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“Annie Jr.” Shines as Bright as the Chrysler Building at the Taft Theater

 Review by Mary Kate Groh of “Annie, Jr”: Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati

The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati celebrates 100 years with the beloved classic, “Annie Jr.” Written by Thomas Meehan, “Annie Jr.” is the shortened version of the popular Broadway musical, the story of a bright and optimistic orphan girl who gets the opportunity of a lifetime when she gets to stay with billionaire Oliver Warbucks. Director Eric Byrd does a wonderful job keeping the young audience members on the edge of their seats as they watch the story of Annie unfold.

The show opens at the orphanage with Annie (Diana Hutchinson) trying to calm down Molly who is crying from a nightmare that had woken her up. Annie reads Molly a letter that her parents had written for her when they dropped her off at the orphanage when she was just a baby. The only thing that Annie has to remember her parents by is the letter along with half of a locket. Annie dreams of her parents coming back to get her, but those dreams come to a jolting stop as Ms. Hannigan (Katie Arber) barges into the room and demands that the girls clean their room, despite it being the middle of the night.

Annie’s life suddenly changes when she is brought to stay with billionaire Oliver Warbucks (Jason Glaser) for the holidays. Oliver Warbucks is so taken by Annie, that he wants to adopt her. Annie is overjoyed with the news, however, she still feels like a piece is missing from her life because she longs to know who her parents are. Oliver decides to help Annie find her parents and sets up a $50,000 reward to whomever can prove that they are Annie’s parents. Miss Hannigan, along with her brother Rooster and his girlfriend Lily, decide to try and scam Oliver Warbucks and pretend to be Annie’s parents just to get the reward. 

I applaud everyone involved in this production. From the set design, costumes, choreography, acting, and vocals, everything was fantastic. Set designer Mark Halpin created a wonderful set to accommodate the many scene changes from New York City to the orphanage and Oliver Warbucks’ mansion. I was truly impressed with how quickly the scene changes took place. My favorite aspect of the production was the choreography. “It’s A Hard Knock Life” left me awestruck with the timing and the young girls dancing en pointe.

More information on “Annie Jr.” can be found at The heartwarming story of little orphan Annie is running at the Taft Theater in Cincinnati from Friday, March 6 to Sunday, March 8. Tickets start at $10 and can be purchased online at Review

GLORIA: A LIFE–The Story of an Ohio Native’s Feminist Awakening at Human Race Theatre

Review by Christiana Molldrem Harkulich of GLORIA: A LIFE: Human Race Theatre

Perhaps you know Gloria Steinem for her expose on Playboy Bunny, or for founding Ms. Magazine, or for her articles and books; but you haven’t met the Toledo native like you will at Human Race Theatre’s GLORIA: A LIFE, by Emily Mann playing at the Loft Theatre. This evening of theatre will open your eyes to parts of Gloria Steinem’s life that you haven’t seen before.

While it might strike you that this story is a perfect vehicle for a one woman show (in the style of many one woman shows about impressive women), this is actual an ensemble performance led by a powerful Jennifer Johansen as Gloria Steinem. The ensemble, a circle of women from a range of ethnicities and ages, bring the whole of Gloria’s story to life. These women represent by turns all of the incredible women who were part of Steinem’s feminist awakening and who made up the many members of the women’s liberation movement.

While Steinem is well known for her visibility in the movement, GLORIA: A LIFE doesn’t lift up Steinem at the expense of everyone else, and that’s the role that the ensemble plays in this piece. The ensemble is wonderful as a whole, but there are a few standout moments: Eileen Earnest brings a great levity to each scene she’s in, but her Irish taxi driver who gave the women’s movement is a particular bright spot. Sherman Fracher performs activist Bella Abzug with warmth and vigor, and Burgess Byrd’s turn as activist Flo Kennedy is energetic and powerful. I wish that the program listed all of the MANY activists and leaders that the ensemble played, because you’ll want to know more about the network of women GLORIA brings to life on the Loft Stage.

The subject of historic and political dramas tend to fall into two categories: plays like COPENHAGEN or FROST/NIXON, dramas that bring us into the room where it happened and see something a new, and plays like GLORIA: A LIFE that attempt to dramatize an entire life in a series of storytelling vignettes. This style of play requires a flexible design and direction which it receives from the team. Marya Spring Cordes keeps the story moving, as the women exit and enter the stage from all over the theatre bringing new energy into the many events in Steinem’s life. The set, designed by Tamara L. Honesty, is open and welcoming giving the feel of a political field office with mismatched furniture and posters on the backdrop which suits the show well. I particularly enjoyed the design on the floor of women lifting up other women. Ayn Kaethchen’s Costume design easily brings the ensemble through the multiple decades and personalities covered in the play, as well as giving Gloria that signature Gloria Steinem look. John Rensel’s lights do the work of taking the audience from scene to scene without scenery.

GLORIA: A LIFE runs 90 minutes, but be warned there is a 20-minute Talking Circle directly after the show that is difficult to duck out of. The talking circle was one of the tools of feminist consciousness raising in the 70’s, and The Human Race Theatre invites you to share and listen to women’s stories from the audience after the show. You’ll be surprised what you hear. GLORIA:A LIFE runs through March 15th and it’s a great way to celebrate Women’s History Month. Tickets can be purchased here:

Know’s “Alabaster” is Simply Powerful

Review by Liz Eichler of “Alabaster”: Know Theater

“Maggie Lou Rader’s performance is spectacular for her vulnerability, her range, her power, and damn, she’s just amazing”

“Alabaster” is a superbly presented production of some very difficult issues. It exalts the strength of women who have lived through trauma and shows the fragility of life. It may not be suited for anyone still raw from a tragic loss, but Maggie Lou Rader’s performance is spectacular for her vulnerability, her range, her power, and damn, she’s just amazing. “Alabaster” is written by Alabama writer Audrey Cefaly, and part of the National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere.

“Alabaster” is a play about June (Rader) who has isolated herself up on her farm in Alabaster, GA, with her goats and her paintings to keep her company. A professional photographer Alice played by Kelly Mengelkoch) comes to the farm, adding June to a work about women with scars; clearly she has invisible scars of her own.  The two have a magnetic attraction but the poles keep turning.  June is a very difficult person, even before the accident, and Alice is focused on hiding her past.  The play is narrated by a goat, Weezy (Keisha L. Kemper) both wise and sarcastic, caring for her elderly mom Bib (Jodie Beth Linver). 

You will lose yourself in the performance, as Rader is mesmerizing. Actually, they all are.  It is told not only from June’s perspective, but also from Weezy’s POV–and she knows she is a goat. Sometimes you need more than one perspective of your story, because you cannot see it all.  It is Weezy who share’s the memorable line “It’s not not love to walk away.” How do you know when it is time after a tragedy to move on? When does a period of necessary healing move into something that traps you? 

Ultimately there is a very uncomfortable juxtaposition, where the goats take focus (for me) and the people are just foolishly shouting. The beauty and depth of those quiet moments with Weezy and Bib are transcendent.

Lovingly directed by Lisa Sanaye Dring, this complicated story is told with amazing visual and auditory support, spare but perfect. Andrew Hungerford’s wind worn scenery is solid yet transparent enough for Doug Borntrager’s projections and sound. Jennifer Fok’s lighting gently shifts your focus or rips you apart in a thunderstorm. Noelle Wedig Johnston’s costumes are simple and textured.  

Get your tickets now for one of the strongest performances you will ever see. “Alabaster” plays through March 21. Get your tickets by calling 513-300-KNOW or go to

Liz Eichler has her BA and MTA in Theatre and an MBA in Marketing.  She’s been a professional costumer and marketer, now teaching Marketing and Digital Marketing at University of Dayton and has been with LCT for over 8 years. 

“Alabaster” shines in World Premiere at Know Theatre

Review by Christiana Molldrem Harkulich of “Alabaster”: Know Theatre

A goat walks across stage and she is “aware that she is a goat,” but “Alabaster”, by Audrey Cefaly at the Know Theatre of Cincinnati, is not just a play about goats. Part of the rolling world premiere from the National New Play Network, this production is an intimate look at the fight to be seen between two survivors of trauma on a farm in Alabaster, Alabama. By turns laugh-out-loud funny and emotionally raw, “Alabaster” is not to be missed.

The aforementioned goat, Wheezy (played with comic precision and pathos by Keisha L. Kemper) is our narrator on this journey of connection. Wheezy introduces us to June, the artist shut-in owner of the farm (played by Maggie Lou Rader). As the play begins June is getting her portrait taken by Alice (played by Kelly Mengelkoch), a fancy-New York City based art photographer working on a series of portraits of women with scars. Over the tight two hours and two acts, Rader and Mengelkoch share tension and heart as they reveal the traumas and desires of June and Alice. Wheezy isn’t the only goat on the farm; she has companionship from her dying mother Bib (played wonderfully in her Know premiere by Jodie Beth Linver). To say more of the plot is to give the play away.

Cefaly’s play about grief and connection is directed with a swift and knowing hand by Lisa Sanaye Dring. The flow of moments from anger, to goat braying hilarity, to passion, to overwhelming grief are truthful and honest. Andrew Hungerford’s set is gorgeous and evokes the importance of place for June. Jennifer Fok’s lighting and Doug Borntrager’s sound designs work together to make the journey into the storm that is June’s grief real and startling. There is some use of strobe in the play. Noelle Wedig-Johnson’s costumes give the play a grounded feel, it’s refreshing to see a character who is bare-faced and is still seen as beautiful and desirable.

Wheezy, the wise goat, tells the audience during “Alabaster” that “it’s not not Love to walk away.” In a play about the fight to connect, this wisdom about walking away from the loved people and places we grieve is a startling reminder of how we heal. “Alabaster” is a magnificent production, and a wonderful evening of theatre.

“Alabaster” runs at Know Theatre of Cincinnati through March 21st. Tickets are available here: Don’t miss your opportunity to see this play!

CSC’s “Pride and Prejudice”: Jane Austen Unleashed

Review by Sheldon Polonsky of “Pride and Prejudice”: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

A first glance at the rather austere drawing room set while sitting down to the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company‘s production of “Pride and Prejudice” might lead you to believe that you were in for yet another strait-laced version of the Jane Austen classic most of us know and love. But listening to the chamber-music versions in the background of pop songs like Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” or Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” might tip you off that this is not going to be your mother’s Jane Austen. And you would be right.

Now, full confession at the outset: I am a card-carrying, dyed-in-the-wool Janeite. I’ve read every novel at least twice, made a pilgrimage to the Jane Austen museum in Bath, and will be the first to call-out any adaptation that doesn’t do her justice. But what I usually find fault with, especially in stage productions of Austen’s work, is indifference to her incredible dry wit and incisive humor, which make me laugh out loud every time I read her. There was no fear of that in this lively adaptation by Kate Hamill and artful direction by CSC veteran Sara Clark, which amps up the humor to 11. Whether it was the histrionics of Mrs. Bennet (Sara Mackie), the obsequiousness of Mr. Collins (Darnell Pierre Benjamin), or the puppy-dog antics of Mr. Bingley (Jude Walker), almost everything is played over-the-top. Whatever you may think about this production, you won’t be bored. Bold choices for a much-beloved classic, but ones that usually work, sometimes magnificently.

Most of the pared-down cast of eight play multiple roles, and their quick changes and off-beat casting choices add to the humor. Miranda McGee, who usually handles all the matronly roles (including Lady Catherine in this production) also plays the 14 year old Lydia believably and exuberantly. Three actors play both male and female roles, including Benjamin (Collins/Wickham/Miss Bingley), Walker (Bingley and a hysterically morose Mary Bennet) and Jeremy Dubin (Mr. Bennet and Charlotte Lucas). At first I thought this might become off-putting, but Mary and Charlotte especially became actually quite engaging and tender characters, and it was refreshing to hear Charlotte’s frank observations about the female condition being voiced by a male. Dubin was also very endearing as Mr. Bennet and his comic timing was, as usual, flawless..

I also feared that some of the serious themes and romantic emotions would be overshadowed by the slapstick, but that was not the case, especially in the second act. Courtney Lucien’s Jane Bennet was patient and sympathetic, and the all-important chemistry between Elizabeth (Caitlin McWethy) and Darcy (Grant Niezgodski) was palpable. McWethy’s emotional upheavals were sincere and smooth, and my only nit with Niezgodski was that he was just a bit too likable from the outset.

The set, by scenic designer Shannon Moore, was clean and elegant, played in the round with many audience members at the back stage but with a rotating turnable to allow constantly refreshing viewpoints. The sparse scenery was compensated for by an evocative lighting design by Nina Angelvis. Costumes by Clara Jean Kelly were eye-catching but not too overbearing.

One could quibble with this production if one wanted to. Some of the sight gags may have been overly broad or repetitive, and yes, Mary’s and Mr. Collin’s channeling of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” was a little too over-the-top and gratuitous. But let’s give credit where credit is due. I would rather a production like this one take risks that don’t always pan out then rely on the same-old same-old. And anything that makes Jane Austen more accessible to contemporary audiences, and refreshes the joyfulness and timelessness of her wit, is worth it in my opinion. I think Jane would approve.

“Pride and Prejudice” plays at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company‘s Otto M.Budig theater through March 28th. Tickets are available on their website,

Human Race’s “Gloria: A Life” is a Story Well Told

Review by Raechel Lombardo of “Gloria: A Life”: Human Race Theatre

There’s only so much one can cover in a little over an hour about a pivotal women’s movement throughout the latter half of the 20th century.  But I must say, The Human Race Theatre Company’s “Gloria:  A Life” by Emily Mann sure does give a solid crash course on Gloria Steinem and her political influence.  The play focuses on Steinem’s life, career, and activism, as well as the movement she was a part of, and the other women who also made it possible.  This production is a perfect opportunity to showcase intersectional feminism in all of its artistic choices.

To the women on stage, what a strong, fantastic, eclectic, and celebrated group of unique female performers.  Jennifer Johansen (Gloria), Burgess Byrd (Woman 2), Rae Buchanan (Woman 5), Eileen Earnest (Woman 6), Sherman Fracher (Woman 3), Andréa Morales (Woman 4), and Aurea Tomeski (Woman 1) have created this honest, open atmosphere for you to hear their stories and even share yours as well.  They all know how to portray strong in ways other than anger and grit, which is a true testament to the range women have, and I thank them for their representations.

To the crew who had such a unique, accessible, and inclusive vision for the environment for this play to thrive in, I applaud you for being so clear-cut, classy, and full of a thousand words all at the same time.  Again, a true testament to the juggling capabilities of women, whether in oppression or in open individuality.  Isaac Harris (Technical Director), Eric Moore (Head Carpenter/Charge Artist), Alexander Capeneka (Carpenter/Scenic Artist), Jacquelyn Duncan (Production Stage Manager), Michelle “Elle” Zimmerman (Assistant to the Director/Moderator), Anna Moore (Production Assistant), Mikayla Burr (Props Master), Debra Howard (Costume Stage Manager), Andrew Ian Adams (Wardrobe), Alexander Koker (Projection Operator), Bailey Olean (Sound Engineer), Dave Arnold (Production Artwork), Miami Valley Interpreters, Gayle Smith (Audio Description), Heather N. Powell (Publicity Photographer), and Scott J. Kimmins (Production Photographer) have done an elegantly collaborative job.

And thank you to the playwright, Emily Mann.  Thank you for creating a piece for women, by a women, about women, inclusive of all women, and allowing women of all shapes, colors, ages, and so on to play.   That, in itself, really contributes to the dialogue of equal rights, in that it is often difficult finding shows like that, even today.  You put in thorough effort to pay homage to these women in such a concise and playful thesis.

Go enjoy the theatre, see a wonderfully talented ensemble of women playing everyone, and have a discussion about where we’ve been and where we’re going.   “Gloria:  A Life” is running until March 15 at The Human Race Theatre Company, get your tickets while you can.

NKU’s “HMS Pinafore” Proves a Jolly Good Time

Review by Nathan Top of “HMS Pinafore”: NKU theatre

A jovial sitcom of an operetta from 1878, Gilbert and Sullivan’s “HMS Pinafore” tells the story of two romantic couples aboard the titular ship. While clearly attracted to one another, pride and rank prevents the twosomes from confessing their feelings for one another, much less to the rest of the ship’s residents. The show is filled with subtle dry comedy and plenty of double entendres to chuckle through.

While the show’s material is “gay and frivolous,” the production quality is no joke. Co-directed by Kimberly Lazzeri and Nicole Perrone, this college production feels professional on every account, flying by seamlessly from beat to beat in this mad-dash comedy. Choreographer Jay Goodlett has called upon his inner John Cleese to create some appropriately goofy dance numbers, adding to the gleeful tone of the show. Costume Designer Ronnie Chamberlain has built some beautiful pieces of period attire for the cast with allow them to not only look appropriate but dance as well. Lighting designer Jeremiah Kearns and scenic designer Anna C. Catton built a fresh, open-air world that feels large yet intimate. However, one of the unsung heroes of the show is sound designer Zachary Collins. The lightning-fast dialogue and even snappier lyrics could have gotten totally lost if the micing hadn’t been as excellent as it was, allowing the 1800s Gilmore Girls-esque dialogue to clip on by and tickle the audience’s funny bone. Damon Stevens, musical director for cast and pit, has assembled and highlighted the abilities of all his musicians. The pit is clear but not overbearing and the vocal numbers are radiant from beginning to end.

The leading hero and heroine of the story, Ralph Rackstraw (Jackson Hurt) and Josephine (Adria Whitfill) drive the narrative with charming chemistry and naivete. Each has a moving ballad as well as an endearing duet between the two concluding the first act. The aspiring Captain Corcoran (Jacob Threadgill), proves to have humorous and formidable opposition to the match. This is intensified by Joshua Van Nort’s regal performance as the pompous yet romantic Sir Joseph Porter and Joel Morgan Parece’s classic trope of a bitter, unattractive, semi-undermotivated villain, Dick Deadeye. The real break-out of the show is the electric Ally Davis as Little Buttercup, the amusing port-vendor and love interest of Captain Corcoran. Davis’s performance is magnetic throughout the show, especially during her duet with Threadgill on “Things Are Seldom What They Seem.”

NKU’s outstanding cast and crew proves that a well-done show, however dated, can ultimately be timeless. Be sure to grab your tickets here. “HMS Pinafore” runs now through March 1st.

“H.M.S. Pinafore” Sails in NKU’s Corbett Theatre

Review by Kevin Reynolds of “H.M.S. Pinafore”: NKU Theatre

The works of Gilbert & Sullivan are full of tuneful songs, quick wit, and some societal messages couched amongst the fun. The production of “H.M.S.Pinafore” by Northern Kentucky University’s School of the Arts captures all the best of this operetta with strong performances, an eye-catching set, and a perfect balance of whimsy and old-fashioned romance. 
The plot is familiar for the 1800’s: a girl from the upper-class is betrothed to a man she’s not met, but first falls in love with a man from a lower-class. What makes it work are the songs and the occasional bit of silliness. All the action happens on the H.M.S. Pinafore, beautifully designed by Anna C. Cotton and her team. While I wonder if any ship in the English Navy was ever that clean, it shows the pride of the crew working under a captain they love. 

It took two directors to make this magic happen: Kimberly Lazzeri handles the music, and Nicole Perrone the acting. They blend the two elements seamlessly and keep the action moving briskly. Damon Stevens and his eight piece orchestra provided the perfect accompaniment and Ronnie Chamberlain’s costumes were spot on, from the sailors to the head of the English Navy. 

The cast was vocally strong, though not always in an operatic (or operetta-ic) way, which is fine for this production, more of a musical comedy than anything else. However, when Adria Whitfill begins singing, you can imagine how different this would be in the hands of an opera company. Her vocal skills were only matched by the personality she brought to the love-lorn Josephine. There were many other outstanding performances, but Joel Morgan Parece as the miserable Dick Deadeye and Ally Davis as Little Buttercup really shined in their character roles. 

If you wonder whether an operetta is for you, know that none other than Monty Python”s Flying Circus was influenced by Gilbert & Sullivan and you truly get that sense throughout this wonderful production. “H.M.S. Pinafore” runs through March 1 at NKU’S Corbett Theatre. For tickets, visit