Skip to content

Broadway Series’ “Finding Neverland” Shows the Power of Storytelling

Review by Liz Eichler of Finding Neverland: Broadway in Cincinnati

Beautiful Storytelling—that’s a quick summation of Finding Neverland, playing now through November 19 at the Aronoff in Cincinnati.  Adding a few words: Amazing.  Fresh. Joyful. Talent. And of course, Glitter Tornado. Two more words: Go Now.

“Finding Neverland” is a story of how J. M. Barrie formulated the script for “Peter Pan,” using part whimsy, part observation, and part looming deadline. Barrie is a successful playwright in Edwardian London, and meets up with a recently widowed mother and her imaginative young sons.  Barrie rediscovers what it means to be innocent and just “play,” falls in love with the mum, and is inspired to put it on the London Stage.  “Finding Neverland” is a musical, based on a movie, based on a book, based on what was shared or remembered about growing up. Some things are “facts” and some are “improvements,” and some are fun or moving musical numbers.

The star of the show is the visuals in all forms, from the treatment of Tinkerbell, to the richly detailed Edwardian clothing and scenery, the projections and lighting, and the choreography. There is something so fresh about the colors, the movement, and the use of space. I was transfixed.

The story pulls you in.  Yes, a few weaknesses in script, but the story is told so lovingly by director Diane Paulus, and the cast. Barrie is played by CCM grad Billy Harrigan Tighe, a lovely tenor. The child actors are amazing, with great voices and the right level of “realness.”  You may see a combination of Turner Birthisel, Connor Jameson Casey, Wyatt Cirbus, Bergman Freedman, Tyler Patrick Hennessy and/or Colin Wheeler. John Davidson (whom you may recall from TV, hosting “The New Match Game” and “Hundred Thousand Dollar Pyramid”) is great fun and a commanding presence.  Lael Van Keuren (Sylvia) is a sweet and imaginative mother and companion. Karen Murphy (Mrs. Du Maurier) makes you think of Maggie Smith, self-possessed, but also a great sense of comic timing. The whole ensemble is strong, and each knows how to pull out a laugh and enrich the characters.

The inventive movement by choreographer Mia Michaels (you may know her work from So You Think You Can Dance) elevates the show, and is performed by strong and diverse dancers.  So many numbers, including the Circus of Your Mind and When Your Feet Don’t Touch the Ground, redefine Broadway performance style.

So scooch up close and lose yourself in the amazing storytellers in “Finding Neverland.”  Get tickets at

Finding Neverland Will Have You Thinking Happy Thoughts at the Aronoff Center

Review by Spencer Smith of Finding Neverland: Broadway Series

Finding Neverland, the 2004 film about J.M. Barrie starring Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet, is now a fully imagined Broadway musical. Despite a few technical glitches on opening night, this is sure to become a fan favorite of the 2017-2018 season.

J.M. Barrie (Billy Harrigan Tighe) is struggling to write his next hit. His current play is not doing so well and theatre producer Charles Frohman (John Davidson) is ready to give it the hook. While spending the afternoon in the park attempting to cure his writer’s block, Barrie meets Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Lael Van Keuren) and her four rambunctious children Peter, George, Jack and Michael. This youthful energy might be exactly what he needs and the croc- I mean clock- is ticking. Anxious to see where this might lead, Barrie invites Davies and her children to dinner. Much to the chagrin of Barrie’s wife Mary (Kristine Reese) and Davis’ mother Mrs. du Maurier (Karen Murphy), imaginations run wild during a very entertaining dinner. After a few rounds of toss-the-toupee, Mary is not pleased and J.M. finds himself in the dog house. Out of favor with his wife, Barrie begins to spend more time with Davies and her four children while Mary starts to spend more time with Lord Cannan (Noah Plomgren). Tighe, Keuren and the rotating cast of four boys have a wonderful chemistry. The intricacy of their relationship is the heart of the show and the fuel that Barrie needs to write what becomes the story of Peter Pan. Tighe and Keuren both have fantastic singing voices and listening to Keuren sing “All That Matters” is itself worthy of your ticket price.

The book by James Graham is absolutely one of the most effective scripts I’ve seen on a stage in a long time. You’ll be laughing out loud when Mrs. du Maurier recalls her wild years (“It was the 60’s”) and the next will have you feeling like Sally Field in, well, almost any movie. The same can not be said of the music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, of UK pop group Take That fame. When their musical moments are centered around character development the songs are most effective. Many others left me wondering what the show would be like as a play. I would pay to see that play. Director Diane Paulus has put the real-life fairy tale of J.M. Barrie right before our eyes and it is one of the most beautifully crafted shows I’ve ever seen. If you doubt me, just wait until Sylvia goes to Neverland towards the end of the show. It’s one of the most technically stunning “So You Think You Can Dance”esque moments but it does not disappoint.

Choreographer Mia Michaels creates one of the shows most debatable flaws. The traditional story (it’s turn-of-the-century London) juxtaposed with the pop songs and very contemporary movement is clearly an artistic choice, but left me feeling the same as I did watching Spring Awakening. If something feels like a distraction I begin to debate its worth.

Despite the debatable flaws, the cast onstage and the show they perform at the Aronoff Center is top-notch. I just wish the two ladies sitting next to me on opening night had looked up from their phones long enough to get lost in Neverland for a few hours with the rest of us.

Finding Neverland continues at the Aronoff Center through November 19.

For tickets, visit the box office located at 650 Walnut Street , call 513-621-2787 [ARTS] or you can order online at

Carnegie’s “Tenderly’ is a Bluesy Portrayal of Kentucky’s Favorite Songstress

Review by Hannah Gregory of Tenderly: Carnegie Theatre

Going into Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical, you may expect a nostalgic piece that skirts you away to the 1940’s and 50’s, churning medleys of Rosemary Clooney’s warm, sultry voice into a feel-good musical. While it certainly highlights hits from Clooney’s career, the second show in The Carnegie’s 2017–2018 season is hardly fluff. With only two actors –– Kim Schroeder Long as Rosemary Clooney (or Rosie, as she’s fondly called) and Allen Middletown, who portrays Rosie’s doctor (as well as various friends, family members, and others who affected Rosie’s life) –– Tenderly requires top notch, versatile performances. It delivers.

Tenderly functions very much as a staged biopic, taking us through Clooney’s life as a young Kentuckian with oft-absent parents and then her rise to fame as a singing starlet. The show focuses on Clooney’s stint in a psychiatric ward and is told through her sessions with her doctors and through flashbacks of her life. The crux of the show hearkens to her breakdown at a performance in Reno and the events that preceded such an episode. Highlights include the explosive “Come On-A My House,” “Have I Stayed Too Long at the Fair?” where Schroeder Long stretches her acting chops and the music’s merry-go-round theme darkly underpin Clooney’s psychosis, and “Are You in Love Again” and “I Get Along Without You Very Well,” which provide a nice rising emotional arc.

Directing team Dee Anne Bryll and Ed Cohen take control of the script written by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman, keeping the audience engaged through nice moments of movement and stillness. Though Act One occasionally drags, the exposition is nearly necessary to understand Clooney’s descent into near madness, and the pay off is worth it –– Bryll and Cohen seemed to notice the lag and kept scene transitions energetic and quick. A wonderful side note: Tenderly was developed for production at the Human Race Theatre Company in Dayton, OH and subsequently produced at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.

Tyler Duncan Gabbard has designed a brilliant set –– the walls and furniture are a simple, clinical white that place us directly in the world of the ward. Accessories on various shelves provide an intimate touch, almost as if we are peering into her true self; this heavily contrasts the larger-than-life photos that adorn the backdrop, a nod to her public image. The lighting by Michael Ekema-Nardella serves the piece well.

Costumes by Helen A. Raymond-Goers are smartly designed. It is a difficult task to costume a show where actors go in and out of different characters; Raymond-Goers delivers with ease, highlighting a character’s essence with one or two quick items that be easily donned or ditched.

And then there’s the music. Steve Goers’ music direction is a true asset to Cincinnati theatres. The three-piece band plucks every note with precision and personality, and there is not a single note or lift Schroeder Long utters that isn’t brimming with intention and purpose. If the story doesn’t speak to you, the music will.
Tenderly: the Rosemary Clooney Musical is currently running at The Carnegie through November 19. Snag your tickets today by calling 859-491-2030 or by visiting


CCM’s “The Earth is Flat” Shows the Rising Stars

Review by Shawn Maus of The Earth is Flat: CCM Acting

I have to confess that I love seeing new plays debut.  I know that many times there is still work to be done.  I’ve been known to see a debut play and then (even if it’s a few years later) see the production again to see what, if any, kinks have been worked out.

The premiere production is beautifully staged, often moving with a solid team behind it.  The debut of Todd Almond’s The Earth is Flat at the College-Conservatory of Music’s Cohen Family Studio Theatre admittedlyhas  a few things to work out. It’s a mark of a well-made play when you arrive at intermission with no idea where it is heading and you want to come back to see how it ends, although in this instance you may have a hunch Ethan will come into his own.

Developed through a new playwriting seminar at CCM, the play tells the story of Ethan and Derek, college roommates meeting for the first time on move-in day at, of course, the University of Cincinnati.

Almond is a writer of wit and courage –tackling the issues of theology, coming-of-age, and of course the “earth is flat” movement.  The Earth is Flat creates a space that blends the mundane and exciting life of college with the mystic, that slips between the life of the moment and whatever comes after.  It’s clear, funny, and naturalistic.  It doesn’t romanticize the college dorm life, or gloss over the struggles of middle class family life; the bonds are intense and come through with all the emotional twisty encounters of disappointment, discovery and love.

Richard Hess directs with a sure touch for the sensitivities of his two struggling college souls.  He is aided by the outstanding talent in the two men, highly contrasted but equally sympathetic, who together generate a sexual charge that makes the air crackle.

Jack Steiner plays the title character, Ethan, a friendless, anxious high-school senior who gets caught up in a moral quandary—and becomes an unwitting hero—after the tragic death of his older brother Jeremy. Steiner’s performance is genuine, competent and charismatic.  Steiner artfully holds down the character without allowing Ethan to become a college student cliché in performance or character development.

Ethan’s roommate, Derek, is sprinkled with mischief. Graham Lutes is tremendous — a beguiling mix of bombast and naivety while being quietly revealing.  He leaves you with a sense that he’s about to have some astounding and important work in his acting career.

Jennifer, Ethan’s sister, was portrayed by Madeleine Page-Schmit on opening night. She brings a simple depth with lasting relevance that makes Jennifer consistently lovely and moving.

Meg Olson plays Shelly (in the opening night production), the YouTube video “earth is flat” sensation who disses on Ayn Rand and who is trying to save all from the delusion that the world is a globe. Olson is brilliant at bringing humanity to the loony Shelly.  She infuses Shelly with strange social behaviors in which love and loneliness spar.

Paige Jordan (as “Woman  – Various Roles) and Graham Rogers (Man – Various Roles) steal nearly every scene.  They wring subtext through every physical movement and bring remarkable raw wit, adolescent anguish and lots energy.

The characters’ mounting issues are resolved with exactly the right mix of emotional resonance and theatrical force.

When I was a high school theatre director you longed for scripts like this that allowed the students to play roles that fit their situation. There is only so much you can get from a teenager trying to play characters written for adults.  Almond’s script will win your heart as so much of the success lies in the charm of the actors, and we’re not shortchanged.  Each of these actors is a pro; they know what they’re doing and they delight in it.

I could say very nice things about story, but I’d rather you discover it.  I will say it’s a pleasure to see this play in these discordant times. We need all the love, warmth and friendship we can get.  I was reminded of my own experiences as a college student and loved every moment of looking back on my college days through these characters.

I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Mr. Almond as a playwright and where this cast of stars will land.

Human Race Theatre’s Raises the Roof in “The House”

Review by Liz Eichler of The House: Human Race Theatre

Pictured (left to right): Caitlen Larsen, Alex Sunderhaus, Vince Gatton and Scott Stoney in The Human Race Theatre Company’s production of THE HOUSE.
PC: Scott J.

Human Race Theatre’s The House is a BLAST.  The dark comedy runs through November 19, and is a short, fun look at how important a house is to a family. It’s a humorous look at a couple ready to downsize, and the young couple ready to buy, to start their own family and having new feet trod the beloved stairs.

“At the center is always the house, like another member of the family,” the older couple reminisce, never entertaining the thought that the new owners may want to give the house a make-over. That is the major conflict, and the comedy is in how these individuals manage themselves through the conflict.

Scott Stoney and Caitlin Larsen play the older couple, and Vince Gatton and Alex Sunderhaus play the younger couple. All are great with physical and verbal timing. Stoney gets to deliver one of the best dental monologues ever written, by author Brian Parks. Sunderhaus beautifully balances professionalism and her choices when she does not get her way.

This is a new work, but it is very familiar territory, if you ever grew up in a house like the one on stage, or if you sold a home.  There may be some issues with time (it looks like the couple has been there a lot longer) and it treads on some not politically correct ground, but director Margaret Perry makes sure the audience leaves full of smiles after a lot of good belly laughs.

For tickets contact or call Human Race at 937-228-3630.

“Tenderly” Plays the Hits and Plucks the Heartstrings

Kim Schroeder Long in Carnegie’s “Tenderly”

Review by Jack Crumley of Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical: The Carnegie

Carnegie audiences get to take a trip back in time this month and relive the career of a local gal who made it big, fell hard, then bounced back. Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical premiered in 2012 as a collaboration between the Victoria Theatre Association and the Human Race Theatre in Dayton, Ohio. It was then expanded for Cincinnati’s Playhouse in the Park in 2014, and now it has audiences singing along in Northern Kentucky.

The show starts with Clooney (played by Kim Schroeder Long) having some kind of emotional difficulty during a performance in Reno, which leads to her spending time at a hospital under psychiatric care. In the role of The Doctor is Allen Middleton, but he also takes on other people in Clooney’s life as she starts to talk about her humble beginnings in Maysville, Kentucky, then her early singing career. The audience sees Clooney’s successes, romances, and regrets; everything that leads up to what was a nervous breakdown in 1968 Reno, Nevada. Much of the reliving involves songs Clooney’s known for,

including “Hey There,” “Count Your Blessings,” “Tenderly” (obviously), and “Mambo Italiano.” It closes with her career on the rebound and Clooney feeling much more stable in life.

Kim Schroeder Long has the unenviable task of playing a celebrity people have known for decades, but she also has to reproduce her work on stage. Long has a tremendously talented voice, and her character range grows as Clooney’s life begins to fall apart. The song selection ties nicely into points in Clooney’s life. “Count Your Blessings” is a sweet moment as she and her sister, Betty, dream of a better life. “Botch-A-Me” is the time when she had a brief fling with her dance instructor, Dante DiPaolo. Long emotes beautifully with “Are You in Love Again?” Act I ends with the somber “Have I Stayed Too Long at the Fair?” as Rosie’s addiction to pills and her marriage to Jose Ferrer begin to be too much for her. When the audience is finally brought to the moment in Reno when everything comes crashing down, Long plays an intoxicated Clooney trying to sing “Come On-A My House” and also yell at the crowd while stumbling on stage. It’s a role that builds in intensity, and Long doesn’t show signs of weakness or fatigue.

If Long’s work on stage is sustained and focused, Middleton’s work is fleeting and scattershot, and that’s by design in the script. In their opening scene as doctor and patient, Rosemary starts to flash back to advice she got from a priest, and without warning, Middleton goes from The Doctor to this Irish holy man. That change in voice and the way he carries himself–along with a subtle shift in lighting–are the only cues the audience gets that we’ve flashed back to a different part of Clooney’s life. Middleton’s character is constantly shifting from a pearl-clutching mother to a movie studio executive, from a cool, supportive Bing Crosby to a friendly, but concerned Frank Sinatra. Early on, Middleton is playing younger sister Betty Clooney and he and Long deliver a great rendition of “Sisters.” It really sets the tone for what to expect from Middleton on stage for the rest of the show. The shame in having to play so many different characters is that the actual role of “The Doctor” never really develops a sense of intimacy with Clooney. I would have liked to have seen the Doctor played more tenderly (if you will), because he’s the one who’s there for her most personal moments and important realizations.

The stage setup by Tyler Gabbard is one of Carnegie’s more simple designs. It comes off as a slightly mod living room/office that gives Clooney and The Doctor a place to sit, a couple elevated areas for Clooney to perform “on stage” or “in a booth,” and a wall of pictures of the real Rosemary with famous friends like Danny Kaye. That wall serves as a constant reminder of how big a star this girl from Maysville was. By contrast, what happens on stage shows the audience that this big star was still a human being with fears and faults who was living this life in the spotlight.

Because it’s a musical, there’s a live band on stage in the back, and it really adds to the production. Music Director Steve Goers on piano, Justin Dawson on bass, and Michael Johns on drums is all that’s needed to bring back memories of all of Clooney’s famous songs. It lets Long’s gifted voice really shine through.

I myself was not around for Ms Clooney’s rise to fame, but the vast majority of the audience for Sunday’s matinee was, and I saw many people nodding their heads along with “It’s Only a Paper Moon” and coming just shy of everyone clapping in time with the big closing number “This Ole House.” Tenderly works as both a nostalgic musical revue and also a pull-back-the-curtain look at the life of a local legend.

Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical plays at The Carnegie Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday matinees now through November 19. Tickets are available here.

Discovering the Shape of the World in CCM Acting’s “The Earth is Flat”

Review by Alan Jozwiak of The Earth is Flat: CCM Acting

Mention that you think the Earth is flat to someone and they might look at you funny.

But the idea of a flat Earth finds its way into the experiences of first-year college students struggling to find their way in the CCM Acting studio production of The Earth is Flat.

Commissioned as part of the 2016 CCM Playwrights Workshop by the CCM Vocal Performance/Acting alumnus Todd Almond (1999), The Earth is Flat tells the coming of age story of Ethan (Jack Steiner), who has troubles settling into college during his first semester at the University of Cincinnati.  His roommate Derek (Graham Lutes), in between bouts of being in an alcoholic stupor and his enduring fascination with Flat Earth videos on YouTube, helps make Ethan’s college experience bright.  Complications ensue when Ethan’s brother Jeremy dies in a motorcycle accident, which forces Ethan to leave school and face a crossroads in his personal life.

This play was refreshing in its depiction of the ups and downs of real life freshmen, an experience that the CCM Acting students flesh out to perfection.  There was an air of believability to their performances, not surprising since these students probably faced many of the same issues themselves when they were freshmen.

The main roles of Ethan and Derek provided a beautiful study in contrast.  Steiner played the role of Ethan with subtlety, emphasizing his character’s “cool” factor which belies the fact that Ethan has much insecurity and does not have his act together. Similarly, Lutes’ willingness to be “best buds” with Ethan highlights his character’s intense desperation to make friends.

Steiner and Lutes work off of each other very well, with Steiner often being the straight man to Lutes’ odd comments or obsessions over those who are obsessed (such as with those who believe in a flat Earth). You could easily see the two actors being actual roommates; their differences serve as a glue to bind them together.

Steiner and Lutes are complimented by a talented cast of supporting characters which help flesh out this world. Two of the most important are Ethan’s sister Jennifer (the role is double-cast.  I saw Madeleine Page-Schmit perform) and Derek’s crush, the flat Earther Shelly (also double-cast.  I saw Meg Olson perform).

Page-Schmit played Jennifer as bold, brassy, and assertive, everything that Ethan is not.  There was a wonderful scene with Page-Schmit and Steiner as Jennifer removes the colored dye in Ethan’s hair for their brother Jeremy’s funeral. For Olsen, I loved the way that she played the part of Shelly.  She really sold her mania for a flat Earth.  It was believable and comic as the same time—a study in obsession gone wrong.

Also worthy of note are the various roles played by Graham Rogers and Paige Jordan. Rogers stole the show with his nerdy dorm mate James, whose father was scheduling all his free time away from classes to come back home. James embodies the total awkwardness of freshman and you just had to love that character, even when he was being his most annoying.

For this production, director Richard Hess did a very fine job with his actors by avoiding the stereotypical clichés that you can find in the college experience. Even some of the characters who were types (such as the befuddled parent at the start of the show played wonderfully by Paige Jordan) did not come off as caricatures.

In terms of the script itself, Almond’s play runs two-and-a-half hours long and there are parts where trimming would speed up the action and clarify character motivation.  This is part of the wonderful process of putting up a play for the first time; a playwright gets a chance to figure out how to make it better during its next production.  I predict that this play will have a life apart from this production.

In closing, this was a highly engaging and relatable play. I have seen students who fall into Ethan’s plight during the beginning of their college experience, so I deeply appreciated that their story was being told.  The Earth is Flat runs only four performances, from Thursday, November 2 to Saturday, November 4, 2017.

However, the strong cast and compelling subject hopefully warrant a revival of the production at a future date.  The issues the play raises have a wide appeal.  For more information about CCM Acting or the other shows within CCM, please visit their website at



“The Drowning Girls” at Clifton is Eerie and Powerful

Review by Liz Eichler of Drowning Girls: Clifton Performance Theatre

Perfect for the season (and voyeuristic murder-theme podcast junkies), The Drowning Girls is a beautiful but disturbing story of three brides who trusted the wrong man.

The three performers are already luxuriously bathing (clad in Victorian underwear) in cast iron tubs when you enter the performance space.  The tubs are filled with steaming water, and that water defines the play. It is the water of life and death. It has rhythm. It has purpose.  It even has humor.

In the early 1900’s, three different women were murdered in their bath tubs, three young brides, asphyxiated by water while the groom gets away with it, over and over. The play focuses on how he systematically manipulated these women, possibly more, and how they were eagerly duped. The narrative is non-linear, and the actresses hop in an out of characters, including the brides, the groom, parents, shopkeepers, cleaning women, doctor, and detective. Director Bridget Leak choreographs the play wonderfully, focusing the ebbs and flows of the language and action with polished precision.

Mindy Heithaus, Eileen Earnest, and Carol Brammer are powerful local performers, femme fatales even, but here, they are the victims speaking volumes in death. They bravely perform sans makeup, dripping wet, fluidly moving in and around the tubs the whole evening. They are strong, beautiful, and talented. Earnest’s detective and Heithaus’s doctor also highlight their comedic skills.

The set is stark, with cast iron tubs and a red carpet.  Lighting captures the performers’ angles and paleness. The white gowns and accessories are beautiful. I wonder if the production team considered turning it up a notch, increasing the haunted house vibe to add to the spookiness of the season. We are, after all, watching ghosts tell their beautiful, unsettling, lyrical story. Perhaps they realized the words are more frightening than screams and a fog machine.

Go see Drowning Girls and be open to a new kind of haunting. Written in 2009 by Canadians Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson and Daniela Vlaskalicy, it is based on a true story. (George Joseph Smith was hanged for the murders in 1915.)

ADDRESS: Liberty Exhibition Hall, 3938 Spring Grove Avenue, Cincinnati (their new Northside location!)

DATES: October 27-Nov. 11