Cincinnati’s theatre glitterati enjoyed a “Theatre Industry Night” last night, at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. President Josh Steele hosted this annual event, slightly different this year, instead of theatres “competing with each other,” they celebrated each theatre and the shows, performances, and designers which the LCT panelists lauded this season.
Steele also announced LCT ‘s new strategic goal of “growing the pie” for audience development. LCT will focus on a new interactive website, supporting a new scholarship program which supports Cincinnati artists and technicians, and including new activities such as “Playdates” in which the audience can watch the backstage process. While there are more initiatives, Steele’s first year as LCPresident has been all about gathering the theatres and developing these new strategies to support the growing and vibrant live theatre opportunities in the greater Cincinnati area.
The LCT notable shows designers and performances from the 2014-2015 Season included:
The Covedale: directed by Ed Cohen and Dee Anne Bryll, featuring Helen Raymond Goers as Maria and Margot Grom as Liesl, THE SOUND OF MUSIC.Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati: a tour-de-force by Bruce Cromer, sound design by Brian Mehring and Matt Callahan, AN ILIAD.
CCM Musical Theatre: performers Lawson Young, Chris Collins Pisano, and Madeline Lynch, Scenic director Joe Leonard, LEGALLY BLONDE.
Untethered’s and Clifton Players’ first collaborative effort: Dale Hodges and the whole ensemble, Buz Davis direction and design, AUGUST: OSAGE COUNT
Diogenes Theatre Company: Tori Smith for her performance, TWILIGHT: LOS ANGELES 1992
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company: Kelly Mengelkoch and Nicholas Rose, the ensemble characters, directed by Kevin Hammond, TAMING OF THE SHREW.
CCM Drama: Katie Langham’s performance, Richard Hess direction, SPEECH AND DEBATE.
The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati: Noelle Wedig’s costumes and David Center’s scenic design, Angela Powell Walker direction, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, JR.
New Edgecliff Theatre: Renika Williams, Bob Allen, Michael Shooner and Reggie Willis, RACE.
Falcon Theatre: director Ed Cohen, actors Derek Snow and Michael Hall, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT.
Know Theatre Cincinnati: performer Corinne Mohlenhoff, directed by Brian Isaac Phillips, set design Andrew Hungerford and sound design Doug Borntrager, A HANDMAID’S TALE.
The Carnegie: Layan Elwazani as Anita, Jay Goodlett’s choreography, WEST SIDE STORY.
Miami University: Kelcey Steele’s Princeton and Sean Davis’ Nicky, Grant Lemasters and Aretta Baumgartner for puppet design and coaching, Gion DeFrancesco scenic design, AVENUE Q.
Northern Kentucky University: The NKU ensemble and Ronnie Chamberlain’s costume design THE WEDDING SINGER.
Mad Anthony Theatre Company: Chris Kramer and Daniel Britt, ANY GIVEN MONDAY.
LCT Board includes: Vice President, from New Edgecliff Theatre of Northside, Jim Stump; Treasurer, Pamela Young, from Cincinnati Children’s Theatre; Secretary, from Falcon Theatre, Clint Ibele; Website Chair, from Know Theatre Cincinnati, Andrew Hungerford; Individual Membership Chair, from Clifton Performance Theatre, Kevin Crowley; Social Media Chair, from The Carnegie, Maggie Perrino; Stage Insights Co-Chair, Dr. Sheldon Polonsky. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital; Stage Insights Co-Chair, from Cincinnati Landmark Productions, Rodger Pille; Fellowship Chair, from Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, Sara Clark; Annual Event Chair, from Clifton Performance Theatre, Carol Brammer; Media Relations Chair, from Northern Kentucky University School of the Arts, Tyler Gabbard; From Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, Jared Doren; From Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Kathy Neus; and from Cincinnati’s newest Equity theatre, Diogenes Theatre Company, Jeff Landen.
The League of Cincinnati Theatres was founded in 1999 to strengthen, nurture and promote Cincinnati’s theatre community. LCT provides its member companies and individual members with education, resources and services to enhance the quality and exposure of the theatre community in Cincinnati and increase community awareness, attendance and involvement. More information about the League can be found at www.leagueofcincytheatres.com.
Review by Donna Hoffman of Company: Carnegie Theatre
Looking around at the audience before the opening number of Company at The Carnegie Saturday night, I made a note that the audience as a whole was definitely over 55. After the show, I wondered why the 35 and below crowd wasn’t there. If you are under 40 years old and have never seen Company you gotta see this one. Even if you have seen it before, you gotta see this production – to quote a line from this musical, “A festive atmosphere invades the room.”
This is the fourth time I’ve seen Company but the first time I’ve seen it directed by a woman. Corrie Danieley is commended for finding Robert/Bobby’s emotional dimensions played by Zachary Huffman especially his “Being Alive” piece. In fact, many of the characters had emotional textures that I’ve never noticed before. The casting had some wonderful surprises like the gothic Aiden Marie Sims (Marta) and mezzo soprano Kathryn Zajac as Harry. Deciding to put a lesbian couple, Zajac and Marta Backman Hyland (Sarah) into the mix gave the karate scene that frames “It’s the Little Things You Do Together” a whole new meaning. Delightful. April played by Megan Ainsley Callahan reminded me of Paula Dean, just clueless enough to say stupid stuff, but smart enough to know when the goose is cooked. Well, maybe Amy is smarter than the TV reality cook. Sara Kenny as Amy has terrific comedic timing and I didn’t stop smiling during her I’m not “Getting Married Today.”
I realized for the first time (I may be a late bloomer) that this is a simple, Jewish matchmaker musical and I had the lyrics “Matchmaker, Matchmaker, make me a match” running through my head in between numbers. The women in Danieley’s concept are put in the forefront as the movers and shakers while the men are much like Robert/Bobby who lives around the edges.
Choreographing on The Carnegie stage can’t be easy, it’s a very shallow space. The set by Ron Shaw denotes multilayered skyscrapers and marble high rise apartments with sophisticated grays, deep purples and spots of red, and the four stage areas were necessary, but the second act solo dance number was inhibited and confusing. I understand that the modern dance is the subtext for the silent bedroom scene but the solo dancer needed a male partner for the symbol to work. “Side by Side by Side” opens the second act with a vaudeville kick complete with Robert/Bobby donning a black boulder hat as if he were Ben Vereen as the Leading Player in “Pippin.”
The only really disappointing scene in the entire production is “The Ladies Who Lunch.” Joanne played by Stephanie Louise Park is supposed to be completely plastered in that number. She wasn’t. I wanted her to just sit still at the table and sing that song to Robert/Bobby with a spot on her. This number creates the climax of the show and it was too weak. Also, once the dance club is established there is really no reason for anyone else to be on stage but the basic threesome.
I repeat…if for some reason you have never seen Company call The Carnegie box office and get a ticket. Bring someone along with you to keep you company.
Review by Charles Roetting of Company: Carnegie Theatre
Director Corrie Danieley kicks off The Carnegie‘s 2015-2016 season with the musical COMPANY, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by George Furth. I attended the opening Saturday performance.
The story revolves around the married friends, girlfriends, and 35th birthday of the highly likable and highly single Robert, played by Zachary Huffman. Unlike traditional musicals, there is no linear story-line here; we are instead treated to a series of non-chronological songs and scenes in which Robert learns about himself whilst learning about the relationships of his friends. Danieley makes a number of brilliant choices with this show. One outstanding decision is recasting one of the couples as two females. This is particularly effective and gives us one of the most touching, albeit brief, moments in the show (a single kiss) that may not have been quite so impacting otherwise.
A convention Danieley establishes is having characters fade on and off stage independent of the scene taking place. This works well with the non-linear plot of the show as well as keeping the stage free of excess bodies. This keeps distractions minimal and aids the overall production. Music Director Erin McCamley has done outstanding work creating a vocally powerful ensemble that sounds phenomenal. The result is full and clear, evidenced by the titular opening song, “Company”. Fortunately, this is as true in smaller parts. Huffman in particular has an ease and effervescence about his voice that is showcased wonderfully throughout but never better than late in the show with “Being Alive”.
The 6-piece orchestra must also be mentioned for their expert work on the score. Choreography, by Jennifer Martin, is fun and energetic. The choreography never feels out of place, nor is it ever truly showcased, until a gorgeous solo performer by Kathryn Miller in Act Two. Dean Walz’ costume design is simple yet nuanced and highly effective. Each costume brilliantly captures and supplements the personalities of the characters in the show. Whether it’s a suit, a black graphics t-shirt, a stewardess jacket, or vest and tie, everything creates a distinctive look that perfectly suits the wearer. Ron Shaw’s set design is superb and like the costumes, simple. We are given a two-tiered stage, an upstage wall of square shapes resembling the city skyline, and a few mobile set pieces when needed. This design frames every scene in a way that makes the world feel very large but the action feel very intimate. While the production looks great and sounds phenomenal, all of the actors at one time or another fall into a presentational style of performing that lacks authenticity. These moments make the performances feel put on, emotionally detached, and unaffected. This leaves several of the married couples with what appears to be sterile or completely loveless relationships. It gives them the sense of being strangers saying rehearsed lines, not a couple who have built a life together.
Fortunately, several performances shine through. In particular, Sara Kenny delights as Amy. Her portrayal of a woman with cold feet driven mad on her wedding day is worth the price of admission. Megan Ainsley Callahan is adorable as the good-hearted but naive April. John Langley in the role of Larry, gives the most emotionally believable performance in the show. Also strong are Marta Backman Hyland as Sarah, Kathryn Zajac as Harry, and Aiden Marie Sims as Marta.
The single greatest challenge faced by the show is Zachary Huffman’s portrayal of Robert. Robert is supposed to be well-liked, adored by all of his female friends (five of whom spend an entire song calling him “Poor Baby”), and the character that the audience roots for while he finds his way through, and even to, love. Unfortunately, Huffman’s take on the character is smug, emotionally detached, and largely unlikable. His performance is so ironic that the audience never gets to know him and therefor can never really cheer for him. It’s never made clear why he is so popular, so fawned over. This revelation is present in neither the text nor in the performance. Overall, Director Corrie Danieley and Music Director Erin McCamley have created a show that is a joy to look at and wonderful to listen to. But a powerhouse ensemble, even as good as this one, can’t rescue an unsympathetic lead.
Review by Doug Iden of Company: Carnegie Theatre
You’ll be in good Company when you attend the Stephen Sondheim musical which opens The Carnegie theater schedule. This is the first of Sondheim’s “concept musicals” so don’t expect a plot. The “concept” in this musical is relationships, or the lack thereof. The story, such as it is, shows Bobby’s life as a bachelor who cannot commit to a lasting relationship with a woman, let alone marriage. For his 35th birthday, he is surrounded his frenetic group of friends including four married couples and three potential girlfriends who alternately try to convince him to get married or stay single. Bobby is portrayed by a laconic Zachary Huffman who maintains a sufficient detachment to allow the transition to a more committed relationship work as the show progresses.
Sondheim’s songs are very difficult to sing musically while enunciating properly so the audience can hear the intricate lyrics. If you can’t hear the lyrics, it is difficult to follow the gist of the show. The singing voices of the ensemble were excellent but it was hard to follow the lyrics early on in the show. I’m not sure if the problem was the sound or the enunciation of the singers. However, as the evening progressed, it became easier to understand the lyrics. Three songs define the show: “Another Hundred People” (sung by Aiden Marie Sims), “The Ladies Who Lunch (sung by Stephanie Louise Park) and “Being Alive” (sung by Zachary Huffman) and each singer nails their performances. These songs represent the loneliness, despair and ultimate redemption of the characters in the story.
The entire ensemble is excellent with particular emphasis on Sara Kenny who performs a show stopping tour de force on the tongue-twistingly, frenetic patter song “Getting Married Today”. This is not only a difficult song but the machine gun rapid lyric is hard to deliver with clarity. There is a lot of comedic content in the show but Kenny is the best comedienne on stage.
Whether you enjoy Sondheim or not, you should enjoy this opening production at The Carnegie and a good start for new Theater Director Maggie Perrino.
Q: “What do you get when you cross three crazy actors and 5,000 years of American history?”
A: “The Complete History of America (Abridged)!”
This production, having its regional premiere at the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, is created by the same trio who created the wildly popular “The Complete History of Shakespeare (Abridged).” The basic premise is that there is much to be made fun of with respect to American history—and they deliver many very funny moments.
Having to cover 5,000 years of American history, playwrights Adam Long, Reed Martin, and Austin Tichenor cover a lot of ground, but leave out some important elements of American history. I was surprised that they did not discuss the Westward expansion and taming of the frontier.
This show delivers major laughs and the three CSC actors (veterans Justin McCombs and Miranda McGee and newcomer Goeffrey Barnes) are up to the challenge in poking fun at everything in American history, from Amerigo Vespucci’s role in naming the continents of North and South America to a slide show of the Civil War.
Special praise goes to Justin McCombs, who was outstanding playing a large number of female roles in drag. There is one scene at the end of Act II where he comes on stage playing a seductive Madame Chiang-Kai-Shek that is a showstopper. Coming on stage, McCombs has this exaggerated cross-legged shashay that is completely hysterical.
Fellow cast members Miranda McGee and Geoffrey Barnes also had their fair share of funny moments. I loved the premise given at the top of the show that McGee needed to do this play as extra credit for her to get her green card. It added more weight to the exploration of American history. Barnes does a very funny imitation of President Obama and shines with being the lead in the film noir review of the last thirty years of history.
Despite the load of laughs, there were several jokes that fell flat which did not showcase these actors not nearly as well as they should have. I suspect that these problems with be corrected as the actors fine-tune the production over its run.
The Complete History of America (Abridged) is a great summer offering from Cincinnati Shakespeare. I hope that they reprise this play again next year, so that the production can grow to become even funnier the next time out.
I have been looking forward all year to see the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s regional premier of One Man, Two Guv’nors, after having seen the original version on the London Stage. The play, based on Italian Commedia Dell’Arte with a good dash of vaudeville, Monty Python, and audience participation thrown in, requires tremendous energy and comic flair; as usual, CSC did not disappoint, providing an uproarious production every bit as entertaining as the original. Key to success is a charming and both physically and verbally gifted leading man to play Francis Henshall, our everyman protagonist who juggles the demands of two bosses while simultaneously looking for a good meal and a good…woman. Matthew Lewis Johnson, who wowed theatre-goers last year as Falstaff in CSC’s Henry IV, was perfectly cast and once again demonstrated his impeccable comic timing and connection with the audience. He was backed up by CSC’s outstanding stable of character actors , highlighted by the eternally reliable Justin Combs, Miranda McGee, and especially Jeremy Dubin as the nonagenarian waiter, Alfie. Certainly not to be forgotten are “The Shakes”, the jazzy/bluesy skiffle band who provide entertaining musical interludes throughout the show, led by Kelly Mengelkoch, Cary Davenport and other CSC regulars who for a change of pace got to show off their musical talents. Finally, kudos to director Brian Isaac Phillips who nailed the pace and timing of this non-stop foolishness.
One Man Two Guv’nors may not be high art—maybe not even high comedy. But it’s an irreverent homage to the art of comedy itself that breaks down the fourth wall of theater and never fails to surprise and amuse. Tickets are almost sold out, although two shows have recently been added, so don’t miss this production. I hope CSC continues to take similar opportunities to produce fresh, contemporary productions with enough of a classical twist to fit into their otherwise traditional repertoire.
Think “Sesame Street on Crack” and you will get a little insight into what Avenue Q the musical is all about, now onstage at Miami University. Avenue Q presents a whole unique set of challenges for any theatre, especially a college theatre. That being said, Miami University’s production handles the show well. The most characteristic challenge is creating puppets that are humanistic and interesting enough for us to look at the entire show. As with the PBS hit series that teaches young children their ABC’s, numbers and other life lessons, this adult version of the avenue, continues to teach us, but perhaps topics that are just a bit different and perhaps a might naughtier. With a book written by Jeff Whitty and music and lyrics by Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez (the same guys who brought us The Book of Mormon) this is not a show that will have you humming the tunes, however it will have you laughing and will definitely put a smile on your face and a warm feeling in your heart.
A bunch of racist, horny and sexually confused puppets (magnificently designed by Grant Lemasters in an homage to the late Jim Henson) from Avenue Q are the “leading characters” in this musical that is very difficult to execute for a myriad of reasons.
The cast was led by a quad of four strong performers: Kelcey Steele and Taylor Hayes as Princeton and Kate Monster, and the loveable duo of Josh Stothfang and Sean Davis as Rod & Nicky (think Bert & Ernie meets Will & Grace). Princeton (Kelsey Steele), a recent college graduate with a useless BA in English, is trying to find his life purpose and through his foibles and follies, including some invasive Bad Idea Bears, the other furry and not so furry residents on the block are able to find new meaning in their lives. Of course this is all done through songs such as “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist”; “The Internet Is For Porn; “If You Were Gay”; “You Can Be As Loud As The Hell You Want When Your Making Love” and “Schadenfreude”.
For their human neighbors, it gets no better than Cara Hihn as Christmas Eve who makes Hunter Dobereinder’s Brian all the more hilarious. Then there is Sean Davis whose crisp, funny and vocally limber performance and puppetry with Nicky is better than the original Broadway creator of the role.
With a cast that innately understands the actor/puppet relationship and a technical team that lets the show seamlessly unfold, this is a production that could run for years. The amazing part of this production is that the actors, who become puppeteers, do so to perfection, in no small thanks to the puppet coach Aretta Baumgartner. The vocals were spotty here and there, but never enough to get in the way of the story or characters. In fact, the puppets they handle become a true part of them and even though we see their actual faces as they operate the characters, we forget that it is the human we are watching or hearing as we are focused on the puppets in the play. As stated, the technical side of this Avenue Q is near perfect as the puppets come to life in the design by Lemasters, and coached by Aretta Barumgartner. It’s clear these actors lived with and through their puppet counterparts as seen in their ability to bring these characters to life with their acting and singing.
Gion DeFrancesco’s scenic design is reminiscent of the original; and as usual, This production is hard to say anything in the least bit negative about (with the exception of erratic spotlights and some sound issues)– it is solid from the beginning to the end with no downtime in between. The actors are having as much fun telling us this story as we are having watching it unfold. They have heart and they become very real to us. So if someone can’t tell you how to get to that other street, have your GPS point you to Avenue Q at Miami University.
Any family has its ups and downs, issues and secrets. The Westons have that and then some. As literature, “August: Osage County” by Tracy Letts is a masterful work. It is multilayered and multi textured but not all of the layers are things you really want to explore. The story of the Weston sisters and their parents and relatives, who come together during a family crisis, reflects and absorbs the energy of many families; sometimes the mirror reflects humor, sometimes naked raw emotion.
Untethered Theatre made a bold choice in choosing this piece, perfectly aligned with their mission, but not with their sight lines, and eliminating seating for the audience. Perhaps there were other answers to the sprawling set in the cramped, yet intimate space. Could the bunkbed and study have been switched for audience comfort? Or was it a conscious effort to make the audience squirm and turn in their seats? As each layer is ripped away, the audience should become more uncomfortable at the sight of their own wounds.
With those details aside, it is a powerful play, where layer upon layer it is revealed that this family has been poisoned and eaten away by a complicated web of lies, denial, illness and the sweet allure of whiskey, pills, weed or wine.
The highlights of the evening are performances by Dale Hodges (Violet Westin), Christine Dye (Mattie Fay), Bob Allen (Charlie), Carter Bratton (Little Charlie) and Mindy Heithaus. Strength of focus, crafting people rich and full in detail confirm these actors as Cincinnati treasures. Another audience member summed up Dale Hodges’ performance “How she made me detest this complicated woman and then be hopeful for her well-being by the end of the play was lovely to watch.” The others rounding out the cast of 13 (!) fulfill their roles well, in a true ensemble cast. Costumes and lighting were appropriate.
I highly recommend this show. It is not for the easily offended. It is long, but most of it flew by as we were all entranced by this wonderful theatre making brave, bold choices.