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Theatre Review: Hot Damn! It's the Loveland Frog (& Other Cincinnati Fringe Shows)

What’s all that hootin’ and whoopin’ and bluegrass goin’ on at Art Academy?
 
Hot Damn! It’s the Loveland Frog is what's going on – smart and funny, amiable and high energy. 
 
And completely, happily unhinged as the Cincinnati Fringe entry uses the ‘facts’ of past sightings of Loveland’s famous frog to tell a musical tall tale.
 
It’s the audience that’s doing the whoopin’ and hootin’.
 
The show is by Mike Hall and Joshua Steele, the guys who gave the 2012 Fringe, Don’t Cross the 
 
Stream… That show sold out, and so will this one, especially because it’s in a much smaller venue. The word-of-mouth is going to be over the moon.
 
The musical’s conceit is that those few folks who admitted to having had firsthand encounters with the Frog (the Frog was first spotted in 1955 then again in the early Seventies) have been – let’s say damaged.
 
It is elevated mightily by a terrific cast and band and Mike Sherman’s inventive staging, which is inspired throughout.
 
One of those folks, Pee Paw (Joe Hornbaker) has gone missing. His grandson Luke (Kelcey Steele) and Luke’s girlfriend Dharla (Erin Ward) go in search of him along the Little Miami. You know everything is going to turn out okay, at least for Pee Paw, because he’s our jolly narrator, enjoying his moonshine as he guides us through the action, set way back in the Nineties.
 
Hornbaker is a stitch from the opening moments, when he leads the company in “Loveland,” a fond intro to the town that calls itself ‘Sweetheart of Ohio.’
 
What a day Luke and Dharla have! There’s the canoe chase along the river with crazy moonshiners (Miranda McGee and Randy Lee Bailey, both fabulous) in pursuit and intent on murder, all played in front of a video showing landmarks like the Loveland Castle and the Tower Bridge; There’s learning the legend of the frog from the last Miami Indian (Reggie Willis) told with Balinese shadow puppets.
 
There are the comings and goings and cackling ravings of an old blind woman (Abby Rowold). Her delightfully wretched look is by costumer Helen Raymond-Goers, who illustrates you are what you wear.
 
There are commercial breaks for the show’s fake producer ‘Schwartzman Taxidermy,’ whose motto is “Don’t let your trophy look like jerky.” 
 
And there are two troubled lawmen, Bill Hartnett and Brad Myers, who dive into the lunacy. The interplay between Hartnett and McGee make for priceless comic moments accompanied by shrieks from the audience. The staging by Mike Sherman is inspired throughout.
 
The cast of well-known local actors couldn’t be more fun and the band, led by always terrific Steve Goers, set your toes tapping. The guys do double-duty as cast members, most memorably by guitarist Myers.
 
The ending of “Loveland Frog” is too soft, but by then nobody cares. The show has earned out deep affection.
 
Best ticket availability is for Tuesday’s performance. 
 
Elsewhere around the Fringe
 
Ligature Marks – A very clever 21st ​century noir about a pair of losers – and I mean losers – that starts slow and sneaks up on you. When the one-act opens, Terry (playwright Mac Rogers) is standing near the doorway and his first words are, “I’m not staying.” 
 
But he and pathologically needy ex-girlfriend Jill (Rebecca Comtois) are creepily co-dependent and “Ligature Marks” is what happens when he does stay. Nice work from both of them.
 
Short Attention Span Theatre – 30 plays in 60 minutes by a cast of eight what seem like fairly recent theater grads with some funny props. The audience gets to pick the order of the sketches, which vary in inspiration and execution. We get candy if they go over the 60-minute timer.
 
There’s lots about dating (“A Date with Dora” was one of my favorites, and “Agnostic Mingle”); comment on pop culture (including “Ode to My iPhone” and a vegan interlude); the occasional social issue; a musical moment fits in the category of delighting in a life in the theater.
 
The company works hard to give the audience a good time but the show is like a date you’d call ‘okay.’
 
Cincinnati Fringe continues through June 7. For all things Fringe visit www.cincyfringe.com
 
Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts Contributor