Category Archives: Reviews

RIPCORD Review

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Dale Hodges* as Abby Binder & Pamela Myers* as Marilyn Dunne. Photo by Ryan Kurtz

RIPCORD presented by Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati through Feb. 16. Click here for a synopsis and more information on the production. I attended the opening night performance.

Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati kicks off the new year with a laugh-out-loud comedy by playwright David Lindsay-Abaire. His other well-know works include the book and lyrics for Shrek the Musical as well the plays Rabbit Hole and Good People, both of which have been staged at ETC.

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Pamela Myers* as Marilyn Dunne & Ryan Wesley Gilreath* as Scotty. Photo by Ryan Kurtz.

Well, that escalated quickly and by “that” I mean a not-so-friendly wager between hard edged, set-in-her-ways Abby (Dale Hodges) and spirited, glass-is-half-full Marilyn (Pamela Myers). While the roles may not have been written specifically for these two actresses, the casting is pitch perfect. Not only do they have the comedy chops for the roles, but the honesty they bring to the smaller, emotional moments is just as satisfying.

Caught between their schemes is resident aide Scotty played by Ryan Wesley Gilreath. Gilreath brings an easy likability to the role and more importantly the understanding patience of a caregiver.

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Pamela Myers* as Marilyn Dunne, Lisa DeRoberts as Colleen & Carter Bratton as Derek. Photo by Ryan Kurtz.

Rounding out the ensemble in multiple roles are Lisa DeRoberts, Carter Bratton, and Justin McCombs. DeRoberts couldn’t be any more perfect as Marilyn’s daughter Colleen. She matched her mother’s brashness and quirkiness in her own way and I would totally be up for a Marilyn/Colleen road trip sequel. Bratton has a fun turn as Colleen’s put-upon husband Derek. The two have a cute chemistry together, but I wouldn’t mind seeing his energy level a bit closer to her’s at times. The scene between Abby and her estranged son Benjamin (McCombs) was appropriately strained and uncomfortable with McCombs bringing a guilty vulnerability to the role.

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Justin McCombs* as Benjamin & Dale Hodges* as Abby Binder. Photo by Ryan Kurtz.

The set and lighting design by Brian c. Mehring works incredibly well on two levels. First, the shared living space for Abby and Marilyn is visually a perfect, generic, modern hospital-esque room. It is immediately recognizable and instantly believable. The script has a couple of demanding scenes that take place outside of the facility which were handled with a creativity that impresses.

The costume design by Reba Senske worked well for the production. The choices for the leading ladies complimented their personalities. I enjoyed the variety of scrubs worn by Scotty as time progressed as well as the holiday-themed costumes which were appropriately unsettling. Although the space to personalize the room was limited, I enjoyed how the carefully chosen decor also reflected the style and personalities of Abby and Marilyn.

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Pamela Myers* as Marilyn Dunne, Lisa DeRoberts (background) as Colleen, Justin McCombs* as Lewis, Carter Bratton as Derek & Dale Hodges* as Abby Binder. Photo by Ryan Kurtz.

Overall, a satisfying production with a lot of laughs and a lot of heart. A great showcase for these veteran performers on stage together for the first time.

My rating: 4.75 out of 5.

I would enjoy hearing what you think about the show or my review. All I ask is that you express your opinion without attacking someone else’s opinion. You can post your comments below.

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Roald Dahl’s CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY Review

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Noah Weisberg as Willy Wonka and company. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Roald Dahl’s CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY presented by Broadway in  Cincinnati through Nov. 4. Click here for a synopsis and more information on the production. I attended the opening night performance.

Broadway in Cincinnati opens its 2018-2019 season with a new musical version of the classic children’s novel. Premiering in 2013 in London’s West End, the musical closed after three and a half years before being reworked for the Broadway stage. There it ran for nine months beginning April 2017. This touring production launched last month.

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Noah Weisberg as Willy Wonka and company. Photo by Joan Marcus.

As someone who grew up with fond memories of the 1971 movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, this new musical is a bit of a mixed bag. Three songs from the movie have been incorporated into this production: “The Candy Man,” “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket,” and “Pure Imagination.” Mrs. Bucket’s ballad, “If Your Father Were Here” was my favorite of the new songs. That probably isn’t a fair statement as opening night was again plagued by sound issues. Any time the full orchestra kicked in, it became a struggle to hear the vocalists over the music. This happened most notably during the ticket winners’ intro numbers. Add in the heavy accents of the German Gloops and the now Russian Salts and the lyrics became unintelligible.

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Henry Boshart as Charlie Bucket & Noah Weisberg as Willy Wonka. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Performance-wise, I really enjoyed Amanda Rose as Mrs. Bucket. She had a lovely singing voice and it was easy to see where Charlie got his positive outlook on life. Tuesday evening Henry Boshart played Charlie Bucket and handled the demands of the role well. James Young was fun and charming in the role of Grandpa Joe. I did feel that Noah Weisberg has yet to find his footing in the role of Willy Wonka. Bigger and stronger choices would help in that regard. The show does sport a strong ensemble who handled the supporting roles (including the Oompa Loompas) and fun choreography very well.

The colorful costumes and intricate set pieces were visually interesting. The multi-media for the show was also hit-or-miss for me. For some scenes it added a fun visual element, for others its use seem to be an afterthought.

Overall, an entertaining but uneven musical with enough spectacle to keep audiences engaged.

My rating: 4.25 out of 5.

I would enjoy hearing what you think about the show or my review. All I ask is that you express your opinion without attacking someone else’s opinion. You can post your comments below.

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THE MAN-BEAST Review

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Jennifer Joplin as Virginie & Jim Hopkins as Jean. Photo by Dan R. Winters Photography.

THE MAN-BEAST presented by Know Theatre of Cincinnati through Nov. 10. Click here for a synopsis and more information on the production. I attended the opening weekend Sunday matinee performance.

Know Theatre of Cincinnati continues its 21st Season, FEAR ITSELF, with a new drama based on the 18th Century legend of the Beast of Gévaudan. Previously produced works  at Know by the playwright Joseph Zettelmaier include All Childish Things (2015) and Pulp (2016).

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Jim Hopkins as Jean & Jennifer Joplin as Virginie. Photo by Dan R. Winters Photography.

Many thanks to director Brant Russell for bringing together what may now be my new favorite on stage couple: Jim Hopkins and Jennifer Joplin. Together the pair are electric to watch as Jean and Virginie, a mismatched pair of social outsiders that find companionship and more in each other’s company. Despite their physical differences, Joplin’s character is every bit the equal to Hopkins’ Jean. Their performance styles are very compatible and their chemistry so natural that I almost forgot it was a monster tale. One small complaint would be that I did lose the dialogue a couple of times when Hopkins’ character bellowed quickly.

This intimate and engaging show works well in the Underground space. Russell makes great use of the play area and elicits great character work from the two actors. Every moment rings authentic and I found myself rooting for the unlikely couple. The choreography by fight director Jonn Baca gives the show a great physicality and is very convincing; no small feat considering how close the audience is to the action.

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Jim Hopkins as Jean & Jennifer Joplin as Virginie. Photo by Dan R. Winters Photography.

The set design by Andrew J. Hungerford is perhaps the most ambitious to date downstairs. I loved the weight of it with all the dark wood and stone. It was fun to see Jean constantly bump into items hung for the convenience of the much shorter Viriginie. The lighting design (also by Hungerford) and sound design by Doug Borntrager only enhances the atmosphere of the piece. I was also very pleased with the taxidermy designed by Mara Tunnicliff. Great to see items so essential to the plot executed so well.

Picky picky: When so much work is done to set the mood and period it was disappointing to see (and hear) the caster wheels used on one of the pieces. It was also mentioned to me that from some seats the lighting instruments were visible within the fireplace. It was such a great effect from my seat that I would hope every audience member would have the same experience.

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Jennifer Joplin as Virginie & Jim Hopkins as Jean. Photo by Dan R. Winters Photography.

Overall, an engrossing tale, smartly written and directed only enhanced by the wonderful performances of the two leads. A perfect tale for the season without the gore or body count.

My rating: 4.75 out of 5.

I would enjoy hearing what you think about the show or my review. All I ask is that you express your opinion without attacking someone else’s opinion. You can post your comments below.

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MISS BENNET: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY Review

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Andrew Fallaize as Arthur de Bourgh & Ayana Workman as Mary Bennet. Photo by Mikki Schaffner Photography.

MISS BENNET: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY presented by Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park through Nov. 10. Click here for a synopsis and more information on the production. I attended the opening night performance.

Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park continues its 2018-19 Marx season with an imagined sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. In this production, the focus shifts to the bookish middle Bennet sister, Mary.

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John Ford-Dunker as Charles Bingley, Andrew Fallaize as Arthur de Bourgh & John Keabler as Fitzwilliam Darcy. Photo by Mikki Schaffner Photography.

Ayana Workman is endearing as Mary Bennet who is struggling to be recognized as the woman she is becoming and not as the young sister who was left behind. Bookish and factually blunt, she finds an intellectual soul mate in Arthur de Bourgh, well-played by Andrew Fallaize. The pair are supported by a strong ensemble. The closeness of the sisters and the connections between the extended family members work well and rang emotionally true.

Director Eleanor Holdridge does a great job of bringing these emotional connections and the humor of the script to the forefront. The production is nicely paced and well-staged. That being said, I did feel that Lydia Wickham was a bit too broad in the first act, coming off a bit more caricature than character. Arthur’s checked exit near the end of the show had him upstage of the set’s columns, blocking him from view for a portion of the audience.

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Ayana Workman as Mary Bennet, Maribel Martinez as Jane Bingley, Marina Shay as Elizabeth Darcy & Mia Hutchinson-Shaw as Lydia Wickham. Photo by Mikki Schaffner Photography.

Visually the show is stunning thanks to the set design by John Coyne and the costumes design work of Helen Q. Huang. The wigs worked well for the most part although Arthur’s looked, well…like a wig from the audience and held the crease from his hat for most of the show.

Overall, a charming and funny romantic comedy that should appease Austen fans, but is easily appealing to all.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I would enjoy hearing what you think about the show or my review. All I ask is that you express your opinion without attacking someone else’s opinion. You can post your comments below.

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1984 Review

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Photo by Mikki Schaffner Photography.

1984 presented by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company through Nov. 3. Click here for a synopsis and more information on the production. I attended the opening night performance.

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company continues its 2018-19 season with a a new adaptation of George Orwell’s 1949 novel. The original production of this work premiered in England at the Nottingham Playhouse in 2013. It was created and directed by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan.

Well, THAT was disturbing.

There is much to absorb in this taunt 101 minute intermission-less dive into a dystopian world of never-ending war, alternative facts, and government-sanctioned surveillance. The story centers around Winston Smith, an unassuming worker at the Ministry of Truth, responsible for re-writing historical records to match the government’s “official” version. In a personal act of rebellion, Smith begins to secretly write in a diary criticizing the government.

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Justin McCombs as Winston Smith & Sara Clark as Julia. Photo by Mikki Schaffner Photography.

As Smith, Justin McCombs is easily likable yet carries the weight of Winston’s isolation in his performance. Perhaps that is why he is so eager to connect with Julia, played with an underlying paranoia by Sara Clark. The two play well off of each other and convincingly handle the intimacy of their relationship. I did feel there were times when Winston seemed to acquiesce to Julia, instead of owning his decisions. Jeremy Dubin is pitch perfect at the enigmatic O’Brien. The cast is supported well by the hardworking ensemble including young Agatha Hickerson who holds her own with the veterans.

Justen N. Locke’s cold, industrial set design works well in defining the world the characters live in, but also offers a canvas ideal for the projection work. I was very impressed by the versatility of the set as it moves into the final scenes of the show. The multimedia design by Brave Berlin, the Founding Creative Directors of Blink and LumenoCity, is incredibly impactful in bringing this world under the eye of “Big Brother” to omnipresent life.

If there is a weakness to the script, it is trying to cover so much territory in such a short period. With the passage of time so unclear, love and trust seem to develop a bit too quickly in a world that greatly lacks both. For those not familiar with the book, the quick transitions from one locale to the next could cause the location of the scene to be unclear to the audience. Also, I would not have minded having the major scene be a bit more uncomfortable for the audience to watch and to see the actor carry and compound the pain as the scene progresses. O’Brien taking a big step upstage would also improve the sight-line for those sitting audience right.

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Justin McCombs as Winston Smith and Jeremy Dubin as O’Brien. Photo by Mikki Schaffner Photography.

Overall, a truly disturbing production that never allows you to gain your mental footing. This production also features some of the strongest video work I’ve seen on stage.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I would enjoy hearing what you think about the show or my review. All I ask is that you express your opinion without attacking someone else’s opinion. You can post your comments below.

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