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The Magic of Christmas Comes to Life at Covedale’s “Miracle on 34th Street”

Review by Mary Kate Groh of “Miracle on 34th Street”: Covedale

Covedale’s “Miracle on 34th Street” is the perfect way to get you and your entire family in the Christmas spirit. Amid the stress of holiday shopping, final exams, Christmas parties, and trying to spend as much time with family as possible, “Miracle on 34th Street” is the answer. Written by the popular playwright, Meredith Wilson, “Miracle on 34th Street” is the heartwarming Christmas tale of whether or not there is truly a Santa Claus.

The musical opens with the Macy’s Day Parade on Thanksgiving where a frantic Doris Walker (Kelsey Chandler) tries to find a replacement Santa Claus after the one she hired was too intoxicated to even walk. She meets Kris Kringle (Jamie Steele) who happily agrees to become Santa Claus. Kris Kringle doesn’t just play the part of Santa Claus, in fact, he is Santa Claus. However, Doris Walker doesn’t want the nonsense of Santa Claus and other fairy tales to fill her daughter’s head with romantic notions. 

The entire performance was spectacular — from the costumes to the sets, to the singing and dancing, everyone did an outstanding job; hats off to director Tim Perrino for putting together a wonderful holiday classic for the whole family. Scenic designer Brett Bowling did a fantastic job of creating a set design that was easy to transform the stage from outside of Macy’s to the inside of a courtroom. The choreography by Karie Lee Sutherland was outstanding and made me want to jump on stage and join the actors in the Toy Ballet. The Toy Ballet was one of the most memorable scenes in the musical — from the strong choreography to the dreamlike lighting by Denny Reed.

Each actor and actress did a phenomenal job with their roles. Kelsey Chandler and Nora Darnell (Susan Walker) had the perfect mother-daughter chemistry for their touching duet “Arm in Arm.” Elliot Handkins (Fred Gaily) portrayed the perfect father-figure to Nora Darnell for their heartwarming duet “My Wish.” Jamie Steele steals patrons’ hearts as the beloved Kris Kringle. I even heard one patron next to me whisper, “Wow, he really does look like Santa Claus.” Jamie Steele’s performance as Kris Kringle really made me stop and remind myself of the true meaning of Christmas — not the commercialism of holiday shopping, but rather, love. 

“Miracle on 34th Street” runs through December 29 at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 513-241-6550, or by clicking here.

“The Naughty List” at Arnold’s is Weeknight Fun with Friends and Family

Review by Liz Eichler of “The Naughty List”: OTR Improv

 It’s the Holidays! So you’re looking to do “something fun with the family”—something indoors, not too expensive, not too Christmas-y, comedic, and entertaining for late teen to twenty-year-olds as well. Be the nice one and bring them to “The Naughty List.” It is Improv comedy by OTR Improv, a co-production of Know Theatre, presented at Arnold’s Bar and Grill, one of Cincinnati’s iconic bars since 1861. Shows are only December 10, 11, 17, 18, 19; perfect timing for a weeknight out with the kids home from college, grabbing a night with the office, or when you and the significant other just need a laugh. “The Naughty List” is improv comedy. While there is a structure for the evening, you as the audience get to fill in key parts, especially the second act, where someone in the audience gets to pic a non-Christmas movie and they Christmas-fy it. On this year’s sneak preview, it was “Forrest Gump.” The clever team took this audience suggestion and crafted a hysterical mashup about Forrest, Lieutenant Dan, Jennie, some reindeer, and Christmas ghosts. Lots of laughs–and running! The first half of the show is short form, full of familiar improv games with a holiday twist and great audience suggestions. The troupe is directed by Chris Wesselman, manager of Cincinnati Fringe. There is a rotating cast of gifted performers. On the preview we enjoyed none other than the Dave Powell (co-director of OTRi), Ellyn Broderick, Julie Locker, and Harris Hensley, accompanied by Mike Flohr on the piano. Other nights you may see Kevin Bauer, Kat Smith, or Nathan Tubbs. Powell is a fixture in local Improv (he teaches it!) and did not disappoint in his short and long sketches. Broderick and Locker are very strong, very funny women, with great voices and expressive faces, and it was Julie who won the “Deck the Halls” sketch, where she was able to deliver more rhymes from audience suggestions. Harris appears to be the newbie, but gives a lot of fun twists and quick wit as the Krampus. A lively audience is key to any improv, shouting out words and ideas for the troupe, cheering good work and booing flubs. A few brave members of the audience even perform with them. (Hint, don’t volunteer anyone else or YOU will be called up!) The only thing that would make this better would be offering warm chocolate chip cookies during intermission (hint-hint, Arnold’s!) Dress in layers for the covered patio courtyard—we were very comfortable, but there are heaters which could get rather warm. The show begins at 7:30 pm but seating begins at 6 if you want to include dinner and drinks at Arnold’s (no service during the show). Their chicken and waffles smell delicious but we devoured the burgers and fries. Many other staples are on the menu including Arnold’s signature Greek spaghetti, pork belly sandwich and the Yo Mamma burger with goetta, hash browns and an egg, featured this past year on Travel Channel’s “Man vs Food.” (That would get my college students to put on shoes!) Plenty of on-street or lot parking, too. For tickets go to www.otrimprov.com and bring family and friends to “celebrate, skewer, lament, embellish, and rhapsodize everything we love – and love to hate – about the holidays.”

Don’t let this Parade Pass You By! “Hello, Dolly!” wows at the Aronoff!

 Review by Christiana Molldrem Harkulich of “Hello, Dolly!” Broadway in Cincinnati

“Pudding!” Just as Cornelius signals Barnaby with the word when he’s sure they are having an adventure, I am signaling you that I’ve been on a theatrical adventure this evening at the Aronoff Center for the revival of “Hello, Dolly”! Broadway Cincinnati presented this touring production of director Jerry Zaks’s energetic and refreshingly light revival, that plays through December 15th. This wonderful production has the audience spontaneously breaking out in applause throughout, and humming those great Broadway classics walking out of the theatre. 

The scene opens on 1885 New York City, and we’re introduced to the original striver of the gig economy, the woman of many cards and much meddling Dolly Gallagher Levi (a comedically wonderful and welcoming Carolee Carmello). The events of the musical take place over the course of a day, and on this day Dolly–the matchmaker–has decided to leave her widow’s status behind and re-marry half-millionaire from Yonkers Horace Vandergelder (equal parts curmudgeon and boyishly gleeful as portrayed by John Bolton), but Horace doesn’t know it yet. In fact, Dolly is off to meddle in the whole of Horace’s life–arranging the marriage of his niece and ward Ermengarde (Laura Sky Herman) to the artist Ambrose (Colin LeMoine) despite Horace’s disapproval, and setting up his clerks Cornelius (Daniel Beeman) and Barnaby (Sean Burns) with Irene Molloy (a winning Analisa Leaming) –who Horace begins the play thinking he’ll marry–and her assistant Minnie Fay (adorable Chelsea Cree Groen). As Dolly meddles her way into the middle of all events, she’s also looking for a sign from her late husband that this is the right direction and that she has his permission.  

Adapted from Thornton Wilder’s play “The Matchmaker,” “Hello, Dolly!” is a musical that is aging incredibly well–the music pops, and every number is a bigger showstopper than the one that came before. It’s consistently funny and empathetic. From Herman’s Ermengarde classic squeal reaction to the Beeman and Burn’s bright eyed optimism, this show sings its way right into your heart. When Dolly sings of the parade passing her by, the show stopping Act 1 Finale number, it begins with such a quiet grief that you realize this show is really about a middle-aged woman who has been keeping herself so busy she’s forgotten to live. And once she puts her mind to it, WOW does she live. We could all afford to be a little more like Dolly Levi.  While all of the leads are fantastic, I would be remiss to point out the real star of this show–the wonderfully light and athletic choreography of Warren Carlyle performed by the excellent ensemble. The dancing pays homage to the original Gower Champion aesthetic, but is fresh and fun. The ensemble, consisting of a group of actors from a wide range of body types that is wonderfully refreshing, makes the world of 1885 New York come alive with joy. From “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” through the titular number “Hello, Dolly!” you’ll find yourself drawn to applaud mid-number.

The designs are also breath-taking. Santo Loquasto’s costumes and set work together seamlessly and are gorgeous and mouth-dropping. The transition into the courtroom in the second act is astounding. Natasha Katz’s light design sets the warm mood for the play and period. If the dark days of the approaching winter solstice are getting you down, run- don’t walk- to the Aronoff to catch the lightness of spirit and pure joy coming from this production of “Hello, Dolly!” Tickets are available at https://www.cincinnatiarts.org/events/detail/hello-dolly.

Catch “Hello, Dolly!” at The Aronoff ‘Before the Parade Passes By’


Review by John Woll Of “Hello, Dolly!”: Broadway in Cincinnati

“Hello Dolly!“ is the 1964 Jerry Herman musical adaptation of Thorton Wilder’s The Matchmaker. The show harkens to the golden age of musical theater. The original Broadway production won a record-breaking 10 Tony Awards.

Dolly Gallagher Levi is a strong-willed and meddling matchmaker (amongst many other talents) who travels to Yonkers, New York, to find a match for the miserly “well known unmarried half-a-millionaire” Horace Vandergelder. Dolly brings together Vangergelder’s overworked young clerk Cornelius and his assistant Barnaby with widowed milliner Irene Molloy and her assistant Minnie Fay.  Dolly pulls the strings on a series of events from Vandergelder’s Hay and Feed Store, to Irene’s Hat Shop, to Harmonia Gardens Restaurant where all of their stories collide and Dolly struts down the grand centerstage staircase in true Broadway Diva fashion.

The title role was originally written for Ethel Merman but she turned it down. Carol Channing created the iconic role and headlining this production is Broadway veteran Carolee Carmello. She is an absolutely captivating powerhouse whose performance is a skillful masterpiece and the heart beat of the show. 

The world of this touring version—of the 2017 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical- -is extremely stylized into a larger than life technicolor parade fantasy with equal parts wit and slapstick: 1885 through the lens of the 1960’s, but with a fresh modern filter and a whole lot of fun! The costumes are ornate and plentiful, the lighting is bright and vibrant. The incredible sets often play on a forced perspective in a very inventive way and seem to change in a flash. The choral sound of the ensemble is spectacular and the 17 piece orchestra brings out all of the class, pop and panache of this boisterous score. The choreography is a dazzling display of technique and often makes pageantry out of pedestrian movement, but the acrobatic “Waiters Gallop” is a ballet of jovial waiters with years of ballet training who will cakewalk their way to your heart. 

John Bolton plays Vandergelder with vigor and unabashed whimsy that helps to soften the blow of some of the sexist and dated gender roles in “It takes a Woman”. The show moves at a bouncy pace and is a joyous escape to a colorful landscape. Dolly has always been synonymous with courting, romance and marriage but at the core of it’s message: “Whatever life’s hardships, get out there and live.”

‘Put on Your Sunday Clothes’ and come see Hello Dolly! at the Aronoff ‘Before the Parade Passes By’. Playing thru Sun, Dec. 15 at The Aronoff Center. Tickets are available at CincinnatiArts.org

Marjorie Prime at Falcon: How will Tech Influence our Family Relationships in the Future?


Review By Liz Eichler Of “Marjorie Prime”: Falcoln Theater

This Holiday season, I am thankful for all of the theatres in Cincinnati, both big and small, who help us laugh, cry, think or learn something new. The places where we like to gather in groups or couples and connect with what makes us human.

Falcon Theatre, one of Greater Cincinnati’s wonderful intimate theatres, is producing a show that will give you plenty to think and talk about as it explores what makes us human, our identity, and the making of memories—all perfect reflections for the holidays.

“Marjorie Prime,” written by Jordan Harrison, begins with a family whose mother, Marjorie, is losing her mental faculty, and based on the recommendation of the health care company, they hire a “Prime” to be her companion. The Prime looks like her deceased husband but is actually an Artificially Intelligent computer.  Imagine if your Alexa or Siri had a body, and instead of just keeping track of your grocery list, can tell you some of your favorite stories in the past and carry on a conversation, continuously learning how to behave like that husband or mother. Both scary and comforting, right?

The play continues in a series of episodes in which additional reanimations (of sorts) unravel some complications of the technology–manipulation and suppression of memories. Heavy stuff, well presented in a quick 75 minutes, giving you and your theatre companions plenty of time to provide the second portion of the evening – your discussion about the play. 

The Falcon is a little gem in Newport, KY, and it was packed! The new seating and the sophisticate piano music greeting you pre-show is very soothing. The simplicity of the set indicates the activities of the play are in the not too distant future (where we like clean lines again) and allows us to focus on the characters and dialogue. 

Ed Cohen directed and designed set and sound, (with Ted J. Weil) creating this world that is familiar, futuristic, and accurately familiar. Scents and sounds remain important. The performers are strong. Sue Breving is Marjorie, Ryan Poole is Walter, Tara Williams is Tess, Marjorie’s daughter, and Terry Gosdin is Jon, Marjorie’s son in law. The four play multiple roles as Primes and themselves, as they manage complicated family confrontations. Author Harrison focuses on nuances of the stress of being sandwiched between caring for your parent and adult children. Tara Williams identifies each thread in a whole tangle of emotions. Gosdin plays a sympathetic husband and son-in-law, who can meet Marjorie where she is, not tied up with childhood pains or jealousies. Poole brings animation to a computer-generated character, and Breving gives us many shades of Marjorie, both lucid and failing. Lighting (Ted J. Weil) during the scene transitions let’s the lights to shine on you, the audience, underlining how our reactions are part of this interactive presentation. 

My husband and I went on what would have been my dad’s 90th birthday, a realization as I drove over steel bridges, reminding me of him.  Would I want a virtual assistant or “Prime” of my dad telling me “what really happened” or would I prefer the memories that have softened, goldened over these years he’s been gone? Would you want a realistic version of mom or dad there with you? Would you be tempted to “improve” him or her? And what about your siblings? My brother and sisters all have their own reflections growing up, formed by birth order and annealed by their life’s context. Lots of fodder for discussion. 

“Marjorie Prime” was a contender for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize.  Go as a couple or family group and give yourself plenty of time to explore and reflect on the implications of technology’s advances—and how those advances will be marketed to us in the future. Contact www.falcontheatre.net for tickets.  Through December 7. 

In Bocca Performance’s “Like Demons” is Not Your Dad’s History Play

Review by Blair Godshall  of “Like Demons”: In Bocca Performance

We’ve all seen historical plays (likely written for museums or schools who still teach using a VHS) and we’ve thought to ourselves “this is an old story.” When we hear “American Civil War” we may only envision Confederate, slave owning soldiers fighting against Abraham Lincoln and the Union; but that may be a misleading, inaccurate idea of the complexity that took place nearly 100 years after America was established as a nation of freedom.

Whatever thoughts come to mind, it’s all plenty old nonetheless—and, as with everything old (like buried treasure) if you dig a bit more, you’ll find something seemingly new. New ideas, people, places and things always being freshly discovered. It’s what I had the pleasure of finding at In Bocca Performance in Cincinnati this past weekend.

          This Civil War Era play, directed by Alice Flanders and written by Maggie Lou Rader (Cincinnati Shakespeare Company Member), is the story of Emma Edmondson (later Edmonds) who learned very quickly what it meant to live/survive as both a woman and a man in a time when being a single woman was unheard of. How could she earn money to support herself if all the positions available were for men? How could she fight for her country when only male soldiers were allowed on the battlefield?
If I were her, where would these dilemmas lead me and how would I resolve this? I asked myself these questions as I followed Emma Edmond’s journey (passionately, humorously and sincerely played by Hannah Gregory).

If I could do an entire feature piece solely on the cast, I would, but seeing is believing and I encourage anyone interested in new plays, new playwrights, strong female leads, female produced and directed shows, stories by women, stories for women, stories of men and women working together for a common goal, equality between the sexes and of course, compelling stories with a great ensemble cast, then “Like Demons” is a play you need to see. With all new plays, I tell people “every play, musical, movie and TV show was once a new work and this is no different.”

“Like Demons” produced by In Bocca Performance will play its final performance Monday November 25 at 7:30. For more about “In Bocca Performance” and for tickets check out their website, http://inboccaperformance.comT

Miami University: SHE KILLS MONSTERS is a Well-Designed Quest

Review by Liz Eichler of “She Kills Monsters”: Miami University Theatre

Miami University Department of Theatre selected a great production for college students to sink their teeth into, and they deliver high skills in a well-designed and executed production.

Set in 1995 “in a time before FaceBook,” “She Kills Monsters” was written in 2012 by Qui Nguyen. It is a quest for Agnes (Abby Chafe) who seeks the “lost soul” of her significantly younger sister, Tilly, killed in a car crash. She comes across her Dungeons & Dragons campaign, and with the help of a high school aged expert, Chuck, Agnes dives into this world, understanding her sister and herself.  

You needn’t know anything about D & D or role-playing games (RPG’s). You could substitute any activity that one sibling is absorbed by, and the other one has no idea WHY they do that (gaming, sports, ballet, music, etc.) The sisters are distanced by age and different personalities. The desire to know exactly what she lost has Agnes walking an imaginative mile in Tilly’s shoes (trudging up the Mountain of Steepness and the River of Wetness…).  She meets a variety of friends and foes in this semi-autobiographical game and makes discoveries about the game’s “awesomeness.”

Directed by Bridget Leak, the show is imaginative and active.  The costumes (student Madison Kollig) are colorful and movable. The clothing, hair, prosthetics and makeup add a professional level to this production. The lead characters show a real understanding of the genre and the minor characters are also fully conceived and executed.  The fight scenes (Jonathan Baca) are energetic, and the dance battle is super fun.  The set (Gion DeFrancesco) is a mountain with a misty cavity in the center, eventually reflecting more of Tilly. Set pieces raise and lower, and well-proportioned props are tossed on stage and off.  Very exciting larger-than-life puppetry (Melanie Mortimore) and excellent lighting (Marly Wooster) demonstrate Miami’s strength in technical theatre and design.

Tilly is strong and brave, yet still fragile, as played by Maddy Shilts. Agnes is a “normal” (read boring) 25-year-old woman, and Abby Chafe gives her a good character arc as we see her developing more self-confidence. Baxter Whitehead is quite funny as Chuck, the Dungeon Master. Jack Troiano is a well-meaning boyfriend.  Steve (Sam Adams) is a great bit of comic relief. Kaliope (Olivia Gorom) and Lillith (Molly Boozel) have the moves for with their oversized weapons. Orcus (Jacob Sloan) is “the resident horny dude”.  Evil cheerleaders Tina (Eleanor Alger) and Gabby (Megan Hayes) have the perfect vocal fry to make your skin crawl.

Miami has a strong dramaturgy program.  There’s plenty to read in the lobby and in the program about the background of the show, and how these Gen Zers researched the 90s. (!) No vocal coach is listed, yet many of the students could work on diction and projection, as they often had to compete with the fun 90’s music interspersed between the scenes.

“She Kills Monsters” played November 20-24 at Miami University’s Gates-Abegglen Theatre.  Coming up next is “The Wolves” March 11-15. For more contact miamioh.edu/theatre.

Magic Abounds at Miami University’s “She Kills Monsters”

Review by Nathan Top of “She Kills Monsters”: Miami University Theatre

Snappily written by Qui Nguyen and directed by Bridget Leak, “She Kills Monsters” takes place between two different worlds: Mid-nineties Ohio and a fantasy Dungeons and Dragons campaign created by the protagonist’s sister, Tilly.  Following her sister’s death, Agnes the Average and Ordinary stumbles upon the notebook containing the campaign and, with the assistance of a high school “Dungeon Master” Chuck, embarks on a journey through the RPG. As Agnes becomes emotionally invested in the journey, she meets many of Tilly’s friends and discovers a new world that before hidden to her. “She Kills Monsters” takes a hard yet humorous look at grief, loss, and how we can continue to learn about those we lose from the stories they leave behind.

The set and lighting designs, created by Gion DeFrancesco and Marly Wooster respectively, work hand-in-hand to create a fluid experience for the audience, especially from bouncing between suggested reality and fantasy. Jonathan Baca’s fight choreography is suitably humorous and delightful to watch, keeping the stakes low but the entertainment value high. After all, they are using foam swords and plastic shields. The costume designer, Madison Kollig, captures the leather-clad, semi-sexual fantasy the script suggests and the puppetry aspects of the production, designed by Melanie Mortimer, deepen the spectacle of the immersive world. Expositional shadow puppetry in the beginning of the play sets the tone for the show and, in the finale, an elaborate five-headed dragon is impressively revealed. Unfortunately, it was difficult to hear the actors’ lines in several instances due to the mix of mic’d and non-mic’d voices, especially with some very loud nineties hits playing in the background. Nevertheless, the gist of the show was cleverly executed and enjoyable to watch.

A wonderfully versatile cast fills out this colorful world of characters. Abby Chafe, playing the primary protagonist Agnes, nails the emotional heart of the show and proves to be a solid dancer in a surprising scene. Maddy Shilts, playing Tilly,  gives a complex portrayal of a deceased yet self-realized teenage girl and Baxter Whitehead is funny and charming as the earnestly derpy “Dungeon Master” Chuck. Molly Boozel (Lilith/Lilly) shares the most powerful scene of the show with Chafe, where the two of them join in solidarity of grief for their lost sister and friend/significant other. Boozell, Jacob Sloan (Orcus/Ronnie), and Sam Adams (Steve) nail their punchlines with great timing and duo Megan Hayes and Eleanor Alger (Evil Cheerleaders) are both appropriately vapid and hilarious. 
Oftentimes, college theater departments will choose shows that aren’t great fits for their programs. “She Kills Monsters” is a great show for this department. It was fun, fast paced, believably acted, and well-executed. The audience, packed with primarily college-age kids, was entirely invested in the show, resulting in what live theater is always meant to be: a communal experience. “She Kills Monsters” runs now through November 24th. Tickets can be purchased here.