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Incline’s “Church Girls” Provides Irreverent Fun

Review by Doug Iden of “Church Girls”: Incline Theatre

Prepare to suspend your disbelief as six male actors drag you into the activities of the Women’s auxiliary of the Umatilla Second Christian Church in “Church Girls, The Musical” opening at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater.  The women, along with a total of 23 characters, try to plan the annual Mother’s Day program plus other hijinks.  The tone and structure of this show echoes “Nunsense” with its combination of satire, buffoonery, outrageous behavior and naiveté of rural, small town Florida.

Consistently breaking the theatrical “fourth wall”, twin sisters Daisy Feldspar (Ken Jones) and Maisy Shirkwater (Roderick Justice) continually talk to the audience as though they are members of the congregation. Other members of the Women’s Auxiliary include Cloretta Powers (Brandon Bentley), Sherry Coldenspore (A. Janes Jones), nasty Minerva Beehimer (Rodger Pille) and the newest member Revita Glory (Jeshaun Jackson).  Being astute readers, I’m sure that you noted that the Women’s Auxiliary members are all men. Not only that, but each of them plays a variety of other characters which leads to the tour-de-force of six actors playing multiple roles while enduring a dizzying number of rapid costume changes.  Dressers do not normally earn a mention in a review but Madeleine Burgoon, Arianna Catalano and Will Jones ensured that each of the characters were properly dressed.

A seventh “lady”, Darlene Opal (played by Jamey Strawn) is also the composer and Music Director of the show.  Strawn only has a few lines but plays the keyboard on stage to accompany the cast.

The play is a series of vignettes during which different characters and different rural views are satirized.  The opening number (composed by Strawn and Director/lyricist Christine Jones) is “Not Just an Amen” using puns to introduce the gender-bending reality of the show.   In the song “Watch What You Say”, Maisy and Cloretta enumerate a series of words which they think should be banned by the City Council such as “humpback”, “rubber band” and “pound cake”.   Climate change is spoofed in the song “I Don’t Mind Global Warning” when Minerva and the company bemoans the fact that “your carbon footprint crushed me”.  

The climax comes when Sherry Coldenspore picks “Oedipus Rex” as the play they should do to celebrate a mother’s love for her son and vice versa.  Obviously, no one had actually read the classic Greek tragedy.  Their attempt to do the play is both disastrous and hilarious. They do not shy away from race issues either since their newest member, Revita, is black.  The other women attempt to do some soul and gospel singing while telling Revita that they are “Just Like You”.  Revita’s response is the musical “Shut Your Mouth”.  

The zaniest of the other characters include sleazy Larry Coldenspore (Sherry’s husband, played by Jones) who tries to team with Harley Buford (Rodger Pille) to open a drive through dialysis service.  Pille also plays the ineffectual pastor Rev. Harv Feldspar, who needs frequent prompting from his wife Daisy while giving his sermons.  Other highlights include costume designer Irma Snead (Jones) who smokes incessantly and wears faux leopard pants. Rupert Eikenberry (Jones again) plays a creepy mortician and Roderick Justice portrays a botox-infused Naomi May Hooker whose face keeps slipping.  Jackson plays the only two redeemable characters including Jefferson Glory who commiserates with Sherry because of her husband’s infidelity.

Despite all the character and costume switching, there were no mistakes which is a major tribute to the actors, the dressers and the director.

The music is not memorable but the lyrics for some of the songs are very clever and several gospel numbers are loud and enthusiastic. The voices of the actors are solid with a special nod to Jackson and Pille.

The set designed by Ken Jones is static but it effectively displays the inside of the church.  The variety of costumes (by Table for Five) and wigs by Roderick Justice are significant ranging from “old lady” dresses to camouflage outfits to the Pastors suit to fat body suits to the mortician dressed in black.

Overall, the play is very funny, somewhat risqué and an equal opportunity satire.  

So, enjoy your visit to the Bible Belt with the exuberant Church Girls, The Musicalplaying at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater through June 30.

CSC’s “A Flea in Her Ear” is a Frisky, Frantic Farce

Review by Jenifer Moore of “A Flea in Her Ear”: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

Ever been to a theatrical performance where you are in a fit of hysterical laughter from beginning to end? If, not, then get ready to laugh your heart out with the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s latest production “A Flea in Her Ear”. 

This new version of Georges Feydeau’s farce by David Ives closes out the company’s 25th Anniversary season and as the old saying goes, they truly saved the best for last.

Prepare your hearts, minds, and bladders to spend an evening in Paris, France at the turn of the century where shenanigans abound at The Frisky Puss, the city’s notorious hotel for clandestine escapades. We land here after the noble and refined beauty Raymonde Chandebise, believing that her husband (Victor Chandebise/Poche) is unfaithful because of the lack of love given below, cooks up a plan with her partner in crime (Lucienne Homenides de Histangua) to catch him in the act. While the plan is all too common in the world of love and war, what the two don’t bank on is their plan going horribly, yet hilariously off the track. 

I honestly do not know how the cast got through rehearsals without doubling over in fits of laughter themselves while preparing for the play. Each of the cast members brought the comedic and dramatic theatrics over the course of the 147-minute production however Sara Clark and Kelly Mengelkoch ruled the stage. The two reminded me of the famed comedy duo Lucy and Ethel from “I Love Lucy” as Lucienne and Raymonde. Whether they were in a scene together or separately, they led the cast with gusto as they trip over themselves to uncomplicate a situation that they complicated in the first place. Having these two at the helm of this production is the perfect teaser for things to come next year with women-led productions in the “The Season of the Woman” in homage of the 100th anniversary of Women’s Suffrage. 

What’s a play centered around suspected infidelity and sex-crazed mania without a set to match? Will Turbyne’s work to transform the company’s singular stage into two very distinctive representations during this era took skill and he handled it masterfully. It’s a tale of two cities with Turbyne first bringing the luxury and wealth of the Victorian Era in the Chandebise Drawing Room with cream furniture and high vaulted walls and of course, lots of doors. Next come the sex and unmentionables at The Frisky Puss hotel where the design lives up to its name featuring deep magenta walls, sultry accessories and another very distinctive element that shall remain nameless but becomes a character of its own. The way in which Will and his team are able to interchange the sets through brief intermissions is something to behold and makes Cincinnati Shakespeare Company stand out among the best of the best. 

Finally, no production is a successful one without a leader. Director Jeremy Durbin should be applauded for his relentless pursuit to nail the farce genre with this production. With every hit, kick or slam of a door coupled with the actors exaggerated expressions, he opens the stage doors (pun intended) for audience members to enter in another realm and lose themselves in a fantasy. 

Run, don’t walk to the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s box office to get a ticket (or five!) to see “A Flea in Her Ear”. Audience members will find themselves whipping their heads back and forth in delight to keep up with the fast-paced action. 

The show runs until run until June 2, 2019, and tickets can be purchased online, by calling the Box Office at (513) 381-2273 ext. 1. They can also be purchased in person seven days a week noon – 5 pm at The Otto M. Buddig Theater 1195 Elm Street Cincinnati, OH 45202.

CSC’s “A Flea in Her Ear” will have you Itching for More

Review by Liz Eichler of “A Flea in Her Ear”: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s “A Flea in Her Ear” is an hilarious farce, told in 3 acts, delivered at break-neck speed, spanning all sorts of illicit and ridiculous behavior by randy Europeans. As long as you suspend your modern moral standards, it will give you a workout laughing and gasping for breath; you’ll be happy you came. Written by Parisian playwright Georges Feydeau during La Belle Epoque (think Art Nouveau and Erte, end of 19th and beginning of 20th centuries), it was an opportunity to poke fun at the opulence and ridiculousness of the rich, privileged upper classes. This new version, translated and adapted by David Ives, adjusts a few details and updates the language, yet illustrates that public infidelity and kinkiness of the 1% is old hat.  Who knew?

The farce pulls in all the classic comedic devices you love in “The Three Stooges” or “Frasier.”  Central to the plot there is mistaken identity, repetition, hyperbole, double entendre, all sorts of word play, slapstick, physical comedy, conflict between the classes, and of course, timing.  Who better than Jeremy Dubin to direct this piece, as he is a master of the hilarious.

Here is the gist of the main plot: two school friends bemoan their husbands’ interest in “being a husband”; one says he wants to “be a husband” every night and the other says he’s dried up—just like that.  She assume it is an affair, so they concoct a trick (one they saw at the theatre) to catch him by sending him a perfumed letter, written by the friend, offering a tryst at an irreputable establishment, the Frisky Puss Hotel.  On Coq d’Or Lane.  

There are multiple side stories and interesting characters, with the cast of fourteen deftly playing fifteen characters. The star of the show is timing. Most of the actors have worked with each other for years, and the door slams, the leg crosses, the head turns, etc. are perfectly synchronized adding to laughs and keeping the show moving at a frantic pace. Kudos to Director Dubin.

The writing is also a star, with clever wordplay and puns all appealing to those who like high comedy (think Frasier and Moliere), and the servant beatings, the slapstick are there for those who adore the Three Stooges and Adam Sandler.

Billy Chace, Sara Clark, and Kelly Mengelkoch carry much of the show.  Chace’s energy as both a high brow and low brow character (Victor Chandebise/Poche) is wonderful. He is the king of timing and tone. Clark (Lucienne Homenides de Histangua) and Mengelkoch (Raymonde Chandebise) as the best friends are appropriately high class, but also conniving yet charming.

Justin McCombs (Romain Tournel) sports a handlebar mustache as the lascivious friend of Chandebise, yet eager to hop into bed with his friend’s wife. Brandon Joseph Burton is cousin Camille, someone who never has been able to pronounce consonants.  His physical comedy is big and spot on, (but his intonation is too close to the hearing impaired.) Pulling influence from Italian commedia dell’arte, the cast includes a Doctor (Barry Mulholland) who has a hand in multiple story lines (and a big costume moment in Act 2) and Phil Fiorini (Ferraillon) is the retired Captain, ineffectively herding kittens through the Frisky Puss. Geoffrey Warren Barnes II (servant Etienne, cuckolded by beautiful Antoinette), Candice Handy (mouthy servant Eugenie), Joneal Joplin (Baptiste), Josh Katawick (Rugby), Miranda McGee (Olympia) and Maggie Lou Rader (cheeky maid Antoinette) fill out the cast hilariously.  However, Matthew Lewis Johnson, as Don Carlos Homenides de Histangua, steals the show.

The set (W. Turbyne) begins as sophisticated blank palette, soon filled with the raucous colors and antics of the less than perfect upper class. The play poses a technical puzzle still to be solved: how to build such a sumptuous space, which is completely transformed into the tawdry “Frisky Puss” in  Act 2 and restores in Act 3, which allows the actors to run quickly and safely backstage, yet remain solid for the continual door slams.

A sprawling but ultimately uncomplicated storyline revolves around ED, lust, infidelity, mistaken identity, and clever wordplay. “A Flea in Her Ear” will have you laughing out loud, giving your lungs a workout, as the colors and humor burst from the stage, and leave you feeling spent. “A Flea in Her Ear” runs through June 2.  For tickets contact or call 513-381-2273 (BARD)

In Falcon’s “Baskerville”, the Trail Leads to Plenty of Laughs

Review by Laurel Humes of “Baskerville”: Falcon Theatre

The laughs come easily and often in Falcon Theatre’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, onstage through May 18.

The show, by prolific and popular playwright Ken Ludwig, is a humorous adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles. Much of the fun comes in watching three actors play over 40 characters (reference Wikipedia; I lost count!).

You know it’s a send-up from the start, when a shadow puppet represents the killer Hound with “blazing eyes and dripping jaws.” The Hound is responsible for the death of Sir Charles Baskerville, a farcical dying also played for laughs.

And so the game is afoot! Here come famous detective Sherlock Holmes (Matt Dentino) and his sidekick Doctor Watson (Alan Kootscher) to investigate.

Dentino gives us the traditional Holmes, with his pipe and deerstalker hat, elegant bearing and language, and intellect bordering on arrogant. When he asks Watson’s opinion, it’s mostly to shoot him down.

Kootscher’s Watson does wear an almost constant expression of befuddlement, interrupted by brief glimpses of pleasure in Holmes’ praise.

These two fine actors carry the weight of the narrative, leaving Nick DiMuzio, Dan Robertson and Jordan Trovillion to make up the rest of the large “cast.” And they are over-the-top terrific.

Trovillion veers from housekeeper to spurned lover to adolescent boy with ease and a wonderfully expressive face. British accents, German accents, unrecognizable accents played for laughs – she’s got all covered.

DiNuzio’s largest role is Henry, the heir to Baskerville, following the death-by-Hound of Sir Charles, which he also played!  Henry is from Texas, certainly a playwright gimmick to add a pistol-toting but affable good old boy to the mix. And to give him lines like: “This is so gloomy, it reminds me of my mama’s funeral. Without the liquor, of course.”

Robertson’s repertoire ranges from friend to the Baskerville to crippled servant to possibly deranged butterfly collector. He brings humor and wit to each character.

There are some hilarious bits. As the characters move through a portrait gallery, the same actor changes hair and headpieces to become different paintings, all while holding a picture frame to his face. Cardboard cutouts represent a carriage and then a train, with the actors’ physical motions completing the gag.

Director Derek Snow keeps the pace moving quickly, so the numerous costume changes (kudos to designer Tara Williams) have to be fast. The changes also are played for laughs, especially in the final scene, when DiNuzio is half Texan Henry and half Scotland Yard detective, back and forth.

The Baskerville script is witty, but it also needs this talented cast and director to make the show laugh-out-loud hilarious.

The show continues through May 18 at Falcon Theatre, 636 Monmouth St., Newport. Tickets are available at 513-479-6783 or at

Incline Theatre Greets the Summer with a Breezy “Mamma Mia!”

Review by Sheldon Polonsky of “Mamma Mia!”: Incline Theatre

Incline Theatre kicks off its summer season with the crowd-pleasing “Mamma Mia!” and one can hardly think of a more appropriate selection to kiss the cold and rains goodbye. Set on a colorful, carefree Greek island, “Mamma Mia!” celebrates love, family and joie de vivre. Full confession: jukebox musicals like “Mamma Mia!” aren’t my favorite musical theatre genre, but the universal appeal and popularity of the ABBA music that permeates it, and its fairly seamless integration into the (admittedly light-weight) plot, make it one of the best.

The plot focuses on Sophie (Lexie Rigsby) and her single mother, Donna (Helen Anneliesa Raymond-Goers). Sophie is getting married to Sky (Jackson Hurt) on the isolated Greek island where her mother runs a tourist taverna, but has secretly invited three men from her mother’s diary, any of whom may be her father: Harry (Brian Anderson), Bill (Dan Doerger), and Sam (Ryan J. Poole). Rounding out the main cast are Donna’s friends from her old musical group, Tanya (Leslie Taylor) and Rosie (Anna Schneider) who just arrived for the wedding. The show follows Sophie as she becomes close to the three men and tries to identify her father, as well as reconcile her marriage with her mother whose free-spirited ideals don’t match with Sophie’s desire to get married at age 20.

“Mamma Mia!” poses prodigious vocal challenges, which the cast met with various degrees of success. Some of the issues were related to the sound and acoustics, with occasional static, feedback and inconsistent volume levels. Raymond-Goers led the cast vocally and brought the house down with her signature ballad, “The Winner Takes it All”. Newcomer Lexie Rigsby, an NKU student, has been busy this spring having just come off of an impressive dramatic supporting role in Falcon’s “A Lion in Winter” and now demonstrates her musical theatre talents. She is sweet and charismatic as Sophie, and has a fine, clear voice which could benefit with a little more forcefulness. Two stand-outs in supporting roles were Annie Schneider and Dan Doerger, who shined in a well-choreographed and humorous number, “Take a Chance On Me”. Welcome back to Doerger, who has been on an extended sabbatical in Hawaii and whose return to the Cincinnati stage this year reminds audiences how much his physical style, stage-presence, and impish smile have been missed.

The most effective numbers overall were the ensemble pieces by a young and eager chorus, who also backed up many of the solos and duets. Choreography by Allison Evans was fairly standard, but a few numbers like “Lay All Your Love on Me” and “Under Attack” had some clever and memorably eye-catching elements. Music Director Steve Goers conducted a small but effective band that handled the ABBA music perfectly.

Scenic designer Brett Bowling provided a beautiful and flexible facsimile of Donna’s taverna, while Caren Brady’s costumes were colorful and appropriate. Denny Reed’s lighting design also provided color and drama to the staging.

Tim Perrino directed “Mamma Mia!” with his usual professionalism, care, and skill (and also provides a cute cameo as the wedding official). Somehow, though, I couldn’t help feel that the cast both dramatically and vocally seemed somewhat over-scripted and restrained. The very best moments of the show came at the end, with an after-finale dance party-ish encore of several songs where everyone, included the audience, let go. Some of that same exuberant spontaneity and energy throughout would have brought the production to another level.

Despite any shortcomings, however, as the song “Mamma Mia” intones, “How can I resist ya?” Incline’s production is a fun and free-wheeling show that makes a great start to its summer offerings. It plays at the Incline Theatre through May 26th, with tickets available at their website,

Falcon’s “Baskerville” Mixes Comedy and Mystery

Review by Doug Iden of “Baskerville”: Falcon Theatre

The game is afoot once more as Sherlock Holmes battles the hound on the deadly moors in “Baskerville,” opening at the Falcon Theater.   Five actors playing multiple characters cavort in Ken Ludwig’s homage/spoof of the Arthur Conan Doyle masterpiece “The Hound of the Baskervilles”.

The overall tone of the show is gentle whimsy while maintaining the themes and adhering to the original plot of the book.  James Mortimer (played by Dan Robertson among many other parts) engages Holmes (veteran Matt Dentino) to investigate the recent death of Sir Charles Baskerville and pursue the legend of the infamous Hound of the Baskervilles which has allegedly dogged the family for several centuries.  An American relative (Sir Henry Baskerville played by Nick DiNuzio among may other roles) will inherit the estate and may need protection.  Holmes accepts the challenge and dispatches Doctor Watson (Alan Kootscher) to oversee the safety of the Baskerville heir with the proviso to stay off the gloomy and dangerous moors which surround the estate.  They are hounded by the curse.

Dentino and Kootscher only play Holmes and Watson respectively while three other actors play all of the other roles. Robertson plays Mortimer, Barrymore (servant at Baskerville), Stapleton (a resident of the moor), a Baker Street Irregular who helps Holmes, and several other minor characters.  DiNuzio plays Sir Henry Baskerville, Inspector Lestrade and numerous others.  Actress 1 (Jordon Trovillion) is busy playing Beryl Stapleton, Mrs. Barrymore, Mrs. Hudson, another Baker Street Irregular and others.  The actors seamlessly meld from character to character and costume to costume.  The costume changes are amazing.  (Trovillion even jokes about it while changing from a dress to a male costume as an Irregular within a few seconds).  The best change though, and one of the many chuckle moments, comes late in the show when Henry Baskerville and Lestrade (both played by DiNuzio) simultaneously stare over the right and then left shoulder of Trovillion by using the costume of Lestrade and only the ubiquitous hat of Baskerville.  Ironically, the least interesting character is Holmes himself. This is not a criticism of Dentino who plays Holmes (correctly) as distant, cerebral and somewhat disdainful of the Hound myth but rather the way the character is portrayed in the book in which he only appears at the start and the end.  The story is really about Watson who is portrayed only slightly more seriously than Nigel Bruce played him in the Basil Rathbone movies. Kootscher plays the foil and reacts beautifully (and comically) to the insanity surrounding him.  It’s a credit to the actors that they don’t all crack up during the performance.

The comedy springs from the use of absurd props, sight gags and outlandish overacting by the principals.  Some of the more intriguing props (designed by director Derek Snow and artistic director Ted Weil) are a series of blank picture frames which surround the actors.  (Holmes gets a major clue from a series of portraits of past Baskervilles.)  A wooden door with a window substitutes as a “carriage” on one side and a “train” when the prop is reversed.  Stapleton is a butterfly collector and continually tries to net a puppet butterfly.  The Hound is shown as a shadow puppet.  One way to keep the characters straight is through costuming by Tara Williams. Holmes has his traditional suit and deerstalker hat, Watson dresses like a professional man but the other characters have a variety of costumes including an outlandish Texas garb (complete with pistol and holster), a flowery dress for Beryl Stapleton, servants’ uniforms for the Barrymores etc.  Another method is through dialects.  Too often dialects lead to cringeworthy moments but I was impressed by the quality and variety of accents (a combination of the actors ability and dialect coach Kate Glasheen) including High and Middle English, Cockney. Irish, Scottish, central European, American (Texas) and Italian.  Frequently, the actors switch accents within seconds.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining play acted marvelously by everyone.  With all of the moving parts, costume switches, dialects, multiple characters, and props, this is an exceedingly difficult effort but the cast succeeds admirably.  It’s also very funny while portraying a classic and landmark murder mystery.

Grab your deerstalker, your pet cane and brave the heathen cries of the monster mastiff at the Falcon Theater playing through May 18.

Brush off Your Disco Shoes for Incline’s “Mamma Mia!”

One of the most popular of the so-called Jukebox Musicals, “Mamma Mia!” roared onto the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater.  Featuring songs written by the men of ABBA (Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus), “Mamma Mia!” relates the quest of Sophie Sheridan (Lexi Rigsby) to discover her biological father.  Unbeknownst to her mother Donna (Helen Anneliesa Raymond-Goers) and her fiancé Sky (Jackson Hurt), Sophie invites three men, whose names she discovered in her mother’s diary, to her impending wedding.  Confusion reigns supreme thereafter.  Whether you are a fan of ABBA’s music or not, the songs and show are exhilarating, exuberant, infectious and fun.  This show is one of my guilty pleasures.

Jukebox Musicals are shows featuring the music of a composer or entertainer (such as “All Shook Up” with Elvis music), with a small story weaving together the songs. In this case, twenty of ABBA’s best known songs including “Honey, Honey,” “Dancing Queen,” “Take a Chance on Me,” and the title song explode onto the stage with riotous singing and dancing. 

Despite many characters, this is the story of mother and daughter, their relationship, their love and their disappointments.  Rigsby plays Sophie as an inquisitive, energetic teen who is excited about her pending nuptials but still longing to know her heritage.  The show is bookended with one of ABBAs best songs, “I Have a Dream”.  Rigsby didn’t quite hit some of the high notes initially (probably opening night jitters) but, as the night progressed, starting singing with gusto while hitting all the notes.  She and Donna are on stage throughout most of the show so their performances are crucial.  Raymond-Goers portrays Donna as wary and somewhat world-weary.  She has had to create and run a business (a taverna on a Greek island) while raising a child single-handedly but she valiantly strives on.

When confronted with the three men in her lifetime twenty-one years later, she is angry, befuddled and feeling somewhat betrayed because she doesn’t know that Sophie has invited them.  Each of the men, Harry Bright (Brian Anderson), Bill Austin (Dan Doerger) and Sam Carmichael (Ryan Poole) had never met and were equally confused about why they were there.  The female characters of Donna and Sophie are well drawn by playwright Catherine Johnson but there is a bland sameness to the three men.  Each of the men has their day, however, with duets between Sam and Donna (“SOS”), Sophie and Bill (“The Name of the Game”) and Donna and Harry (”Our Last Summer”).  The singing is well done and helps propel the story.

Also invited to the wedding are two of Donna’s best friends and members of a singing trio including Tanya (Lesley Taylor) and Rosie (Annie Schneider).  The “trio” provides the comic relief and Taylor and Schneider chew up the scenery. Tanya and Rosie try to brighten up Donna’s mood about the three men by reminiscing about their single days with the rambunctious “Chiquitita” and “Dancing Queen” and later resurrect their performance (complete with disco costumes designed by Caren Brady) of “Super Trouper”.  Their songs are among the highlights.

I don’t get to talk about lighting very much but it almost becomes a character, especially in the first act.  Denny Reed (lighting) and Brett Bowling have combined on two interesting scenes.  During the songs “Money, Money, Money” and “Mamma Mia,” the onstage singers are bathed in a red glow but, then, several window panels open with other women singing the refrain highlighted by green light as a counter to the lead singers.  

Another interesting set of scenes occur when the chorus starts singing “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme” and then freezes while Sophie approaches each of the three men asking if they are her father.  At the end of the first act, a similar device is used when the song “Voulez Vous” is interrupted while each of the men want to walk Sophie down the aisle.  

This is not an opera but there are a lot of songs.  Veteran theatergoers may find the musical arrangements somewhat jarring but, at the insistence of the composers, all of the songs feature the original “pop music” style versus a theatrical arrangement.  This “pop” treatment is further enhanced with an off-stage chorus frequently backing up the lead singers on stage.  The band, with Conductor Steve Goers, reproduce the ABBA sound well.

Dramatically, the key song is “The Winner Takes it All” where Donna confronts Sam about Sophie’s parentage.  Bitterly, Donna sings: “The winner takes it all.  The loser standing small.”  Later in the song, she intones: “I don’t wanna talk ‘cause it makes me feel sad.  And I understand, you’ve come to shake my hand.”  All of her pent-up emotions explode into this plaintive cry which Raymond-Goers captures beautifully.  

But, this is primarily a fun-filled evening, so let’s dispense with the drama and return to the disco music.  There is, predictably, a happy ending (this is an old style musical after all) and several of the big ABBA hits are reprised at the end.  The large ensemble cast adds to the magic with good singing and dancing.   The show is a little uneven but it still is fun entertainment.

So, dust off your old disco outfit and those ABBA records in the corner of the basement and boogie on down the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater for “Mamma Mia!”, running through May 26. 

TCT’s “Sleeping Beauty” is a Spectacular Production

Review By Liz Eichler of “Sleeping Beauty”: Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati

The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati will be celebrating 100 years of continuous production–the oldest children’s theatre in the country! Audiences have been impressed and entertained by TCT productions for a century and “Sleeping Beauty” is no exception. Their shows feature some of the best regional talent. TCT’s deep and rich outreach program and training academy has nurtured generations of performers—as well as everyday Cincinnatians. Every show has the highest caliber production values, building discerning palettes for professional stagecraft and management, inspiring both future designers and future engineers. 

TCT’s “Sleeping Beauty” is a retelling of the folktale for new audiences, expanding what it means to be a princess. Your child will be enthralled by this modern story, but may have some questions, since it does depart in a few ways from the Disney version they may know best. Ken Jones (Director, Story and Book), Christine Jones (Lyrics) and Jamey Strawn (Music) have crafted a delightful spin on the ancient source material “La Belle au Bois Dormant.”  The live band plays the numbers with gusto, and the polished performers have no problem hitting all the notes of this steam punk rock fairytale.

The spectacle is grand and professional, including set (Mark Halpin), costumes (Jeff Shearer), lighting (Benjamin Gantose), and of course the Puppet Design (Kevin Frisch).  Halpin can think big, and from the moment the kids walk into the theatre they see the stage transformed into a funky castle. The gears and arches are grand and beautifully executed. The columns of light onstage are ever-changing with the moods of the characters, and the pyrotechnics (it is called steampunk!) are impressive. I’m still thinking about one of the stars of this show, the magnificent yet fierce dragon – and you will be too. High five for Puppet Designer Kevin Frisch and Director Ken Jones who found the perfect balance to strike some awe, but not distract. Some kids may watch this segment with fingers by the eyes in case it gets too scary (it doesn’t), and still enjoy the gigantic creature galumphing across the stage.

Brandon Bentley sets the tone perfectly as the aged Narrator. A king (Spenser Smith) and a queen (Ella Rivera) live in a kingdom far far away, which Jones dubs the Land of the Princesses—where baby princesses, guarded by fairies, come to grow up and attend princess school (“Everything That’s Cool We Learn in Princess School”). Eventually they kiss their frog and marry the prince who magically appears. Sweet and spunky Princess Aurora (Jenna Van Weelden) doesn’t buy this. She’s too busy trying not to “sleep through life” embracing the outdoors, sports, music, new ideas and learning. She wears steampunk goggle instead of a tiara. A very modern notion of a princess! Of course there’s a bevy of Disney-esque beauties (Ashley Olivia Morton, Mikayla Renfrow, Renee Stoltzfus, Lauren Everett, Jordan Collins) and their matching handsome princes (Sam Johnson, A. James Jones, Evan Koons, Matt Kreig, Dylan Tacker).  We also meet awkward but sweet Prince Phillip (George Ivan), not the same as the other princes, and he also prefers learning over feats of strength.  Aurora (call her Rory) enjoys his company and they sing “When Did Different Get to Be Wrong.”

Eventually Rory discovers a spinning wheel–the technology she was warned never to touch–but her curiosity gets the best of her, and she is sent into an enchanted slumber.  The clever writing team has crafted a very lovely sequence sharing Sleeping Beauty’s enchanted dreams. The harmonies in this sequence are very moving. Michelle Wells is the beautiful antagonist “Magnilda the Magnificent” who put the spell on the spinning wheel.  She performs her role with cackles and abandon, and a commanding voice.

Older kids and parents will embrace the modern ending of a classic fairytale. It is full of affirmations such as “Be Who You Are.” Everyone will be dazzled with the brilliance on stage, the amazing Taft Theatre itself, as well as the many charming prince and princess (and their gowns) in the audience. The story moves along quickly, making a few sacrifices in the narrative to indulge in the music, for a run time of about 60 minutes.

“Sleeping Beauty” is filled with delightful spectacle, produced by a company that has proven its love for kids and parents for over 100 years! So if you have a child or grandchild, get your tickets to “Sleeping Beauty.”  Better yet, consider season passes to teach your favorite young people about live performance, and earn the subscribers treat – meeting the cast members after the show. What a way to inspire future creators and dreamers than to see the characters up close.  Contact for more information.