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Falcon’s “Lion in Winter” Proves the Timelessness of Family Dysfunction

Review by Laurel Humes of “The Lion in Winter”: Falcon Theatre

“The Lion in Winter,” now on stage at Falcon Theatre, is surprisingly hilarious, despite this royal family’s savage catfights, death threats and sheer animosity toward one another.

The time is 1183. The King is Henry II. The Queen is Eleanor of Aquitaine, except she’s been imprisoned by Henry for 10 years for persuading their sons to rebel against him. 

Henry (Allen R. Middleton) allows Eleanor (Tracy M. Schoster) to come home for Christmas. The family gathering includes Henry and Eleanor and their three sons Richard (Gregory Mallios), Geoffrey (Jared Earland) and John (Clay Winstead). 

Just for more tension, add Henry’s current mistress, Alais (Lexi Rigsby), and Phillip, the young king of France (Dan Robertson).

“What shall we hang? The holly or each other?” Henry asks at the caustic holiday gathering.

Central to the family hostility is that each parent wants a different son to succeed Henry as king. Eleanor is promoting Richard, the oldest and already a famous soldier. Henry wants John, only 16, and naïve and weak. 

So inter-family alliances form, and then dissolve. There is scheming and strategizing. So many lies are told and so many ruses launched, that it is difficult to keep track of who is on whose side. In a laughable understatement, Eleanor says, “Well, every family has its ups and downs.”

At one point, Henry decides none of his sons are worthy and locks all of them up in a wine cellar. “The royal boys are aging with the royal port,” he proclaims.

But, just when you start to believe that none of these characters – and they were real people – is at all sympathetic, you see the pain in Eleanor as she watches Henry with his mistress. This one isn’t his first. She covers with pronouncements like: “Henry’s bed is his province. He can people it with sheep for all I care. Which, on occasion, he has done.” 

The sons complain painfully about enduring childhoods with their uncaring parents. And even after plots against him are revealed, Henry cannot bring himself to execute his sons.

Director Tara Williams has chosen to put the characters in contemporary dress. That can be jarring, considering the plot clearly revolves around 12th century royalty and events. But the decision makes the point that dissention can exist in all families, regardless of the era.

The modern costumes also help us relate to each character. We recognize the t-shirt and jeans look for teenage John, the military uniform for soldier Richard, the business suit for CEO-as-King Henry.

Falcon’s “The Lion in Winter” is witty, clever, and very well-acted by all cast members; the ensemble has no weak links.

The focus of the play, though, is on Henry and Eleanor. Middleton and Schoster revel in the roles, and they are as good a match as the characters. Middleton’s Henry is flamboyant, all swagger and bluffs. Schoster’s Eleanor may be softer spoken, but her slings and arrows always hit the mark.

“The Lion in Winter” continues through April 6 at Falcon Theatre, 636 Monmouth St., Newport. Tickets are available at 513-479-6783 or at http://falcontheater.net.

Incline’s “Best Little Whorehouse’s” Guilty Pleasures Are Mostly Innocent

Review by Doug Iden of Best Little Whorehouse in Texas: Incline Theatre

In rural, central Texas in the 1970’s, anything goes – as long as the locals can enjoy it but pretend it isn’t there.  Consequently, set amidst a conservative Bible Belt community, sits a “house of ill repute”, euphemistically called the Chicken Ranch because poultry would be accepted for payment during the Depression.  Not standard fare for a Broadway musical.

This is the setting for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,  now playing at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater.  The play is an interesting combination of rambunctious, raunchy, funny and savagely satirical bits but, at its heart, it is a bitter sweet love story about Texas written by composer-lyrist Carol Hall.  Most of the music is rousing, story-telling, Country and Western fare interlaced with some very poignant and moving songs.

The Chicken Ranch actually existed from the 1840’s until 1973, when the brothel was finally closed by a publicity driven televangelist Marvin P. Thorpe, played unctuously by Aaron Whitehead.  The satire emanates from the ambitious and oily manner of the “watchdog” and the complicit state leadership led by shifty Governor Briscoe (Dan Doerger).

The play opens with the roaring song “20 Fans” sung by the Bandleader (Nicholas Brown) and the “girls” describing the need to “cool down” the feverish activity inside.  Two women, Angel (an experienced pro played by Caroline Grace Williams) and novice Shy (Laura Wacksman)) apply for a job.  Then we are introduced to the Madame Miss Mona, portrayed by Lesley Hitch, in the song “A L’il’ Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place,” where Mona explains the rules that all the women must follow.  The challenge in this play is to create audience empathy for the illegal and immoral activities of Miss Mona and her group.  This is accomplished through her strict rules of conduct (“there’s nothing dirty going on”), her ability to create a safe family of misfits, and the hypocrisy of self-serving politicians and would-be journalists.  Other members of the Ranch are Keri Baggs, Heidi Olson, Cassidy Steele, Annabel Forman, Emma Moss and Sarah Willis.

Early on, we see the compassion which Mona shows to her troop when she catches Angel using the telephone (a major rule violation) to talk to her son.  Mona forgives the transgression.  Hitch effectively plays Mona as a strong, no-nonsense, pragmatic businesswoman who believes that she is providing a valuable “service” to the locals while protecting and guiding the women. 

The satire blossoms when Thorpe leads his choir and fellow evangelists in the lively songs “Watch Dog Theme” and “Texas Has a Whorehouse In It,” always in front of television cameras. Early in the second act, the Governor performs “The Sidestep” which savagely castigates the hypocritical manner in which he avoids the controversy.  Doerger’s dance routine further demonstrates his ability to “sidestep” the issue.

A highlight of the show is the “Aggie Song” in which the Texas A&M football seniors are annually rewarded by going to the Chicken Ranch for Thanksgiving.  The Aggie chorus line (Cade Harvey, Cian Steele, Liam Sweeney, Michael Wright Jr and Jesse Lawrence) “romp and stomp” with cowboy boots on their feet and various stages of undress above while they contemplate the miles ahead “before we get to heaven”.  This is punctuated by a clever prop by set designer Brett Bowling, which shows a gridiron on the outside (while snippets of a football game play on a video screen above) and then opens into the Aggie locker room.  This is a high-energy, rip-roarin’ dance number with echoes of the Rockettes. 

The pervasive rambunctiousness is offset by several poignant moments.  Café owner Doatsey Mae Grimes (Helen Anneliesa Raymond Goers) longs for a different life in the soliloquy “Doatsey Mae” in which she is “day by day respectable” but wants something more, hopefully with Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd (Rick Kramer). During the song, she shadow-dances with a beautiful vision of her dream (Heidi Olson).  Kramer also sings well in his only solo song, “Good Old Girl”. Also effective at softening the tone are the plaintive numbers “Hard Candy Christmas,” sung by the girls, and “Bus From Amarillo,” sung by Hitch.

There is a lot of excellent dancing in this show, due primarily to Director/Choreographer Jay Goodlett, who attended CCM and performed ballet in many venues including the Cincinnati Ballet.  His influence is readily apparent in the numerous dance routines. In addition to those mentioned before, the Ranch-women perform several sexy, erotic dances in the opening three numbers.  All of the dancers perform well.  It’s good to see the Incline (and the Covedale) try more difficult and involved dance routines. 

Bowling’s primary set is a static view of the inside of the Chicken Ranch, with stairways leading to a number of rooms on the second floor.  The women enter and leave the stage through these doors.  One very effective scene combines the set with lighting designer Denny Reed’s appropriate red lighting, allowing a “see-through” image into the rooms where we see hands and arms moving while the Aggies are entertained.  Reed also designed moving lights when the Ranch is invaded by Thorpe.  As usual, Caren Brady’s costumes run the gamut from Western business cowboy gear, to standard uniforms for the waitress and the Sheriff, to sexy lingerie worn by the women. 

This show is one of those guilty pleasures with a mix of comedy, hijinks and sadness.  So grab your chicken legs and “romp and stomp” on down to the Incline for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, running through April 7.

I Dare You To Stay In Your Seat During “On Your Feet!”

Review by Spenser Smith of On Your Feet: Broadway in Cincinnati

I challenge you to stay in your seat during the energetic, yet poignant production based on the lives and music of the 26-time Grammy Award-winning husband-and-wife team of Gloria and Emilio Estefan, now onstage at the Aronoff Center.

The musical has a book written by Alexander Dinelaris and a score built around the Cuban-pop music made famous by Gloria Estefan. If you’re not dancing in the aisles at the end of the first act, just wait for the concert you’ve been expecting the whole show at the end of Act Two.

Major congratulations is due to director Jerry Mitchell, who has proven himself a master of movement. His direction/choreography in productions of Hairspray, Legally Blonde and Kinky Books speaks for itself. He is a master of pace. He completely understands what it means to “move the show along.” We never stay too long in a moment that would otherwise beg for a yawn or a trip to the restroom. The seventy-five minute first act feels like just a glimpse of the tragedy that the real Gloria has experienced, and it turns out to be just that.

Christie Prades (Gloria) is perfect as the small-town girl turned superstar that never wanted the attention. She would have never gotten her start had it not been for the urgency of her soon-to-be companion and manager played with vigor by Eddie Noel (Emilio). Her mother, protective yet not unlike the mother of Gypsy Rose Lee, played with warm tenacity by Nancy Ticotin (Gloria Fajardo), hopes she will stay home to help care for her sick father. We know very quickly she wishes her daughter to have all she never could and she gets her time to shine too. If her mother is given pause, Debra Dardona (Consuelo) is there to do everything she can to help Gloria succeed. She’s hysterical.

The story is built around the trials and tribulations of the Estefan ascension to fame including the highs and lows, in sickness and in health. If you’re looking for your stereotypical jukebox musical, On Your Feet has so much more. The Estefan story is on full display. You hear the songs you want to hear, but you also glimpse the moments you may not have known before. As Emilio says to a skeptical studio executive who doesn’t believe a Latin beat can “crossover”: “You may not think so, but this is what America looks like.” I think this is a show everyone should see just for that moment. See this show to see something you may not understand. What better reason to go to the theatre? I learned something, and I think you could too.

If you don’t believe me, maybe this line from a young patron in front of me at intermission:

“It’s just as good as Hamilton.” And it’s so much fun!

On Your Feet continues at the Aronoff Center through March 24 . For tickets, visit the box office located at 650 Walnut Street , call 513-621-2787 [ARTS] or you can order online at cincinnatiarts.org.

“Shake Your Body Baby, Do the Conga”: A Review of “On Your Feet!”: The Emilio & Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical

Review by Alan Jozwiak of On Your Feet!: Broadway in Cincinnati


The song lyric quoted in the title of this review comes from “Conga,” one of the megahits by Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine.  It also describes the high energy feel to On Your Feet!, the latest show at the Aronoff Center for the Arts sponsored by Fifth-Third Bank Broadway in Cincinnati presented by Tri-Health. 

On Your Feet! recounts the early career of Gloria Estefan from her early days singing for her family to her joining the Miami Latin Boys to the early successes with the newly christened Miami Sound Machine.  Act II deals with Estafan becomes a superstar, her first World Tour, and the tragic bus accident which interrupted the trajectory of her career.

This is a high energy show full of all of Gloria Estefan’s greatest songs. At its heart, it is a love story between Gloria, played by Christine Prades, and Emilio Estefan, played by Eddie Noel.  Prades is a powerhouse singer and performer.  She channels Gloria Estefan and is dynamic onstage.  She is a triple threat, being able to act, sing, and dance equally well.  She has a touching solo with Eddie Noel that is as poweful as her renditions of “Conga” and “Turn the Beat Around.”

As Emilio Estefan, the driving force behind the success of the Miami Sound Machine, Noel has a charismatic bearing as he guided Gloria through the different stages of his career.  While he has a fine voice and can reach the high notes, there were a few places where that power did not shine forth as it should.

The secondary characters were particularly strong. As Gloria’s mother, Nancy Ticotin delivered a strong performance both vocally and acting.  She has her own number “Mi Terra” in the middle of Act I that was particularly strong.  Ticotin was also able to deliver a wide range of emotions in dealing with her daughter Gloria.

Also strong was Gloria’s grandmother Consuelo, played brilliantly by Debra Cardona.  Cardona provides the comic relief throughout the play.  She acts as a guide to both Gloria and her mother. Cardona became a delightful character who offers sage advice and emotional support when needed.

The rest of the cast does an outstanding job to support the leads and this cast is particularly well adept in dancing.  Apart from the stunning choregraphy (there is one number where the cast does a sort of tap dance with wooden sandals), there is one cast member that deserves great praise: Jeanpaul Medina Solano, who plays the Estefan’s son Nayib, is an oustanding tap dancer.  Every time he would come out to perform, Medina Solano received great applause.

Also noteworthy are the musicians who make up the orchestra which plays all the music.  Oftentimes, the orchestra gets ignored in Broadway musical productions.  However, they were a necessary and integral part of the action of the play.

One problem with the show is that when songs would be sung in Spanish, there was no attempt at translation, which would have helped this reviewer since I don’t understand the language.  Also, the show glosses over important life events (like the birth of Gloria’s son and the death of grandmother Consuelo) that would be nice to have discussed, at least in passing.  Even Gloria Estefan’s recovery from her accident is shortened to a single scene and this seems to undercut the central drama of her story.

Despite these quibbles, On Your Feet! is a show that is fun to watch and explores the life of one of the great singers of the 20th century.  It runs one week, March 19 to March 24.  For those who want to dance in your seat, this is the show for you.  For ticket information, visit the Cincinnati Arts Association website at https://www.cincinnatiarts.org/.

A Yearly Rite of Theatrical Creativity: A Review of CCM Acting’s Transmigration 2019

Review by by Alan Jozwiak of “Transmigration”: CCM Acting

            Transmigration.

It may sounds like the migratory patterns of wild beasts, but instead is a yearly rite of theatrical creativity put on by CCM Acting.  Now in its 11th year, Transmigration is a product of the entire CCM Acting program.  CCM Acting divides their student body into six teams; each team is responsible for creating a theatrical work of roughly 30 minutes in length based on a topic of their own choosing.

Transmigration 2019 offered an array of six plays that spanned the range of topics, from visions of dystopic futures where men are an endangered species or where humans survive in a Sam’s Club, to shows which are comprised of short encounters in either an airport or hotel.

A night’s program can only allow patrons to see four out of the six plays.  I went for two nights and got a chance to see the whole six play slate of theatrical offerings.  Since there were no programs for Transmigration 2019, my comments will be more general in nature.  I will point out actors if I know them from other productions I’ve seen from CCM Acting.  Each play will be discussed in alphabetical order:

After Y: In a dystopian vision of the future where women exist in a militaristic society to serve the country of Pangea, military recruit Theo stumbles onto what might be the last male in existence.  While there was some strong acting by the actors playing Theo and Remi, the ending of the play did not live up to the first half of the play.  The last man ends up in a zoo, undercutting the tension built up from the first half of the play.  Praise needs to go to Luke Holiday who did the video clips seen throughout the play.  Those high end video clips were very well done.

Do Not Disturb: A series of vignettes set in the Sleep Inn, Do Not Disturb delivered some very funny moments. There were some unexpectedly scenes in an elevator that involved flatulence what were surprising and hilarious.  I also thought it a fun conceit of the piece to have actors wear T-shirts expressing their bodily states, such as being “Naked.”  I had only two complaints about this show. One was that not all of the vignettes seemed to fit into what would happen in a hotel and the other was their description of the show.  On the list of shows, their description was so vague that I would have nixed it off my list had I been seeing only one day of Transmigration.  As with many things in life, it pays to showcase what your show is like in your show description.

The First Timers: This play occurs during the taping of a made-up PBS television show Read With Me and follows the show’s host, Humphrey Percy Ramsbottom the Puissant (James Egbert), as he goes through The First Timers, a massive tome exploring everything from the first proctologist to the first pickup artist.  By far, this was the play where I had the most fun.  Egbert was deliciously delightful as Humphrey, a man who gets progressively drunker and offensive as the show proceeds.  This is part of the reason the creators of the show gave the show a rating of a hard R for offensive content.  Apart from the narrator, the first depictions by the rest of the cast are incredibly funny and clever. They even use shadow puppets and a hand puppet for some of the vignettes.  As with After Y, the ending does not hold up to the rest of the play and I was disappointed with its ending. The show’s conceit is a strong one and I could see it being turned into a Fringe play with more development and content expansion.

“Honey, I’m Home!”: This was the one play that disturbed me the most, since the conceit of the play is that a man, played wonderfully by Jabari Carter, captures, tortures, and forces a group of people to act out his favorite 1950s situation comedy.  The intensity of the torture, as well as the fact that the audience was right next to the actors as they are being chained and beaten, made this a problematic play for me.  By the end of the play, the kidnapped cast overpower their captor and are saved, but it comes at a great cost.

The Inversion Scheme: A dystopian vision of the future where humanity huddles in a Sam’s Club for survival, The Inversion Scheme follows the last days of blind King Carter TM, played brilliantly by Carter LaCava.  As much of a meditation on the abuses of power as it is an eyewitness to the last days of a dynasty, this play takes a Shakespearean tone at the end as the mob overpowers the King and violently vies for another form of government.  While The Inversion Scheme has some good actors, such as those playing Benjamin, Zorn, and Nora, the violence at the end felt like a too convenient way to wrap up the action of the plot.

Terminal X: Like its cousin Do Not Disturb, all of the vignettes of this play take place in a non-descript airport terminal.  This show worked best when it deals with air patrons and social media/cell phones.  The scene at the beginning of the play when two men are flirting with one another through texting was strong, as was the girl fight which happens with two women who have a disagreement about Beyoncé on Facebook.  What did not work were the cheap attempts at humor, such as the homage to Home Alone.  Despite these false steps, this show showcases the humanity amidst the hustle and bustle of the airport.

Overall, this year’s Transmigration was a solid set of productions that, while they had their occasional missteps, proved entertaining and thought provoking.  They were a welcome addition to the Cincinnati theatre scene.  Unfortunately, Transmigration 2019 only lasted for three days, March 13-15, so this show has closed.  To learn more about CCM Acting and the rest of their programming for this year, visit their website at https://CCM.uc.edu/theatre/drama.html.

Let the Praise Ring Out for CCM’s “Hunchback”


Review by Liz Eichler of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”: CCM

UC’s College-Conservatory of Music has an amazing musical theatre program, one of the best in the world.  These students are winners, hitting their notes, charming the audiences, high-kicking it every night, and consistently go pro. Occasionally a player comes along– raising the bar to an even higher level. In “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” there are several star performers that can turn a mediocre musical into an amazing evening. 

“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” was originally developed by Disney Theatrical Productions by the renowned team of Alan Menken’s music, lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, and book by Peter Parnell. Playing through March 10, audiences see the fantastic array of rich CCM talent, from the beauty and texture created by the design team, the musical mastery of the orchestra, the clear notes from the balcony choir, and prime time performers. 

In case you never saw the Disney version or read the book, “Hunchback” is the story of Quasimodo (Alex Stone) a young man born with birth defects, being raised by Frollo (Bryce Baxter), a rigid misguided priest of Notre Dame Cathedral who forbids him to ever go outside. Drawn to the excitement of the annual gypsy gathering, he sneaks out and meets the kind and caring Esmeralda (Jenny Mollet), who stands up for him when the town turns on him. Esmeralda also captures the attention of the brave and handsome Captain of the Guard (Frankie Thams), and the lascivious and conflicted Frollo. 

This musical is more true to Hugo’s gothic novel than the Disney cartoon. more attention is paid to the Machiavellian and sexually frustrated villain Frollo, but there are still plenty of talking statues (and a really amazing one at the beginning of Act 2). This musical never made it to Broadway, (workshopped at LaJolla Playhouse in San Diego, CA in 2014, the musical moved to NJ’s famous Papermill Playhouse in 2015) but instead it was licensed for regional theatres. As written, there are some confusing issues with the story, and some unresolved issues at the end of the show, but this production does an amazing job with the material. The strengths are in the performances, musical direction, design, execution, and direction, getting each intricate piece to shine.

Each character has a theme song and they are some of the strongest moments– when we see the CCM stars shine. Stone’s “Out There” literally reverberates off the rafters with a clean clear voice. Esmeralda’s “God Help the Outcasts” shows off Mollet’s amazing range, but it is in her first entrance that she burst off the stage and into your hearts. Baxter crackles and burns in “Hellfire” and Thams is heroic in “Rest and Relaxation.” Kevin Chlapeka plays the leader of the gypsies with both power and ennui.  Stone and Mollet are powerful and sweet with the lovely “Top of the World” tour of the city, both for their performance, but also the fluid movement and choreography of the set pieces. That’s the heart of the show. 

The athletic ensemble of dancers own the huge stage, lighting it up with seemingly effortless moves. The set (CCM student Lindsey Purvis) is an intricate puzzle of platforms and levels, with a variety of projections that take us from the bell towers to the forest. The clothing (Dean Mogle) is richly textured and moves with the performers.  The lighting (student Oliver Tidwell-Littleton) helps tell and accentuate the story. I’m happy to report that the sound (Matthew Tibbs) was clean and clear, and I did not feel like I was in an acoustical black hole as has happened in past CCM shows at Corbett Auditorium. 

Director Aubrey Berg with Musical Director Stephen Goers and Choreographer Katie Johannigman have pulled off a great showcase of CCM treasures. The story and performances show passion, depth and great skill. Contact the CCM Box office at boxoff@uc.eduor 513-556-4183 to get your tickets now. 

Miami’s “Revolutionists” For All!

Review by Sean Maus of The Revolutionists: Miami University Theatre

I have to be upfront.  I was laughing so much during Miami University’s entertaining production of Lauren Gunderson’s The Revolutionists that I can’t read my notes.  So I have to write my truth, which the character Marianne Angelle urges each of us to do.

The moment Marjorie Trimble takes the stage as Olympe De Gouges, standing on a desk as a shadow of a guillotine splays red across the stage,  we hear the boom of the guillotine, and Trimble — in perfect comedic delivery — deadpans, “Yeah, a guillotine is not the way to open a comedy.” Hilarity ensues. Labeled as “an irreverent comedy,” the play’s tone is more complicated than that, including, in the first hilarious act alone, lots of puns, some modern slang (both verbal and visual — as Marie Antoinette struts on stage with a Lady Gaga meets Elton John vibe), and plenty of references to that musical from another French revolution.

In Paris of 1793, the playwright and political activist Olympe de Gouges (Marjorie Trimble) wants to write a show that will leave an impact on society. She plans on featuring the assassin Charlotte Corday (Elizabeth Bode), Marie Antoinette (Abigail Murray), and black activist Marianne Angelle (Vaysha Ramsey-Anderson), a composite character. When the four meet at Olympe’s house, they discuss politics, death, and their personal lives. Olympe, Marie and Marianne become intrigued when Charlotte discusses her plans to murder the radical Jacobin journalist Jean-Paul Marat. Her talk of killing reminds the women that their lives might not last too long, given the revolution and dangerous times in France.

The casting of these four actresses is inspired and just in time for International Women’s Day (March 8, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women) , which serves the show well.  Trimble brings verve to Olympe with facial expressions and comic timing of some of the best screwball comedians such as Lucille Ball, and a feistiness of Katherine Hepburn. Trimble’s delivery, finger motions (Olympe talks to finger puppets when acting out scenes for her writing), and sticking out her tongue when lost in deep thought show that she understands comedy is an art form.  Elizabeth Bode, as Charlotte Corday, is a petite beauty with wild hair, searing eyes and a pouty mouth who creates such a thrilling, monstrously funny, and heart-rending performance that we weep at her demise. Vaysha Ramsey-Anderson’s performance as Marianne Angelle is the play’s barometer, measuring how much we can idealize these women or see them as history that allows us to see ourselves.  Completing the quartet of characters is Marie Antoinette, whom we know most from our history lessons. Abigail Murray shows a lot of skill in the delivery of her lines without turning Marie Antoinette into a caricature and challenges us to rethink the way we view all of these women and their history — especially her own “let them eat cake” (which the playwright reimagines as placing an order for dessert.) These actress prove themselves to be names worthy of remembering in the theatre world.

Scenic designer Lauren Lienhart fashioned the play in what can almost be described as an intimate style. The use of lace and words stenciled on the desk, hanging cutouts of the backdrop and organic doilies of lighting bring the black box of Studio 88 alive with the elegance of France in a small space.

Lighting designer Emma Wott skillfully compliments the set design while emotionally charging the guillotine scenes.  Singular light bulbs hang from bare wires creating mini-worlds for the characters to inhabit from the chic sophisticated “je ne sais quoi” of Olympe’s writing room to the aggressive jail and death sequences. 

The Revolutionists is buoyant with a high energy, while subverting a degree of tragedy. It may be fiction, but it’s not fake.  The show reminds us that we must question, especially in this era of fake news, “Who are we, without a story?”

This is a play that is fun, thoughtful and well-acted.  This production is a major player in the Miami canon of theatre.  As Olympe asks Marie, “Think of the power of a play that shows the entwined lives of real women,” which is precisely what The Revolutionists does, to this point describing itself. Through The Revolutionists  you will learn to be true to your truth and write your own history — with a lot of laughs in between.

The production runs at Miami University’s Studio 88 from March 6-10, 2019.

CCM’s Latest Show is Not Your Child’s “Hunchback”

Review by Sheldon Polonsky of The Hunchback of Notre Dame: CCM Musical Theatre

Although based off the Disney musical with music and lyrics by Alan Mencken and Stephen Schwartz, the UC College Conservatory of Music‘s current production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame comes with a parental advisory for its mature themes and situations—as well it should, as this version brings the musical closer to Victor Hugo’s original gothic vision of temptation and passion, the monstrousness of humanity and the humanity of monsters. As usual, CCM presents this epic tapestry with professionalism, intensity and a lot of heart.

Hunchback is framed as a legend narrated by storytellers, led by Clopin Trouillefou (Kevin Chlapecka), who plays the leader of the gypsies. The story should be familiar to most–the spiritually tortured archdeacon of Notre Dame, Claude Frollo (Bryce Baxter) adopts the misshapen and grotesque infant of his brother, whose death he blames on the gypsies who seduced him. He raises the boy, Quasimodo (Alex Stone) as the bell-ringer in the hidden recesses of the cathedral, whose only friends are the statues and gargoyles with whom he converses in his imagination. Enter the gypsy woman Esmeralda (Jenny Mollet) who captivates both Frollo and Quasimodo as well as the handsome captain of the guard, Phoebus (Frankie Thams). Frollo’s tormented lust leads him to acts of malice and degradation while elevating Quasimodo to find his inner strength and self-worth.

Hunchback‘s cast demonstrates the incredible range and talent we expect from CCM‘s exceptional musical theatre students. Chlapecka and Thams are athletic and engaging as Clopin and Phoebus. Baxter’s intense but restrained portrayal of Frollo imbues him with a malice far more terrifying than any Disneyesque villainy could. Mollet is transcendent as Esmeralda, especially during her heartfelt ballad, “God Help the Outcasts”. But it is Alex Stone as Quasimodo who absolutely owns this production. His clear tenor voice reverberates flawlessly in the Corbett auditorium and he draws in the audience with an absolutely authentic and riveting performance,

Mencken’s and Schwartz’s score is not likely going to set any toes tapping, nor be on anyone’s top 10 favorite cast album list. But the music is effective and immersive, especially so given the huge chorus of singers both on stage and on the balcony in the wings, who manage not to be drowned out even among the soaring orchestral background, ably directed by Stephen Goers. Choreographer Katie Johannigman punctuates the music with eye-catching dance numbers, ranging from energetic and muscular to balletic and interpretive.

Director Aubrey Berg coordinates this sprawling tableau like a massive jigsaw puzzle, using every inch of the Corbett’s large stage–vertically as well as horizontally. He is aided by an ingenious set designed by Lindsey Purvis, made up of endlessly rearrangeable modules filled with platforms, ladders and layers, covering a backdrop dominated by realistic bells and capable of projecting the Notre Dame’s stained glass or other effects, supplemented by powerful lighting and sound effects (Oliver Tidwell-Littleton and Matthew Tibbs). Costumes, designed by Dean Mogul, are colorful but not cartoonish, a difference highlighted by a nod to the more Disneyesque versions in a mesmerizing dance number. The gargoyles and statues were more representational and symbolic–perhaps appropriate for the more mature tone of this show, although I found them somewhat flat and unappealing, except for a brief but effective technical effect beginning the second act.

The transformation of this show from an animated children’s movie to an adult theatre experience works most of the time, if not always–I found the ending to be a little unfocused and dissatisfying. Nevertheless, overall, the experience was powerful and uplifting, and certainly presented magnificently by CCM‘s cast and crew. As long as you don’t mind if your evening is more Les Mis than Les Dis, you can’t go wrong spending it with CCM‘s Hunchback.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is presented at CCM‘s Corbett Auditorium through Sunday March 10th. Tickets can be purchased through their box office or their website, https://CCM.uc.edu/boxoffice/mainstage.html.