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Mack and Mabel and the Movies at CCM

Review by Spenser Smith of Mack and Mabel: CCM Musical Theatre

Mack and Mabel, now presented by CCM Musical Theatre, centers on the tumultuous relationship
between the silent film director and his muse, respectively. Many conversations happening around me during opening night circled around why this show is so rarely produced. Having known nothing about the show until last night, I wondered the same.

The score, by Hello, Dolly! scribe Jerry Herman, is the standout of the two and a half hour musical (comedy?). The orchestra of 25 and cast of 45 sound magnificent! The orchestra rises from the pit and is appropriately featured during the overture. When the curtain rises, Mack (Alex Stone), who we presume is past his prime, has arrived at the studio one last time before it’s lost. He leads us through the story of when times weren’t so tough and this production uses a projector screen to show footage of the actual films shot by Mack Sennett, featuring Mabel Normand. Stone is a very capable actor/singer, but there are times the comedic shtick seems very forced. He does well despite the few reasons we have to like Mack. Emily Celeste Fink (Mabel), who owned They Were You earlier this season, needs nothing more than a powerful ballad in each act to steal this show as well. She understands Mabel’s quirky comedy in the beginning and her vulnerable decline to the end. I honestly can’t decide which of her songs was better, that’s how good she is. Kyra Christopher (Lottie), who we last saw as Sheila in A Chorus Line,
shines as “the hoofer.” Although completely irrelevant to the story, “Tap Your Troubles Away” is a great feature of her performance and the energetic choreography by the soon-to-retire Patti James.

I appreciate the story having weight in a musical when all-too-often the singing and dancing steals center stage (pun intended). The book at the center of Mack and Mabel struggles to find its footing. Is it a comedy? Is it a drama? Act 2 is significantly shorter than the first and when we come back from intermission everyone is really angry, Mabel is snorting cocaine and then a tap dance? It’s all very confusing and sudden. Make no mistake, the issue here is the writing. The cast on stage at CCM does a fantastic job with what they are given.

Director Aubrey Berg keeps this show and its large cast moving. Scene transitions and the many costume and set changes all go off without a hitch. Major kudos to Costume Designer Reba Senske. I lost count of the total number of costumes in the opening number. Every look feels genuine and it’s always nice as an actor to feel confident on stage in a beautiful costume. The same can be said for Set Designer Mark Halpin whose sound stage on a stage works well with the many different locations seen throughout the show. There were myriad microphone issues on opening night but I didn’t miss a word. Great work from the cast.

If I was presented today with the same question that I heard many times last night, I now have an answer. The book, by Michael Stewart, creates two very unlikeable main characters. It’s hard to find any redeeming qualities. The show desperately needs levity and now I understand the tap number.

Mack and Mabel runs through this weekend on the campus of the University of Cincinnati in the Corbett Auditorium.Tickets for the show can be purchased by calling 513-556-4183.

1960s Housewives Desperate, Not BLISSful in Miami University Production

1960s Housewives Desperate, Not BLISSful in Miami University Production

Review by Ken Stern of BLISS (or, Emily Post is Dead!): Miami University

The gods, and their mythologies, do live forever, on stage, in texts, and the creative imagination of playwright Jami Brandli, whose BLISS (or, Emily Post is Dead!) makes its “Premiere Production” at Miami University’s Studio 88 Theatre this week through February 26th. Brandli’s play curses Apollo to live forever, and has Cassandra reliving Apollo’s curse on her BLISS (or, Emily Post is Dead!), to prophesize the future, but not to be believed (“don’t bring that wooden horse inside the gates”).

In this powerful, thought provoking, entertaining, and well done production, Apollo and Cassandra are joined by Clementine, channeling Clytemnestra (wife of Agamemnon from the Trojan wars). Maddy (Medea) and Antonia (Antigone) live in the same North Orange, New Jersey neighborhood. Brandli, not Greek storytellers, brings these unrelated protagonists into this new telling, set in 1960. The women are front and center, but Clementine’s and Maddy’s lives revolve around their absent husbands, not Greek heroes but now with 20th century back stories in business or law. Antonia’s guardian uncle is her nemesis, her (Oedipal) parents dead.

And Emily Post? First and last, from the opening scene a presence and touchstone, written to forlornly by these suburban women. They never get an answer, but her dictates guide their lives. And then she dies.

Taylor Hayes’s Maddy is center stage most often. Hers is a powerful, assertive, frenetic, frustrated, and anxious presence, a storm beneath the calm, most notably as Act II opens. Wailing in classic Greek tragedy fashion, the lights come up on Maddy clasping a newspaper, shocked to read that Emily Post is dead. The three women continue reading their appeals to Emily Post, Clemmie and Antonia on the wings. Maddy scratches and scratches her arms, showing increased nervousness and a brittleness behind her all-is-well exterior.

Maddy, who found pink panties not her own in Jason’s pants pocket at the close of Act I, diverts herself initially with her concern for Antonia, who by going to the. high school dance with a black student, has breached etiquette. In Maddy’s Emily Post structured world, everything and everyone has a place, and a black boy with a white girl is not respectable. Playwright Brandli’s feminist play addresses race with equal gravity.

Jada Harris offers a burdened, grim, resolved, independent, and assertive Cassandra. Her ability to foretell the future, without being believed and with her living through the consequences, weighs her down. She looks toward the sky, tense, worried, a fearful, faraway look in her eyes. There is no joy in her: she does not know how to tell a joke or be a part of one.

The play’s twist is that this Cassandra, in this setting, is black. Apollo seeks to marginalize her, telling her “You’re a woman, which means you’re weak. You’re black in modern society, which means you’re powerless.” But Cassandra seeks to break her curse, and save her fellow women characters from their fates by coaching them to choose their own path and break free from the plot of their story. Will they make an independent decision, turning away from the killing in the original myths?

Apollo comes to Cassandra out of mists, always at night as she is waiting for the bus. Adam Joesten’s Apollo is vain, preening, a god who is subtly insecure. One of the delights of the play is the tension of past established values in changing times, here a pagan god fading into insignificance, his philosophy of an ordered world with actions fated and settled by godly dictate, overtaken by agency and the possibility of choice.

Cassandra is most frightened of, and trying to assist, Clementine (Theresa Liebhart). Now the wife of an often absent corporate executive, Clementine carries the weight of knowing husband Arthur murdered their baby Iris, born with phocomelia: no arms or legs. Liebhart’s portrayal is nuanced, ranging from the good housewife to the plotting potential divorcee, to the furious, ready-to-murder her husband.

Emily Post is one outlet for Clemmie’s worries. Pills—amphetamines, uppers—another background character, play a more prominent role. Whether called green demon or a housewife’s best friend, Clementine has them, and supplies them to Maddy, Antonia, and even offers one to Cassandra.

This rich historical texture gets more complex when Maddy finds out that Gil, Antonia’s dance date, is black. Antonia (Rachel Brandenburg), a mousy high schooler, dressed in a sweater, knee length plaid skirt, and saddle shoes, is without family, parents and brothers dead, and is being trained in Emily Post manners by Maddy. Antonia, the youngest, is most interested in changing, and able to, as she grows into a world complicated by jazz music and drugstore sit-ins. Brandenburg grows into maturity, becoming bolder, literally cutting the rope her uncle has tied her up with, and fleeing with Gil to participate in a New Orleans sit-in.

The rumbling of the coming future is heard above, part of Anthony Thompson’s sound design. Less subtle is Cassandra’s response to Antonia’s innocent ask: What do you see in the year, oh . . .2016?” Trance-like, Cassandra responds: “Bullets fly. Families shatter. Communities erupt. The body count grows while HATE continues to feed the ancient beasts: racism, sexism, classicism and terrorism of all forms and faces. And the LIES. The lies the liars tell to keep the old guard in place as a demagogue rises to power.”

This review goes into background detail because the plot is so richly woven with allusions and references to the protagonists’ origin stories. The cast, and the audience, were and can be helped by the 48 page dramaturgical packet researched by students Jenny Henderson and Emma Shibley. Email Henderson at henderjn@miamioh.edu for your pdf file copy.

Guest director Darin Anthony’s past work with Brandli shows: the play proceeds crisply and energetically, with moments of high drama and leavening laughter. Anthony and Jami Brandli are this year’s Cromer/Flory Artists-in-Residence recipients in the University’s Theatre Department.

The production team includes Katie Vandergriff, stage manager and Jessica Cooper, assistant stage manager.

Broadway Series’ Latest Production is Anything But Rotten

Review by Alan Jozwiak of Something Rotten: Broadway in Cincinnati

“You’re doing a play, got something to say
So you sing it? It’s absurd!
Who on earth is going to sit there
While an actor breaks into song?
What possible thought could the audience think
Other than, “this is horribly wrong?”

These lines sung by Nick Bottom in the Broadway musical Something Rotten! beautifully captures the incredulity this character has in being introduced to that most spectacular of theatrical innovations—the Broadway musical.

With a book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrel and music/lyrics by Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick, Something Rotten! tells the story of brothers Nick Bottom (Rob McClure) and Nigel Bottom (Josh Grisetti), contemporary playwrights of William Shakespeare (Adam Pascal), who try to best the bard by coming up with the next great theatrical innovation. They do this by turning to soothsayer Thomas Nostradamus (Blake Hammond)—nephew of famed prophet Michel Nostradamus—who tells them that the future of theater is not with Shakespeare, but with musicals.

Something Rotten! excelled with strong performers who could sing, act, and tap dance (yes, tap dance). There were several show-stopping numbers that employed tap dancing, such as “A Musical” and “Something Rotten!/Make an Omelette.” For a play set in Elizabethan England, it was great fun to see all this tap dancing. It is wildly anachronistic, but very fun.

The Bottom brothers were at the top of their form in this production. Rob McClure as Nick Bottom was completely convincing as the theatrical impresario who desires a hit and could also combine his feelings with songs like “God, I Hate Shakespeare.” He possessed the necessary qualities of desperation and desire to better his lot that audiences root for him. Similarly, Josh Grisetti played the sweet and love struck Nigel Bottom to perfection. He also got a chance to showcase his vocal talents in such songs as “I Love the Way.”

The true scene stealer of this show was Adam Pascal who plays Shakespeare (or should I say… “SHAKESPEARE!”, since this is how the bard is always referred to within the play). Pascal plays Shakespeare with a perfect blend of brazen bombast, besotten boldness, and brain-sick brooding over his continued ability to produce plays. Pascal is Broadway royalty, having originated the Broadway roles of Roger in Rent and Radames in Aida. He is perfectly cast in this play and knows how to poke fun at the bard by turning him into an over-the-top rock god.

Strong performances were also given by the actors playing Brother Jeremiah (Scott Cote) and Thomas Nostradamus (Blake Hammond). Cote is great as the sexually repressed puritan who is against the Bottom brothers and their attempt to make the world’s first musical. His attempts to curb himself are hilarious. Hammond is also great as the zany and eccentric soothsayer who leads the Bottom brothers down the road to writing a musical.

This was a really fun musical. If you are a fan of the Broadway musical, there are more than enough side jokes and references to musicals from the last fifty years that that it should leave you satisfied. Something Rotten! appears courtesy of Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Cincinnati Presented by TriHealth. The show runs February 21 to March 5, 2017.

For more information on tickets, visit the Aronoff Center Box Office downtown at 650 Walnut Street, go online at CincinnatiArts.org, or buy your tickets through the phone at 513.621.ARTS.

Something Rotten is Ripe with Laughter and Joy

Review by Liz Eichler of Something Rotten: Broadway in Cincinnati

Rob McClure and Adam Pascal in “Something Rotten”

One of the best production numbers I have ever seen is in Something Rotten, presented now through March 5 at the Aronoff. Nothing is held back–it is hysterical, opulent, frivolous, completely silly and excellently executed. But there’s not only one show stopping production number, there are many of them! And many reasons to “geek out” about this show.

Created by Karey Kirkpatrick, Wayne Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell, “Something Rotten” was nominated for 10 Tony Awards in 2015. It is the story of two brothers who are theatrical competitors to Shakespeare, looking for a way to outshine that shining star of London, so a brother goes to a soothsayer who predicts the future of theatre, but only comes “this close” to accurately naming, and hence incorporating, every musical theatre production. Ever. Hilarity ensues.

There is a LOT for theatre fans here. The husband and wife next to me, Aronoff subscribers, said she is always “dragging him along.” He said he usually enjoys the show, but this one he loved, and laughed all along. There are enough jokes for someone with a tenuous connection to the theatre world, but even more for those who can identify every subtle or over the top reference. And if you are not into the theatre jokes, the teenager behind us said there were enough penis jokes to entertain him (how many would that be?)

The spectacle of the show is geek worthy. You’ll see a top-notch Broadway scenic design by Scott Pask (Book of Mormon, Pippin, Finding Neverland) full of depth and color. The costumes are rich with a jewel-tone palette, and exaggerated codpieces, designed with exuberance by Gregg Barnes (Aladdin, Kinky Boots, Elf, Legally Blonde, and many more). Jeff Croiter designed the lighting (Newsies, Peter and the Starcatcher, Jekyll and Hyde). Casey Nicholaw (Aladdin, Book of Mormon, Drowsy Chaperone) is both choreographer and director, responsible for infusing this show with over the top moves and knocking it out of the park. Something Rotten is filled with expressive chorus boys and girls of various height to add to the comedic effect. They tap, they flip, they twirl—all in full Renaissance gear, over the knee boots, and…codpieces.

The cast features THE Adam Pascal (Shakespeare) portrayed with great humour as a pompous rock-star. The brothers, leader Rob McClure (Nick Bottom) and poet Josh Grisetti (Nigel Bottom) are great singers and dancers. The love story of Nigel and Portia accurately depicts the awkward backstage “geek love” between a gangly, tall, introverted sensitive teen and a feisty, short, and sensitive teen rebelling against her father. With great comedic timing and flair, Blake Hammond (Nostradamus) and Scott Cote (Brother Jeremiah) are audience favorites. Sweet Autumn Hurlbert (Portia) and powerful Maggie Lakis (Bea) round out the leads. They know how to connect with every audience member in the cavernous Aronoff and deliver amazing performances, accompanied by the energy of the electric guitar wailing in the orchestra.

“Something Rotten” is something you must see. It will put your faith back into touring shows. It runs through March 5 at the Aronoff in Cincinnati. Tickets: cincinnatiarts.org

Broadway in Cincinnati Serves Up Something Rotten with No Holds Bard

Review by Sheldon Polonsky of Something Rotten: Broadway in Cincinnati

Adam Pascal (center) as William Shakespeare in “Something Rotten”

First, a confession: I came into Something Rotten with a little trepidation, which may seem surprising, since a musical send-up of Shakespeare should be just the ticket for a lover of both musicals and Shakespeare, as I am. Nevertheless, I have seen so many Shakespeare spoofs and goofy period musicals, I was asking myself, what could this production possibly have to offer that’s new or different? The name kept reminding me of that stale ’70s TV series that spoofed Robin Hood, “When Things Were Rotten”.

Nor was I very encouraged by the opening number, “Welcome to the Renaissance”, which was just standard fare, and whose clever lyrics (presumably) were entirely drowned out by the music. That reminded me of an interview I heard with Stephen Sondheim, who noted that he had to rewrite the opening to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum three times before coming up with the right number, “Comedy Tonight”. I wish the writers of this musical had been as compulsive with their introduction.

But, never fear, true believers, Something Rotten gradually took off from there, and by the time we finished the middle of the first act and the huge, brilliant number “A Musical”, a pastiche of modern musicals that is at once a skewering and an homage, the show had found its footing and never looked back. Frankly, I haven’t seen a bigger showstopper in a musical since The Producers, which, oddly enough, was one musical that was not referenced in the number but to which Something Rotten undoubtedly owes its biggest debt.

Like Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom from that classic, Elizabethan playwright Nick Bottom (Rob McClure) and his nebbischy brother Nigel (Josh Grisetti) are in search of a hit, but are thwarted at every turn by William Shakespeare, who is literally a rock star of his age and makes the women and the critics alike swoon. Shakespeare, a role that originally won a Tony for Christian Borle, is played by perfectly-cast Adam Pascal, the original Roger in Rent, who plays him as arrogant and manipulative but somehow endearing in his own way. Also like Bialystock, Nick turns to a not quite kosher method to achieve success—he seeks out the soothsayer Nostradamus (or, at least, his less than accurate nephew, Thomas Nostradamus) to find out “the next big thing” ahead of time. That happens to be “the musical”, leading to the aforementioned show-stopper as Nostradamus (a hysterical Blake Hammond) proceeds to try to explain to an incredulous Nick just what that is (and steals the show in the process).

Unfortunately, Nick and Nigel’s first attempt, “Here Comes the Black Death”, doesn’t quite cut it, so he returns to Nostradamus to get specifics on what will be Shakespeare’s greatest hit. Here, Nostradamus proves to be a little off the mark, but does come up with Omelette, a breakfast themed tragedy of a young prince who also likes to eat Danishes. Omelette also seems to get scrambled with modern musicals, as the ghost of the prince’s father is wearing a Phantom mask and Ophelia, after she gets herself to a nunnery, is apparently protected by the nuns until the Nazis arrive, whoever they are. (This leads to the funniest line of the night, which I won’t spoil). Somehow this silliness all works and climaxes with the show-within-a-show production of Omelette, ala Springtime for Hitler, and an equally Producer-like but charming denouement and resolution. In between it weaves together subplots including Nick’s steadfast and plucky wife Bea (played by Rob McClure’s real life wife, Maggie Lakis) and a romance between Nigel and one of the local Puritans’ daughters, Portia (Autumn Hurlbert).

Something Rotten succeeds most brilliantly when it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and the second act stalls occasionally when it gets a little bogged down in the romance and its unabashedly sappy message: ”This above all, to thine own self be true”. But no matter. The charm, earnestness, and extreme talent of the entire cast, the infectious music by Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick, the eye-catching dance numbers and the endless barrage of jokes and musical references more than carry the show. Something Rotten has already closed on Broadway, and may never be an enduring classic, but something tells me there were plenty of high school, college, and community theatre artistic directors who were there last night drooling about putting it on for themselves, so I doubt it is disappearing any time soon. Trust me, whether you love Shakespeare, musicals, or just a fun night of theatre, Something Rotten has eggs-actly what you need, served sonnet-side-up with a side of Francis Bacon.

Something Rotten plays through Sunday, March 5th. Tickets can be obtained through the Broadway in Cincinnati website, http://cincinnati.broadway.com/shows/something-rotten-baa/.

New Edgecliff Returns to the Classics with The Glass Menagerie

Review by Lissa Urriquia Gapultos of The Glass Menagerie: New Edgecliff Theatre

New Edgecliff Theatre’s current production The Glass Menagerie is classic Tennessee Williams with bombastic family dynamics and touches of Southern charm and grit.

Tyler Gabbard’s set design worked well with the Hoffner Lodge configuration. With the play taking place in the 1930s, the stage featured quite a few signature items of that time: rotary phone, typewriter, Victrola. The titular glass menagerie was center stage, displayed on circular shelves which wrapped around a structural pillar.

The play opens with Andrew Ornelas as the son, Tom, who introduces the audience to his world, namely his mother Amanda, his sister Laura and their absent father represented by a frame photo. Ornelas sounded vocally shaky at first, then gradually settled into a nice rhythm. As the card-carrying southern belle, Keisha Kemper comically portrays an overbearing mother, who is frustrated that her children are not the model adults she envisioned. It’s apparent she relishes the fittingly over-the-top histrionics of the character, which elicits snarky reactions between the siblings.

Some of the strongest moments of the play are during the mother-and-son arguments when both Kemper and Ornelas hold back nothing in expressing their contempt for each other. Tired of being treated like a child despite being the family’s main source of income, Tom feels trapped in his dull warehouse job and the anxiety at home. Amanda insists Tom is being selfish by spending too much time and money at the movies, rather than focusing more on the family. Their heated interactions are meaty and satisfying to watch.

Portrayed by Talia Brown, Laura is the extreme balance of the two. Walking with a limp, Brown is reserved, aloof and confused by her mother’s idea of gentle callers. Laura’s shyness is so severe it cripples her socially, causing her to almost immediately drop out from business school. Yet when Amanda discovers Laura has not been attending classes, it was hard to detect any sort of reaction from Brown. Her portrayal was less socially awkward, and more as someone who has resigned herself to a mere background character in her own life.

Landon E. Horton plays James, the Gentleman Caller, with an easy-going charm. He’s confident and likeable, and it’s lovely to watch as his polite manner melts away enough of Laura’s apprehension that she allows him to hold her favorite glass figure, a unicorn. It’s heart-breaking to learn why James will not come calling again.

The glass animals of Laura’s menagerie are what give her great joy, consuming nearly all of her time. It’s clear that this collection of glass symbolizes Laura’s fragility and vulnerability, but it also is her own world, where she finds comfort in caring for delicate inanimate objects. Like her mother, Laura also has her own fantasy. While Amanda’s dreams for her daughter are squarely rooted in the colorful stories of her youth in the south, Laura is completely content with her very boxed-in reality among her beloved glass menagerie, where she is in a position of strength and control.

The Glass Menagerie plays at New Edgecliff through February 25th. For tickets, call the box office at (888) 428.7311 or visit http://newedgecliff.com/box-office-2/.

The Rocky Horror Show at the Incline: A Blast From the Past Ensures Its Own Strong Future

Review by Ken Stern of The Rocky Horror Show: Incline Theatre

This is how live theatre trumps movies: a show’s Narrator (think Cabaret‘s Emcee) can ask, first “How crazy do you want to get?” and then send the cast’s Sexy Phantoms into the audience to bring nine “virgins” (people who have never seen The Rocky Horror Show) onto the stage. These volunteers get the chance to display adult humor in a couple of contests. Very funny, and each performance will be unique. And that is how the Warsaw Federal Incline Theatre brings The Rocky Horror Show live to its stage, now through March 5th.

The full house on the opening Friday was raucous and ready while the lights were still high. Rodger Pille’s Narrator is a clever catalyst, ratcheting up the rate of the reaction. Bearded, in a suit and vest, sporting a red tie, he only needed a cane, top hat, and dancing number to have stolen the show. But the uniformly fine cast matched him and bested him with their outrageous costumes, antics, singing, and dancing. They did not need to get energy from the audience, but they were encouraged.

For any still-existing virgins who do not know the story, or the origins of the 1975 film, The Rocky Horror Picture Show was birthed from Richard O’Brien’s 1973 play. The Rocky Horror Show is a musical (book, music, and lyrics by O’Brien). More than a mash up, it is a parody of horror and sci-fi movies. The opening number, “Science Fiction/Double Feature,” wonderfully sung by Marissa Poole as an Usherette (she also plays Magenta), is set in a movie theatre, with cast members watching clips from 1940s and 1950s films. Meanwhile the sexily uniformed Usherette, with red box hat, sings: “And this is how the message ran… / (chorus) Science fiction (ooh ooh ooh) double feature / Doctor X (ooh ooh ooh) will build a creature / See androids fighting (ooh ooh ooh) Brad and Janet”

Non-virgins know that Brad Majors (yell out nickname) and Janet Weiss (yell out nickname), are a wholesome, engaged couple whose car breaks down in a rain storm. They seek help in a castle and the mash up begins. Dakota Mullins as Brad, and Caroline Chisholm as Janet, look like a youthful Clark Kent and Lois Lane, and play their roles cluelessly, innocently, until introduced to the sins of the flesh by the mad scientist Frank-n-Furter (a seemingly 7-foot tall Matt Krieg), an alien (and, as he sings: “a sweet transvestite / From Transexual, Transylvania”). From there, suspend your disbelief and join the crowd in participating, shouting out when cued by the big screen stage left. There is no point in telling the plot, because the plot has no point.

Suffice to say the mad scientist creates a beautiful specimen of a Charles Atlas man, Rocky Horror (Tyler Kuhlman) of whom, the Doctor sings: “. . . in just seven days / Oh, baby / I can make you a man” (“I Can Make You A Man”).

And Kuhlman is quite a man, blond from head to toe, in tight, gold swimming trunks and accompanying sneakers. He poses and preens, showing plenty of muscles, front and back, arms and legs. Like the libidinous Frank-n-Furter, Rocky is insatiable, and bi-sexual, much to Janet’s delight.

Since there are aliens, they must go home, and the plot twist that gets them there is as musical, funny, and nonsensical as the rest of the show. Here Magenta (Marissa Poole) and Riff Raff (Christopher Carte, also the hunchback handyman, channeling many a movie spoof) get their moment center stage. They make the most of it.

The ensemble cast provides great support singing, dancing, and providing looniness throughout: Courtni Nicolaci, Kate Stark, Kyle Taylor and Michael Wright are the four phantoms. Dylan McGill is Eddie and Dr. Scott.

And the costumes (by costume designer Caren Brady): an entire review could be devoted to gushing over the black leather, pink hats and feather fans, black sequined leotards, black fishnet stockings, red pantyhose, red boas—just about the entire cast, half cross dressing—Brad and Janet in their underwear, and, of course, the alien space uniforms worn by Magenta and Riff Raff.

The large black and white checked floor extending from the curtain was fully utilized as dance floor, primarily by the cast as an ensemble. Heather Halle’s (Columbia) tap dance number made impressive use of it. Behind the curtain was the interior of a castle, of course, with a wide stairs leading to the second floor laboratory. Large chrome poles, wrapped in red lights, powered the mad Doctor’s experiment. The dance cage, and pole extending down to the first floor were appropriately utilized by Rocky Horror. And the paintings and sculptures with moving mouths, accompanying the underwear-clad Brad in singing “Once in a While,” wondering if he has lost his love, is just genius. Much credit goes to the production’s designers and managers: Set Design, Brett Bowling, Choreography, Angela Kahle and Production Stage Manager Jenny Lutes. Moving everyone through their paces are Director Matthew Wilson and Music Director John Slate.

Come to watch the show any performance, but plan to participate, coming in costume, if you will, on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. During Audience Participation there are pre-show “rituals,” props to shower onto the audience (must purchase at the box office) and shout outs, sing-a-longs, and in-seat and aisle dancing.

And yes, this is completely for adult audiences.

For tickets, call 513-241-6550 or go to www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com. The Warsaw Federal Incline Theater is at 801 Matson Place Cincinnati Ohio 45204.

 

NKU‘s All Shook Up Shakes Up the Elvis Repertoire

Review by Doug Iden of All Shook Up: NKU

All Shook Up is the perfect venue for the NKU School of the Arts (SOTA) musical program. The show is loud, energetic, brash, enthusiastic, campy, over-the-top and replete with songs which Elvis Presley made famous including the title song, “Follow That Dream”, “Heartbreak Hotel”, “Hound Dog”, “Don’t Be Cruel” among many others. If you don’t recognize those songs, you’ve lived in a cave too long.

Do not confuse this show with Shakespeare or Arthur Miller – heavy drama it is not. Initially derided by New York critics as a “juke box” musical, All Shook Up has found its niche audience with many school productions such as his one. The story, such as it is, is the classic “boy meets girl”, “boy loses girl”, “boy gets confused about whether his girl is a girl or a boy”, “boy gets girl back again (for a couple of scenes)” and somehow, it all sorts itself out by the last scene. But, don’t try to follow the plot – you may get a headache or need Dramamine. Just let the show wash over you and enjoy the roller coaster ride through the silliness. When you arrive at the end, you will be exhausted but better off for your trip.

The show opens with a re-creation of the prison scene from the movie Jailhouse Rock when Chad (Xander Wells) is released and ends up in a small town. Dubbed the “troubadour”, Chad rebels against the prohibition against rock and roll music by the female mayor of the town (with echoes of Footloose). There, he is met by a host of local characters, each trying to sort out their love lives without much success. Chad acts as catalyst for the various romances which quickly assumes the mantle of sex farce with gender bending, mistaken identities, miscommunications and assorted pratfalls. Wells, as the “Elvis” character, is charismatic and self-confident until he meets his love named Ed who, in reality, is a girl posing as a guy. (Actually, it does sound a little like Twelfth Night so ignore my previous comment about it being non-Shakespearean.) Wells is very dynamic in the role and does a credible “Elvis” with songs including “Roustabout”, “Love Me Tender” and “I Don’t Want to”.

Natalie Haller (Melissa Cathcart) is a local girl in love with Chad but assumes the Ed persona to get close to him. Cathcart plays the dual role well as she belts out songs including “One Night With You” and “Fools Fall in Love”. (There is a lot of music including 24 songs and several reprises.) Natalie’s father Jim Haller (played by Sam Johnson) is recovering from the recent death of his wife but wants to start dating again and pursues a much younger new resident to town named Miss Sandra (Elle Chancellor). Johnson seemed to have some difficulties early on portraying a character much older than himself but recovered nicely when he started booming songs like “The Power of Love” and several strong duets with Xander Wells. However, Jim should have been looking at his old friend Sylvia (Brittany Hayes) who does a star turn in the second act with the torch song “There’s Always Me”.

But, wait, we’re not through yet with the labyrinthine sub-plots. (Halfway through the show, I had to do a relationship chart to keep track of everybody. You don’t need to follow the story but, as a reviewer, I’m supposed to.) Anyway, another couple to be heard from is Lorraine (Gabriela Rivera) and the Mayor’s son Dean (Trey Paris) who has decided not to go back to military school but, rather, spend time with Lorraine. Again, both performers have powerful voices highlighted by the duet “It’s Now or Never”. Then there is Dennis, a very nerdy guy who walks around in short pants and long socks, who is in love with Natalie (who is not in love with him). Dennis (Aaron Marshall) is very shy but finally declares his love for Natalie only to find that Natalie/Ed is in love with Chad. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Dennis meets Miss Sandra who is looking for a semi-educated man (a la Marian the Librarian). (At this point, I threw out my relationship chart and just enjoyed the show.) Marshall (as Dennis) sings a number of songs highlighted by “It Hurts Me” and Elle Chancellor steals a scene danced with statues from her museum while singing “Let Yourself Go”. Aiding in the singing and dancing are an ensemble of 12 men and women plus a “pit” group of singers (Matthew Nassida, Chloe Price and Adria Whitfill) who do backup vocals in a similar vein to those for actual Motown and Rock and Roll performers,

The musical highlight of the show, however, is the number at the end of the first act. Each of the characters sings a brief solo about their individual yearnings and are then are joined by the entire cast in a very powerful choral rendition of “Can’t Help Falling in Love”.

The set is very simple with little more than a series of artistic risers with occasional props such as tables, a piano and a juke box, carried onstage by the performers. There is an 11 person band onstage for the entire performance playing a combination of guitars, keyboards, brass, reeds and percussion led by Music Director Jamey Strawn. The lively choreography was created by Heather Britt with some interesting (and comic) costumes by Daryl Harris. A highlight, though, are three electronic boards against the back wall. Normally, I find computer graphics in the theater very annoying but Video Designer Terry Powell has created some very interesting illusions including pictures and psychedelic mood pieces which both help tell the story and set the emotional tone of the play. This technique worked very effectively during the number “Devil in Disguise”.

Consequently, “C’mon Everybody”, put on your “Blue Suede Shoes”, grab your “Teddy Bear” and “Let Yourself Go” by rolling on down to NKU for All Shook Up continuing through February 26. All Shook Up continues at the Corbett Theatre on the campus of Northern Kentucky University through February 26. Tickets are available at the box office, https://artscience.NKU.edu/departments/theatre/season/mainstage4.html.