Category Archives: Reviews

BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY Quick Review

BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY presented by Falcon Theatre through Feb. 8. I attended the opening Saturday performance. 

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Bryana Bentley as Angel and Elizabeth Taylor as Delia. Photo by Kristy Rucker

For the new year, Falcon takes its audience to Harlem in the summer of 1930 for the engaging drama BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY. This strong script touches upon several social issues that are still prominent 90 years later: racism, birth control/family planning, and homosexuality.

Producing Artistic Director Ted Weil’s set, featuring two small apartments separated by a hallway, is one of the most ambitious and well executed sets I’ve seen at Falcon. The two spaces are smartly furnished with great attention to detail. With Falcon’s limited play area, there were times when the tight quarters made for some awkward character crosses.

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Bryana Bentley as Angel. Photo by Kristy Rucker.

The five-person ensemble is well-cast and handles the material nicely. Director Torie Wiggins makes good use of the space and creates some beautiful stage pictures. There are some quiet, touching moments and the confrontational scenes had a nice bite to them. On Saturday night, the more conversational scenes lacked energy and could have used a bit more drive.

Overall a well-performed, solid period piece.

My rating: 4.25 out of 5.

Click here for more information on the production.

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HAND TO GOD Quick Review

HAND TO GOD presented by Warsaw Federal Incline Theatre through Feb. 9. I attended the opening Sunday performance. 

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Alex Slade as Jason & Hope Pauly as Jessica. Photo by Tammy Cassesa.

On one hand, HAND TO GOD is an existential discussion on the use of the devil as an excuse for bad behavior. On the other hand, literally, it is the story of a possessed puppet with a raunchy mouth, violent tendencies and an overactive sex drive. If you find anything offensive in the previous two sentences, it is probably a good bet that this show is not for you.

The solid five-person ensemble is led by Alexander Slade as Jason (and by extension, also the puppet Tyrone). Slade impresses as he deftly switches between the distinctive voices of the two characters. Paired with his manipulation of Tyrone, he completely sells the shows central conceit.

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Alex Slade as Jason. Photo by Tammy Cassesa.

Director Dylan Shelton has a sharp eye for casting and handles the outrageous comedy of the piece well. The set works well enough in defining the various settings, but with a dozen scenes the numerous blackouts interrupted the flow of the show.

The regional premiere of a five-year old play that was nominated for multiple Tony-Awards is the kind of programming I’d enjoy seeing the Incline embrace more often.

Overall a strong production of this biting, raunchy, laugh-out-loud comedy.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Click here for more information on the production.

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ALL THE WAY Quick Review

ALL THE WAY presented by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company through Feb. 15. I attended the opening night performance. 

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The Cast: Photo by Mikki Schaffner Photography.

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Jim Hopkins as President Lyndon B. Johnson. Photo by Mikki Schaffner Photography.

If you do not have enough political drama in your life at the moment, then I highly recommend ALL THE WAY, the current offering by Cincy Shakes. The play opens shortly after the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 and continues through Lyndon B. Johnson’s reelection in November of 1964. Although the story is dense with characters and covers a lot of territory in its 185-minute run time, I never felt overwhelmed thanks to Brian Isaac Phillips focused staging and smart pacing.

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Sylvester Little Jr. as Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Photo by Mikki Schaffner Photography.

Across the board, the cast of 17 (portraying more than 40 roles) is excellent. This production showcases the talent and versatility of the ensemble. Jim Hopkins is engaging to watch as LBJ, allowing the audience to see the man beneath all the bluster. Sylvester Little, Jr. portrays Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. with an outward patience and dignity that does not hide the passion of his beliefs. Actors joining CSC’s ensemble for this production include Michael Bath, Bruce Cromer, Joneal Joplin, “ranney,” Brent Vimtrup, and Kate Wilford.

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Kate Wilford as Lady Bird Johnson & Jim Hopkins as President Lyndon B. Johnson. Photo by Mikki Schaffner Photography.

The pre-recorded video elements looked authentic and worked very well. Great attention to detail was evident in the costuming and props. The set elements and tight lighting design complemented the staging. Truly a showcase for the technical team.

Overall an interesting and engaging historic drama wonderfully told.

On stage seating is available for this production. 

My rating: 5 out of 5.

Click here for more information on the production.

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BUDDY: The Buddy Holly Story Quick Review

BUDDY: The Buddy Holly Story presented by Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park through Feb. 16. I attended the opening night performance. 

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The Cast. Photo by Mikki Schaffner Photography.

“Your father would have loved this show.”

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Andy Christopher as Buddy Holly. Photo by Mikki Schaffner Photography.

This was one of the first things my Mom said to me following the opening night performance. My parents were slightly younger contemporaries of the bespectacled rock and roller. And I totally blame my father (or more specifically his singles record collection that I played through dozens of time as a child) and the family-watched TV show Sha Na Na (love you Pamela Myers) for my appreciation of ’50s and ’60s music.

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Ryan Jagru as Ritchie Valens.

Buddy Holly is “considered one of the most influential creative forces in early rock and roll.” Playhouse’s program features quotes from rock legends Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Elton John, Eric Clapton and Bruce Springsteen to name a few, about his impact on their music.

With its thin book, BUDDY is more tribute show than traditional jukebox musical. The story follows Holly’s struggle to have his music studio-recorded his way, to his groundbreaking performance at Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater, to his final Winter Dance Party Tour show in Clear Lake, Iowa before his tragic death at 22.

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Spiff Wiegand as Joe B. Mauldin & Andy Christopher as Buddy Holly. Photo by Mikki Schaffner Photography.

The cast consists of seven talented musicians and vocalists. Led by Andy Christopher in the title role (and serving as Music Director for the production) they rock the Marx Theatre, expertly performing more than 20 of Holly’s hits with great energy and showmanship that had the audience bobbing in their seats and clapping along.

A highly entertaining production for any Buddy Holly fan. Mom was right, Dad would have loved it.

There is a half-price special available for Tue-Fri and Sunday evening performances. Use promo code 2020fam at checkout, www.cincyplay.com/productions/buddy-the-buddy-holly-story.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Click here for more information on the production.

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FORTUNE Quick Review

FORTUNE presented by Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati through Feb. 15. I attended the opening night performance. 

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Jeremy Dubin as Jeremy & Kelly Mengelkoch as Maude. Photo by Ryan Kurtz.

With Valentine’s day only a few weeks away, it’s not surprising to see a romantic comedy or two pop up on local stages. Such is the case with FORTUNE at ETC which features real life husband and wife Jeremy Dubin and Kelly Mengelkoch. As with any good rom-com, the story isn’t as much about “if” they will get together, but the journey of “how” they get together.

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Kelly Mengelkoch as Maude & Jeremy Dubin as Jeremy. Photo by Ryan Kurtz.

Under the direction of Brian Robertson, Dubin and Mengelkoch easily win over the audience as two lonely souls who can’t seem to get out of their own way to find happiness. Their chemistry together is readily apparent and very enjoyable to watch.

Brian c. Mehring’s detailed set design is divided into two play areas. Madame Rosa’s (Maude’s) aged, fortune-telling apartment beautifully appointed by Shannon Rae Lutz on stage right is opposed by a wonderful, visually deceptive promenade. Amanda McGee’s costume design nicely defines the characters and their various permutations as the story progresses.

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Jeremy Dubin as Jeremy & Kelly Mengelkoch as Maude. Photo by Ryan Kurtz.

On opening night, the first act was a little uneven as if the actors hadn’t fully found their footing. The second act built a good momentum, culminating in a satisfying conclusion. For me, there were moments when the silliness of the promenade scenes was pushed a little too hard. There was also an issue with the sound effects drowning out Madame Rosa’s first reading. These are minor complaints that I’m sure will quickly resolve themselves.

Overall a funny, enjoyable beginning to a love story, perfect for a date night.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Click here for more information on the production.

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