A version of this article was originally published online Feb. 27, 2018
By Rob Bucher
A Lin-Manuel Miranda musical, a stage adaptation of a Stephen King thriller and an original work exploring Cincinnati’s place in music recording history are just a sampling from Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s 2018-2019 season. For Artistic Director Blake Robison, the season also represents the Playhouse “continuing our commitment to gender equity as we move forward, eighty percent of the works this season are by women and artists of color.”
That commitment also extends to the directing chair. Nationally-renowned director May Adrales makes her Playhouse debut with the Cincinnati premiere of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony Award-winner for Best Musical, “In the Heights.” From his Washington Heights bodega, Usnavi follows the nonstop rhythm of this friends and family as they navigate their hopes and dreams, loves and losses, fortunes and fates. A co-production with Seattle Repertory Theatre and Milwaukee Repertory Theater, performances begin Jan. 19, 2019 in the Marx Theater. Cincinnati audiences have the opportunity to see both of Miranda’s works in the order they were created.
“[In the Heights] is exactly the kind of show only Playhouse can do. Because of its scale, because we have the resources to produce on this level. You have to go to the Playhouse to see something like this. That is a service we provide to all of the theater lovers in Cincinnati area.” The Playhouse is blessed with a very loyal audience and boasts a 12,700 subscription base, the most of any theater in the Midwest, outside of Chicago.
A highlight of the Shelterhouse season is “Cincinnati King,” a world premiere musical about Cincinnati’s King Records, written and directed by Associate Artist, KJ Sanchez. Based on hundreds of interviews with people connected to the historic record label, the show features King Records’ hits including “The Twist,” “Blues Stay Away From Me,” “Fever,” and “Need Your Love So Bad.”
Originally planned as a documentary play, a staged concert reading in Washington Park in the summer of 2015 led the playwright to incorporate the songs more strongly in the script, creating a jukebox/documentary hybrid. “A juke-umentary,” Sanchez jokes. Also important to the playwright was the need to “hang on to the quality of the music, to capture that sound of the music; how it was played and recorded at the time.”
The two-time Tony Award-winning Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park announced in February 2017 that it would remain in Eden Park and move forward with a major capital campaign to replace the Playhouse’s current fifty-year-old mainstage theater with a new state-of-the-art facility commensurate with the Playhouse’s artistry and national reputation. In August, the selection of BHDP Architecture was approved by the PIP Board of Trustees. As plans are finalized, an exact fundraising goal along with designs for the future space is expected to be announced in the fall.
The Marx Theatre season kicks off in September with a stage adaptation of the Stephen King classic, “Misery.” Romance novelist Paul Sheldon wakes from a winter car accident to find himself incapacitated and under the seemingly tender mercies of his “Number One Fan” Annie Wilkes (Barbara Chisholm, “Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End” 2017). Discovering he is more prisoner than patient, can Sheldon outwit his captor?
The romantic comedy “Miss Bennett: Christmas at Pemberley” continues the story begun in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Taking place two years later, the story shifts focus to middle sister Mary. An unexpected encounter at a holiday gathering offers the dutiful daughter a chance at love. Co-writer Lauren’s Gunderson’s play The Revolutionists was presented by the Playhouse in 2016.
The Cincinnati tradition that is Playhouse’s “A Christmas Carol” is back for the holidays. Bruce Cromer returns as Scrooge for his 14th year under the direction of Michael Evan Haney. This production is a season extra.
In March, the Playhouse returns to the works of August Wilson with “Two Trains Running.” Set in 1960s Pittsburgh, long-time regulars gather at the local diner against the backdrop of the civil rights movement. Associate Artist Timothy Douglas (Wilson’s “Jitney” 2016), whom Robison describes as “one of the nation’s top interpreters of August Wilson’s work,” returns to direct this co-production with Milwaukee Repertory Theater. Cincinnati audiences can also see Wilson’s “Fences” in January.
The Marx Season concludes with the third musical of the season, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts characters come to life on stage in a show that appeals across generations. New musical arrangements of the original 1967 production has the cast playing their own accompaniment. The production reunites the “Little Shop of Horrors” (2017) director Bill Fennelly with his male lead, Fairfield native Nick Cearley in the role of Linus.
The Shelterhouse Theater season opens with Jen Silverman’s wickedly funny comedy “The Roommate.” Her play “All the Roads Home” received its world premiere at the Playhouse in early 2017. The life of recently divorced, 50-something Sharon goes off the rails when she opens her home to Robyn, a woman who needs a place to hide and a chance to start over.
The Second City, Chicago’s world famous improvisational theater troupe, makes their third appearance at Playhouse in the Park with the season extra, “It’s Not You, It’s Me.” This limited run of their latest show, one of the first performances outside of Chicago, examines modern dating and the age-old phenomenon of falling in love.
Robison takes the directorial reigns with the romantic world premiere of “The Last Wide Open” in February. A late-night thunderstorm traps young waitress Lina and co-worker Roberto, an Italian immigrant, alone in the restaurant at closing time. After years of little interaction, the two find their lives intersecting in surprising and mystical ways.
In March, plans to create a culturally sensitive holiday program for elementary schools goes hilariously astray in Larissa FastHorse’s “The Thanksgiving Play,” Playhouse’s first production by a Native American playwright. Watch as the well-meaning plans of a group of liberal artists dissolve into a satirical send-up of “PC” behavior.
The final play title in the Shelterhouse Theatre season will be announced at a later date.
2018-2019 Marx Theatre Season
- “Misery,” Sept. 1-29
- “Miss Bennett: Christmas at Pemberley,” Oct. 13-Nov. 10
- “A Christmas Carol,” Nov. 21-Dec. 29*
- “In The Heights,” Jan. 19-Feb. 17
- “Two Trains Running,” March 2-30
- “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” April 20-May 18
2018-2019 Shelterhouse Season
- “The Roommate,” Sept. 22-Oct. 21
- “Cincinnati King,” Nov. 3-Dec. 23
- “It’s Not Me, It’s You,” Jan. 10-17*
- “The Last Wide Open,” Feb. 9-March 10
- “The Thanksgiving Play,” March 23-April 21
- TBA, May 4-June 9
For more information visit www.cincyplay.com.