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Playhouse in the Park’s New Season is Music to Theatre Lovers’ Eyes and Ears

A version of this article was originally published online Feb. 27, 2018

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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.”

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Photo by Tony Arrasmith/Arrasmith & Associates.

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.

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Philip Paul, legendary King Records session drummer. Photo by Tony Arrasmith/Arrasmith & Associates.

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.

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Barbara Chisholm as Annie Wilkes. Photo by Tony Arrasmith/Arrasmith & Associates.

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?

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Photo by Tony Arrasmith/Arrasmith & Associates.

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.

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Photo by Tony Arrasmith/Arrasmith & Associates.

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.

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Photo by Tony Arrasmith/Arrasmith & Associates.

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.

PIP_The Roommate promo

Photo by Tony Arrasmith/Arrasmith & Associates.

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.

PIP_The Last Wide Open promo

Photo by Tony Arrasmith/Arrasmith & Associates.

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.

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Photo by Tony Arrasmith/Arrasmith & Associates.

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

*Season Extras

For more information visit www.cincyplay.com.

 

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CBC Preview: OTHELLO and RED VELVET, a Pairing Three Years in the Making

A version of this article was originally published online Feb. 27, 2018

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By Rob Bucher

During the month of March, Cincinnati audiences will be offered the unique opportunity to see both William Shakespeare’s tragedy “Othello” set in modern times and the contemporary script of “Red Velvet” set in 1800s London. Performances will take place blocks apart at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company and Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, respectively.

Shares ETC Artistic Director D. Lynn Meyers: “I wanted to do Red Velvet for the last couple years. When the Shakespeare Company talked about doing Othello, I waited so that we could present it in the same year that they moved to our neighborhood.”

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Nicholas Rose as Iago & William Oliver Watkins as Othello. Photo by Mikki Schaffner.

In “Othello,” the titular character, played by guest artist William Oliver Watkins, is a Moorish General of the Venetian army who elopes with Desdemona (Courtney Lucien), the daughter of a wealthy senator. His unfaithful ensign Iago (Nicholas Rose), bitterly jealous of his superior’s success, sets out to ruin Desdemona’s reputation and drive Othello to wild fits of jealousy.

Returning guest director Christopher V. Edwards (“A Raisin in the Sun” 2017) describes the setting of this production as “A Venice that is technologically and digitally capable, where war is the norm and not the exception. It is a nation with the responsibility of a superpower, where political and economic interests often outweigh ethical or moral concerns.”

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William Oliver Watkins as Othello & Courtney Lucien as Desdemona. Photo by Mikki Schaffner.

The race of the title role is often seen as Shakespeare’s way of isolating the character, culturally as well as visually. During the 19th century, the role was frequently performed as an Arab Moor. Othello was first played by an African American actor in 1833 – and it is his story that is explored in “Red Velvet.”

Actor Ira Aldridge has enjoyed great success in the capitals of Europe. When Edmund Kean, regarded as the greatest actor of his generation, collapses while playing Othello, it is Aldridge who steps into the role and into the history books of the English stage. As the public riots in the streets over the abolition of slavery, how will audiences react to the revolution taking place in the theatre?

D. Lynn Meyers adds, “It’s a bold thing for a theater dedicated to new works to be presenting something that goes back 100 years, but we can’t move forward if we don’t confront our past.”

“Red Velvet” is directed by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s Artistic Director, Brian Isaac Phillips. In a way, Phillips’ return to ETC is a bit of a homecoming. It was a director internship with the company that originally brought Phillips to Cincinnati for 1998-99 season.

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Ken Early as Ira Aldridge. Photo by Mikki Schaffner.

The cast is comprised of faces familiar to both Cincy Shakes and Ensemble audiences, with CSC Resident Ensemble Member Jeremy Dubin making his ETC debut. Leading the ensemble is Ken Early in the role of Ira Aldridge.

Adds Meyers: “Ken got his Equity card because of Ensemble. When I look at this [local] cast for Red Velvet and I look at the fact that [our last production] The Humans just broke all box office records and all but one actor was a local [performer]; this is a great thing…to celebrate the talent that is here and to have the opportunity on these stages for people to stay and work here.”

It is easy to argue that the true winners of this collaboration are the theater audiences.

“Othello” presented by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company runs March 2-24 with performances on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., as well as Saturday March 24 at 2 p.m.. Preview performances are February 28 and March 1 at 7:30 p.m. More information is available at www.cincyshakes.com.

“Red Velvet” presented by Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati. Performances run March 6-31. Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.; and Sunday at 7 p.m. More information is available online at www.ensemblecincinnati.org.

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CBC: ‘Hamilton,’ 4 other Tony winners headline Broadway in Cincinnati’s 2018-19 season

This article was originally published Feb. 10, 2018

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By Rob Bucher

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Michael Luwoye & Isaiah Johnson – HAMILTON National Tour (c) Joan Marcus

A year ago, Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Cincinnati presented by TriHealth wooed new season subscribers with the promise of the smash hit “Hamilton” as part of the 2018-2019 season resulting in a record number of subscriptions. Broadway in Cincinnati today announced its upcoming season at the Aronoff Center, including five productions making their Cincinnati debut.

As promised, “Hamilton” arrives Feb. 19 for a three-week engagement. With book, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the show also features choreography by Cincinnati native and St. Xavier High School alum Andy Blankenbuehler.

“Hamilton” tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant from the West Indies who became George Washington’s right-hand man during the Revolutionary War and one of America’s founding fathers. “Hamilton” is the story of America then, as told by America now, featuring a score that blends Broadway, jazz, R&B, blues, hip-hop and rap.

The musical made its off-Broadway debut at the Public Theater in February 2015, where its engagement was sold out. The show transferred to Broadway in August 2015 to the Richard Rodgers Theatre, where it received enthusiastic critical reception and unprecedented advance box office sales.

In 2016, “Hamilton” received a record 16 Tony nominations, winning 11, including Best Musical, and was also the recipient of the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album and the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

“Broadway in Cincinnati is incredibly proud to be a vibrant part of downtown Cincinnati’s thriving landscape,” said Genevieve Holt, general manager of Broadway in Cincinnati.  “Cincinnati has one of the highest rates of Broadway subscription per capita in the country and an extremely large average annual subscriber base compared to other cities our size.”

Opening the season on Oct. 23 – direct from Broadway – is the first tour of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” This new production features classic songs from the film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” plus a new score from the songwriters of “Hairspray.”

In “The Play That Goes Wrong,” celebrated as Broadway’s funniest and longest-running play, it’s the audience who will die … laughing. In the play, it’s opening night for “The Murder at Haversham Manor,” a classic murder mystery that goes hilariously wrong both on stage and off. This show plays Cincinnati the week after Thanksgiving.

More than two decades ago, Jonathan Larson’s “Rent” took Broadway by storm, giving voice to a generation and forever changing the landscape of American theater. “Rent” follows a year in the life of seven struggling artists searching for success without selling out. This 20th-anniversary touring production of the groundbreaking rock musical returns in December.

Performances begin Jan. 15, 2019, for the classic musical “Fiddler on the Roof.” Tony-winning director Bartlett Sher (“South Pacific” 2008 revival) and Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter bring a fresh vision to the original staging.

The story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan, as told through their music, comes to life with “On Your Feet!” From their humble beginnings in Cuba to their pop music success in America, learn how the groundbreaking couple found a way to end up on their feet. Performances begin March 19, 2019.

An acclaimed new production of “Miss Saigon” lands in April 2019. Featuring a cast of 42 performers, “Miss Saigon” tells the story of a life-changing encounter between a young Vietnamese woman and an American GI during the fall of Saigon.

Winner of the 2017 Best Musical Tony, “Dear Evan Hansen” comes to the Aronoff in April 2019. The story follows high school senior Evan Hansen, whose social anxiety disorder keeps him from making meaningful connections with others. But then a letter that was never meant to be seen and a lie that was never meant to be told offers the possibility of a life he never dreamed he could have. Hansen is about to get the one thing he’s always wanted: a chance to fit in.

The season concludes in June with the return of the Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats.” This production also features new choreography by Blankenbuehler.

This year, for the first time, season subscribers can choose between the season extra productions of “The Play Goes Wrong,” “On Your Feet!” or “Cats” to create their seven-show season package. Current subscribers receive seating priority.

To be notified when 2018-19 season subscriptions are available to new subscribers, sign up for the eClub on Broadway in Cincinnati’s website.

2018-19 Broadway in Cincinnati schedule

  • “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” Oct. 23-Nov. 4*
  • “The Play That Goes Wrong,” Nov. 27-Dec. 2*
  • “Rent,” Dec. 11-23
  • “Fiddler on the Roof,” Jan. 15-27
  • “Hamilton,” Feb. 19-March 10*
  • “On Your Feet!” March 19-24*
  • “Miss Saigon,” April 9-21
  • “Dear Evan Hansen,” April 30-May 12*
  • “Cats,” June 11-16

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2015-2016 Orchid Awards for Fairfield Footlighters

fflBUS STOP

  • Maggie Gardner – Excellence in Acting in a Play
  • Jason Hauslein – Excellence in Set Design
  • Robert Bober – Excellence in Set Decor
  • Bekka Eaton & Heidi Schiller – Excellence in Properties
  • Darlene Feldmann – Excellence in Program Design

NIGHT WATCH

  • James Ball – Excellence in Acting in a Play
  • Jason Hauslein – Excellence in Set Design
  • Jason Hauslein and Crew – Excellence in Set Construction
  • Jason Hauslein & Robert Bober – Excellence in Set Decor
  • Robert Schiller – Excellence in Art Reproductions
  • Darlene Feldmann – Excellence in Program Design

THE NERD

  • Jacob Spicer – Excellence in Acting in a Play
  • Jason Hauslein – Excellence in Set Design
  • Robert Bober and Crew – Excellence in Set Construction
  • James C. Davis – Excellence in Lobby Display

NUNSENSE

  • Cast and Crew – Excellence in Ensemble
  • April Osborne – Excellence in Musical Theatre Performance
  • Anna Schindler – Excellence in Dance Execution
  • Anna Schindler – Excellence in Choreography
  • Victoria Bailey – Excellence in Stage Management
  • Heidi Schiller – Excellence in Direction
  • Jason Hauslein – Excellence in Set Design
  • Jason Hauslein – Excellence in Light Design
  • Robert Bober and Robert Schiller – Excellence in Set Decor

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Top Stories for May

  1. LAC_logo2016 Season Announced at La Comedia Dinner Theatre
  2. Cast Announced for GODSPELL at Covedale Center
  3. Auditions Announced for Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at Queen City Productions
  4. Auditions Announced for LOVE, LOSS AND WHAT I WORE at The Carnegie
  5. Actors Needed for YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN at Stage Right Musical Theatre Company
  6. Events/Administrative Manager Needed at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park
  7. Cast Announced for [TITLE OF SHOW] at Incline Theater
  8. Two Performers Needed for CHICAGO at Incline Theater
  9. Auditions Announced for ROBIN HOOD at Caesar’s Ford Theatre
  10. Auditions Announced for 2016-17 Season at The Playground Theatre
  11. Auditions Announced for THE ANXIETY PROJECT at Queen City Queer Theatre Collective
  12. Auditions Announced for PLAY ON! at Footlighters Inc.
    New Associate Artistic Director for The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati
  13. 2016-2017 Season Announced by Village Players
  14. Auditions Announced for DEATH OF A SALESMAN at CenterStage Players
  15. Auditions Announced for WEST SIDE STORY at Loveland Stage Company
  16. The Carnegie and NKU Commonwealth Theatre Announce Auditions for ROCK OF AGES
  17. Auditions Announced for Four Shows at Cincinnati Landmark Productions
  18. ANYTHING GOES Runs June 1-26
  19. Auditions Announced for ALICE IN WONDERLAND and ELF The Musical JR. at The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati
  20. Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park to Audition Children June 18 & 19 for 2016 Production of A CHRISTMAS CAROL
  21. 2016 OCTAFest Excerpt Schedule
    The Passing of Jason Holt
    The Human Race Theatre Company Closes Out Its 29th Season with Terrence McNally’s MASTER CLASS
  22. CLARA Joins the 2016 Cincinnati Fringe Festival
  23. Auditions for PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE at Lebanon Theatre Company
  24. Cast Announced for THE FISHERMAN’S WIFE at Know Theatre of Cincinnati
  25. Cast Announced for HAIR at Footlighters Inc.
    New Cirque du Soleil AVATAR-Inspired Touring Show Coming to Cincinnati in May 2016

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