Cincy Stage Pulse: Jackie Demaline Previews April's Theatre Offerings

This month, Cincinnati has lots of ‘new.’
 
Regional premieres, topping my list are New York hit “Venus in Fur” at Playhouse; Cincinnati Ballet again collaborating with hometown band Over the Rhine; “Living Dead in Denmark", which looks like a sleeper in CCM’s Studio series; and a brief Cincinnati Stop by Green Day’s “American Idiot”.
 
It’s a big month for musicals, start with the ones on area campuses, where it’s always fun to watch young talent and professionals at the helm. I’m expecting a dandy Spamalot from Ken Jones and his crew at Northern Kentucky University, putting the biggest show ever on their stage. 
 
Put Diogenes Theatre Company on your radar screen for 2014-2015, which plans to employ local Equity actors and have a four-play season of chamber-sized (three or four actors) productions. It offers a sneak peek late this month with one performance of one-man show BIBI by a local playwright.
 
WEEK ONE
 
25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”, April 3-5. College-Conservatory of Music, Cohen Studio Theater, University of Cincinnati. 513-556-4183, www.ccm.uc.edu.
 
A quirky (and lovable) group of six school outsiders compete in a spelling bee -- the one place where they can stand out and fit in at the same time. A musical tale of overachievers' angst, the kids are overseen by adults who have barely managed to escape childhood themselves. The kids (on the edge of puberty) learn that winning isn't everything and that losing doesn't necessarily make you a loser. FREE, but reservations required. Reservations open at 12 p.m. March 31; don’t wait.
 
The Twentieth Century Way”, April 4-May 3. Know Theatre, 1120 Jackson St., Over-the Rhine. 513-300-5669, www.knowtheatre.com.
 
Long Beach, California. 1914. A scourge of homosexuality plagues the city. The Long Beach Police hire two actors to entrap gay men in the crime of "social vagrancy." In an empty theatre, two actors meet while awaiting an audition.
 
Reviews elsewhere have been very mixed; Know is putting a strong pair of actors -- Jens Rasmussen (“Skintight”) returns and Chicago-based Mike McKeogh makes his Know debut – on stage, playing more than a dozen roles. 
 
ALERT: Adult content and recommended for mature audiences only.
 
Avenue Q”, April 4-12. Xavier University Theatre, Gallagher Student Center, 3800 Victory Pkwy., Xavier University, 513-745-3578, tickets: Click Here.
 
 

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Xavier shows off its brand new theater major with a favorite contemporary musical comedy focuses on a group of twentysomethings making their way in the big city, seeking their purpose in life.
 
We mention no names, but it bears a distinct resemblance to “Sesame Street” as it addresses adult issues in a style beloved by TV generations who grew up on you-know-where.
 
“Avenue Q” is also a place where puppets are friends, monsters are good and life lessons are learned. "...an ingenious combination of The Real World and Sesame Street" -The New Yorker
 
ALERT: In case you haven’t heard, “Avenue Q” contains (lots of) adult language, mature themes and full puppet nudity.
 
WEEK TWO
 
American Idiot”, 8 p.m. April 11, 5 and 9 p.m. April 12. Broadway Across America-CincinnatiAronoff Center for the Arts Procter & Gamble Hall, 650 Walnut St., Downtown. 1-800-294-1816 and 513-721-3344, www.broadwayacrossamerica.com.
 
The Boston Globe wrote, “’American Idiot,’ the stage adaptation of Green Day’s 2004 album, is a sustained cry of anger, disgust, and longing, dramatizing the frustrations and fears of a generation that sees nothing but dead ends in what one youthful character calls ‘a land of make-believe that don’t believe in me.’ Feeling bad has seldom felt so good.”
 
The New York Times wrote: “Rage and love, those consuming emotions felt with a particularly acute pang in youth, all but burn up the stage in “American Idiot,” the thrillingly raucous and gorgeously wrought Broadway musical adapted from the blockbuster pop-punk album by Green Day.”
 
Gypsy”, April 10-May 4. Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, 4990 Glenway Ave., 513-241-6550, www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com.
 
It’s always a good thing when Dee Anne Bryll and Ed Cohen partner for a musical (look no further back than their killer “Chicago” at The Carnegie that kicked off the current season and continues as a stand-out). 
 
They put Sherry McCamley center stage as iconic stage mother Mama Rose in everybody’s showbiz musical, about a woman whose single-minded pursuit of (vicarious) stardom finds her pushing her daughters onto stages across the United States during the 1920s, when vaudeville was dying and burlesque was born. Jule Styne’s and Stephen Sondheim's incandescent (and endlessly tuneful) score from the Golden Age of Musicals brings Gypsy Rose Lee’s memoir to unforgettable life with songs including “Let Me Entertain You,” “All I Need Is the Girl,” “Everything's Coming Up Roses,” and the faboo stripper’s lament “You Gotta Get a Gimmick.”
 
Harvey”, April 11-27. The Carnegie, 1028 Scott Blvd., Covington. 859-957-1940, www.thecarnegie.com.
 
Elwood P. Dowd is inexhaustibly happy, and why not? His best friend is an invisible man-sized rabbit named Harvey. A gentle comedy from the mid-1940s, pixilated Elwood is committed to a sanitarium by his social-climbing sister Veta, begging the question, how do we know who and what is loony in our crazy world? Emeritus Carnegie impresario Buz Davis returns after almost 15 years to direct.

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WEEK THREE
 
Other People’s Money”, April 16-26. New Edgecliff Theatre, Aronoff Center Fifth Third Bank Theater, Seventh and Main Streets, Downtown. 513-621-2787, Tickets: Click Here
 
I love this unlikely romantic comedy – who knew 25 years after it debuted it would be more relevant than ever? And NET has a top-notch local cast (Robert Allen, Mike Dennis, Christine Dye, Mike King, and Elizabeth Molloy) directed by top-notch Greg Procaccino.
 
Wall Street takeover artist Lawrence Garfinkle’s computer is going tilt over the undervalued stock of New England Wire & Cable. If the stockholders back his take-over, they will make a bundle but what will happen to the 1,200 employees and the community when he liquidates the assets? Opposing the rapacious financier are the genial man who has run the company since the year one and his chief operations officer. They bring in a young lawyer who specializes in fending off takeovers. Should she use green mail? Find a white knight? Employ a shark repellent?
 
Monty Python’s Spamalot”, April 17-27. Northern Kentucky University, Fine Arts Center, Corbett Theatre Highland Heights, 859-572-5464. (No show on Easter, April 20; additional performance April 22).
 
Count on NKU theatre chief Ken Jones to show audiences a good time. Lovingly adapted from the classic (and demented) film comedy “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” “Monty Python’s SPAMALOT” retells the legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, and features a bevy of beautiful showgirls, not to mention cows, killer rabbits, assorted limbs and French people. Did we mention the bevy of beautiful showgirls?
 
Living Dead in Denmark”, April 17-19. CCM Drama, College-Conservatory of Music, Cohen Studio Theater, University of Cincinnati. 513-556-4183, www.ccm.uc.edu.
 
I’m expecting this to be a sleeper hit of the spring season. Set five years after the tragic events that ended Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” a resurrected Ophelia, Juliet, and Lady Macbeth must save Denmark from an overwhelming zombie horde.
 
“A perfect storm of horror and geek obsessions.” – Time Out New York; “A four ninja star spectacle of ass-kicking." – Flavorpill.
 
I Am So There. FREE, but reservations required. Reservations open at 12 p.m. April 14 -- don’t wait.
 
WEEK FOUR
 
Venus in Fur”, April 19-May 17. Playhouse in the Park, Eden Park. 513-421-3888, www.cincyplay.com.

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At the end of a long day of auditions, a playwright is convinced he’ll never find the right actress to play the heroine in his adaptation of a scandalous 19th century erotic novel. Enter Vanda, determined to prove she possesses the perfect blend of beauty, intelligence and sex appeal for the role. As the two act out the play, reality and fiction begin to blur in an electrifying cat-and-mouse game of love, seduction and power.
 
"Seriously smart and very funny." – The New York Times 
 
ALERT: Contains strong adult language, sexual themes and a scantily clad woman. Contact the box office for questions and additional information.
 
Cincinnati Ballet & Over the Rhine Live”, April 25-26, Aronoff Center for the Arts, 650 Walnut St., Downtown. 513-621-5219, www.cballet.org.
 
Audiences went crazy the last time the Ballet and great hometown band Over The Rhine came together in 2011. This time, the band performs live on stage and the program features two world premieres and a re-visit to one piece from 2011 hit “Infamous Love Songs.” Choreographers are Ballet favorites Jodie Gates, Missy Lay Zimmer & Andrew Hubbard and Adam Hougland. 
 
Also on the calendar: “BIBI,” 7:30 p.m. April 29. Diogenes Theatre Company, Aronoff Center for the Arts Jarson-Kaplan Theater, 650 Walnut St., Downtown. 513-621-2787 and here.
 
Diogenes joins the local pro theater scene with a one-man show by Kalman Kivkovich, known for scripts “loosely based” on a true story. Robert Pavlovich plays Benjamin Netanyahu, now in his third term as Israel’s Prime Minister. 
 
Along with Pavlovich, professional cred comes from director Drew Fracher and creative team including designers Mark Halpin and Dave Levy.
 
END OF MONTH
 
Phantom of the Opera”, opening April 30. Broadway in Cincinnati, Aronoff Center for the Arts, 650 Walnut St., Downtown. 1-800-294-1816 and 513-721-3344, www.broadwayacrossamerica.com.

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Half-masked man terrorizes the Paris Opera, lures ingénue singer to his underground lair and sings “Music of the Night.”
 
ALERT: It’s almost sold out – if you’re planning on seeing “Phantom” again, call now. 
 
STILL PLAYING
 
Henry IV”, through April 19. Cincinnati Shakespeare, 719 Race St., Downtown. 513-381-2273, www.cincyshakes.com
 
 “Henry IV” usually comes in two parts, Cincy Shakespeare’s Brian Isaac Phillips has combined them into one with a running time of under three hours. 
 
Phillips says he’s “Henry IV” is absolutely his favorite in the History Cycle the company has embarked on. This is the one where wild child Prince Hal becomes a man. 
 
“The balance of humor with politics is fantastic. The play is about what it means to grow up and what it takes to lead. None of us may be kings, but we all understand what it means to deal with the expectations of parents, expectations for our children and also wanting to make a mark in this world and do it our way. 
 
“These relationships might be taking place in a history play but they are the same issues we deal with in our everyday hopes and dreams.”
 
“Falstaff is a magnificent comic creation and Hal's journey to maturity is heartbreaking and extremely recognizable to contemporary audiences. Yeah, I love this play!”
 
Phillips says Cincinnati Shakespeare is treating the editing process, which cuts at least 40 percent from Shakespeare’s text, the way they would workshop a new play.
 
During rehearsal there were changes to the working script every day, balancing the complexity of the story with the running time. 
 
Stressful? Definitely. Phillips said he would wake up in the middle of the night “thinking of what would happen if we lost this scene or this line. Stressful, but also very rewarding because of the challenge.”

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The audience’s job will be easier. “All you need to know is that Henry IV usurped the crown from Richard II. Now the people who helped Henry do that are unhappy with him and trying to take the crown back for Richard's rightful heir. 
 
“While that is happening, the king's son Hal is goofing off in a bar with Shakespeare's greatest comic character. Will Hal wise up on time to help his dad hold on to the kingdom or will rebellion consume all of England? Come see the play and find out! Oh, and Drew Fracher's fights are awesome!”
 
RCN contributor Jackie Demaline writes about the theatre and the arts throughout the month. Follow RCN on Facebook and Twitter.