cast.

Kudos to set designer Brett Bowling, who created the multi-level set and filled it with pieces that reflect the 1990s, including the now-archaic pay phone.

Rent continues Wednesdays-Sundays through Dec. 20.  For tickets, call 513-241-6550.

Incline’s “Rent” Not Your Typical Holiday Hit

Review by Kenneth Stern of Rent: Incline Theater

Lisa Glover as Mimi in Incline's "Rent"

Lisa Glover as Mimi in Incline’s “Rent”

Will Rent, now playing at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater, be the hit of the holiday theater season? Timing – and quality – are everything and Tim Perrino, executive artistic director, has delivered in spades, slotting Rent for December in his theater’s inaugural District Series. The quality of this show might make the producers think about making it a new Christmas tradition.

It’s Christmas Eve the entire first act, with a plastic lit Santa on the stoop and strings of Christmas lights strung around the many windows of the warehouse the crew of artists and musicians calls home. Peer through the swirling late night fog at the ensemble cast meandering aimlessly through an East Village street, and you almost see Scrooge’s 1840s London. That’s a fitting mood for these near employed, near homeless bohemians. Denny Reed, lighting and sound designer, Brett Bowling, set design, and Caren Young, costume designer, capture and project a down and struggling section of New York. The fellow with the glass cleaner and squeegee is a particularly nice touch.

A Christmas Carol is as much a story of want as it is of plenty, and so is Rent, whether folks are struggling with work, income, love, or their health (addiction and HIV/AIDS are at the surface of this 1996 play). As leads Mark and Roger sing near the end “You’re living in America / Where it’s like the Twilight Zone / And when you’re living in America / At the end of the millennium / You’re what you own.” Like Dickens (or the librettists of Puccini’s La Boheme, on which this rock opera was based), the script from  Jonathan Larson (book, music and lyrics) sympathizes with youthful idealists unable to pay the rent.

This is equally an ensemble piece, and everyone bounds on stage at the start, climbing scaffolding and scattering like mice to every window of the two story warehouse facade. Like Puccini’s opera, the plot centers around Roger (Tyler Kuhlman, blond and rugged), an HIV-positive musician and Mimi (Lisa Glover, dark, and lithe, with a powerful voice and a supple body), both HIV positive and struggling with heroine addiction. Also HIV positive is the cross-dressing Angel (Christopher Carter, even better in wig, boots and skirt than pants).  Mark (Kelcey Steele), Roger’s roommate, Jimmy Olsen-like, has his film camera pointed in nearly every scene. He is narrator and navigator, but not leader, though omnipresent and singing strongly throughout in duets with Roger as well as Joanne (Allison Muennich), now Mark’s ex-girlfriend’s partner. Their “Tango: Maureen” stands out among the many well performed songs.

The strong individual performances are matched by the ensemble. The primarily youthful cast is energetic, yet measured, throughout. They are well served by director and choreographer Matthew Wilson. Crisp, fast-paced choreography seems to be a Cincinnati Landmark Production hallmark. The music direction by Michael Kennedy (who also conducted and played keyboards) contributed to the smooth and seamlessly sung production.

Rent was the American musical of the 1990s and Wilson, Kennedy, cast, and the musicians nail the production, as does the production staff. We get mid-90s Greenwich Village: the homeless, the entrepreneurs, the dealers and developers, and in one prescient scene, cops taking away an African American, with the moment being captured on film.

The second act opens with the ensemble singing the show’s best-known song, “Seasons of Love” (which contemplates the ways the 525,600 minutes in a year can be measured), lined up across the stage. Act II marches quickly through that year, from New Year’s Eve to the last scene, once again at Roger’s and Mark’s apartment on Christmas Eve.

Despite the dark themes, this is a big American musical. The cast received a standing ovation from the near capacity opening night audience. I imagine this Incline production will have many sold out performances.

ETC’s Cinderella set to Charm Audiences Again

Sneak Peak by Kenneth Stern of Cinderella: Ensemble Theatre

Sara Mackie and Torie Wiggins as the stepsisters in ETC's upcoming "Cinderella"

Sara Mackie and Torie Wiggins as the stepsisters in ETC’s upcoming “Cinderella”

Cinderella and her Cincinnati created entourage of animal friends are back at the Ensemble Theatre for ETC’s annual holiday show. Ahead of the December 2nd opening night, playwright Joe McDonough reflected on and answered questions about the “fractured fairytale” Lynn Myers, producing artistic director, first commissioned in 2005. This marks its third production.

McDonough has an obvious fondness for his Cinderella, and gives full credit to David Kisor, who wrote the lyrics, and composer Fitz Patton. “The story has a magical feel to it. David did a wonderful job in fitting into Fitz’s musical style.” McDonough and Kisor have collaborated on eight productions for ETC, dating back to 1997’s The Frog Princess. Because of Kisor’s schedule, Patton wrote Cinderella’s score.

Looking back at this Cinderella‘s origins, McDonough said, at the time, “we had not done a new show in a few years. Lynn thought it was time for a new one.” Thus Cinderella joined Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, The Adventures of Pinocchio, Around the World in 80 Days, Ugly Duck, and The Frog Princess in the Meyers-McDonough-Kisor axis of original, commissioned family friendly holiday shows in the ETC annual line up. Asked about future titles, McDonough replied nothing is in the works but it is “always possible that there could be a new one.”

His Cinderella is more Disney’s than Grimm’s fairytale, but with a foot sought to fit a sneaker, not a slipper, this is a Cincinnati original. “The story lends itself to being humorous. Cinderella is a little bit daft. She is not in peril. So I focused on the humor. Our style is to put a modern spin on it, to make it a contemporary tale, with a little bit of surprise.” As a family friendly production, the Grimm’s brothers telling of the bloody slicing of one step-sister’s toe to fit the slipper and the second sister cutting off her heel to succeed, was left out. “We did not want to go there,” remembered McDonough. That did not seem to be a family oriented theme (or at least not a 21st century American holiday one).

So, this Cinderella doesn’t want to go to the Ball, preferring to stay home with her books. Prince Freddy is equally romantically-challenged, a newly minted and returned to town PhD. Rather than having a prince being charmed by the beauty in the beautiful gown and dancing all night with her, Meyers urged McDonough to find the heart of the story and reveal that. Taking the familiar fairytale framework (spoiler alert: the prince and Cinderella are united at the end), the playwright spun it so the search would be for inner beauty. Prince Freddy sees inside the person; “looked into the heart and soul of a person,” is the way McDonough put it.

Still, the story is “great for kids” as well as adults. “Our approach is not to write for kids. We write for adults. We know kids are smart. They will pick up on things. The kids come along for the ride,” McDonough said. He believes everyone will be taken by the production: “The design is bright and colorful. It is eye popping visually. That’s the style of Brian (set and lighting designer Brian C. Mehring) and Reba (Senske, costume designer). He also gave a shout out to “the great cast.”

McDonough might have some bias, but by his lights “Lynn and everybody did a fantastic job.” Attend the show and see if the writer has it right. Wednesday is opening night. The production runs through January 3rd.