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Shows to See in May!

This month’s Top Pick: Violet at Ensemble, with its outrageously strong cast. Look for a powerhouse revival of the musical charmer about a lie-changing cross-country bus ride. Brooke Steele takes the title role (which should fit her like a glass slipper), and she’s surrounded by local favorites Charlie Clark, Phil Fiorini, Sara Mackie, Torie Wiggins, and Kate Wilford. CCM junior Phillip Johnson-Richardson makes his ETC debut.

A close second: Diogenes’s Happy Days, marking the welcome return to Cincinnati two favorites – the (married) team of director Michael Haney and actress Amy Warner. They’re reprising Samuel Beckett’s absurdist contemplation of human connection. It offers a tour de force role for Warner and has thumbs-up reviews from Minneapolis, where they now live.

If you still haven’t seen Silent Sky at Know – you still have a couple of weeks and this biographical fantasy about turn-of-the-(last)-century astronomer Henrietta Leavitt is a smart and sentimental crowd-pleaser, also filled with solid local actors.

And – Cincinnati Fringe releases its performance schedule on May 13, prior to its May 31 opening night. Have your pen ready to plan your Fringe-ing, and don’t wait to buy tickets, several shows look like quick sell-outs.

(Don’t forget to check discount sites like CincySavers and Gold Star for ticket deals. I just saw half-price tickets to Covedale’s Brigadoon on CincySavers. You never know.)

As always in chronological order:

Bad Dates, through June 12.  Playhouse in the Park, Thompson Shelterhouse, Eden Park. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $35-$86 and subject to change. 513-421-3888 and www.cincyplay.com.

Theresa Rebeck’s Bad Dates returns to Playhouse in the Park. Restaurant manager, shoe connoisseur, and single mom Haley Walker is in her bedroom getting ready for a date and recounting her life through the filter of dates that both hilarious and god-awful. Hmmm, what’s in that shoebox? Money? What’s the Romanian mob got to do with it?  

Silent Sky, through May 14. Know Theatre. Know Theatre, 1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine. 8 p.m. Thursday- Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $20. 513-300-5669 and knowtheatre.com. Note: Wednesday "Welcome Experiment" performances will be made available online the Sunday before each performance. We reserve half of the available seating on Wednesdays for walk-up at show time.

The terrific cast led by Maggie Lou Rader delivers a solid hit for Know. Annie Fitzpatrick, Justin McCombs, Miranda McGee and Regina Pugh round out the ensemble of a biographical fantasy about 19th century astronomer Henrietta Leavitt (never heard of her? Don’t suppose that could be because she was female…) at the Harvard Observatory at the turn of the 20th century.  A satisfying, uplifting evening of theater – and you’ll learn something, too!

Brigadoon, through May 22. Covedale Center, 4990 Glenway Ave., West Price Hill. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $26, students and seniors $23. 513-241-6550 and www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com

Trust Justin Glaser (whose pro career included a national tour as the cursed Beast in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast) to do right by Lerner & Loewe’s classic about an enchanted town in the Scottish highlands. He’s Tommy Albright, an unsettled American in the post-WWII era who gets lost in the right place at the right time to find true love.

Violet, May 3-22. Ensemble Theatre, 1028 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $28-$44 adults, $25 students. 513-421-3555 and www.ensemblecincinnati.org.

It’s the sixties and Brooke Steele is disfigured Violet, who hops a bus for a ride across the South, seeking a televangelist in Oklahoma she believes can heal her. Her musical adventure plays out to a score ranging from American-roots to folk to gospel as she forms unlikely friendships with her fellow riders. As always, it’s about the journey, not the destination. Like I said up top – my gut says don’t miss it. Along with Brooke Steele and the ETC veteran performers, CCM junior Phillip Johnson-Richardson makes his ETC debut.

My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra, May 5–21. Footlighters, Stained Glass Theatre, 802 York St. at Eighth, Newport. 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $20 plus $1 handling fee. 859-652-3849.

This song-and-dance revue celebrates the pivotal moments in Sinatra's life from the Big Band era of the '40s to movies in the Fifties, Vegas in the '60s and beyond, the song list of  Ol’ Blue Eyes’ hits include "Strangers in the Night," "I've Got You Under My Skin," "Fly Me to the Moon" and, of course, "New York, New York."

Next Fall, May 6-21. Falcon Theatre, 636 Monmouth St., Newport. 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. Tickets $20, students $15. (Service fee for online orders.) 513-479-6783 or click here for tickets.

In its NYC debut, the NY Times called Next Fall "The funniest heartbreaker in town!” Luke believes in God and Adam believes in everything else – so there are ups and downs in their five-year modern romance. Then fate steps in and suddenly the witty and provocative look at faith, commitment and unconditional love becomes something even more: an examination of what it means to “believe” and what it might cost us not to. Watch for The River City News editor/publisher Michael Monks in a supporting role!

Big Fish, May 6-14. Aronoff Center for the Arts Jarson-Kaplan Theater, 655 Walnut St., Downtown Cincinnati. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $24, students and seniors $20. 513-621-2787 and www.CincinnatiArts.org

Regional premiere of the musical by Andrew Lippa and John August. A fantasy set in the American South, Big Fish centers on charismatic traveling salesman Edward Bloom, whose impossible stories of his epic adventures thrill everyone around him, but frustrate his son, Will, who is about to have a child of his own. As the end of Edward’s life approaches, Will embarks on his own journey to find out who his father really is.

Cabaret, May 10-24. Broadway in Cincinnati, Aronoff Center, 655 Walnut St., Downtown Cincinnati. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $29-$89 (ticket fees $8.95 to $12.75). Click Here or call 513-621-2787.

Wilkommen to the Kit Kat Klub in pre-WWII Berlin. The Emcee urges the crowd to forget their troubles, but there are plenty of troubles for the American writer caught up in the social and political tumult, and with frivolous singer Sally Bowles. National tour of the Kander-Ebb classic.

Happy Days, May 12-21. Diogenes Theatre Company, Aronoff Center Fifth Third Bank Theater, Main and Seventh streets, downtown Cincinnati. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $29 plus ticketing fee.

Before you say “no!” to Samuel Beckett’s absurdist meditation – I’ll  bet you’ll want to say “yes!” to the return to town of director Michael Haney and actress Amy Warner who moved away last year – and to Beckett’s theme of human connection and companionship.

Minneapolis critics gave Warner and Haney big thumbs up, as she plays Winnie, buried to her waist, following her daily routine and prattling to her husband, Willie, largely hidden and taciturn. Her frequent refrain is “Oh this is a happy day.” By act two Winnie is buried up to her neck, but still looking on the bright side.

Catch Me If You Can, May 13-22. Showbiz Players, The Carnegie, 1028 Scott Blvd., Covington. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 3 p.m. Sunday (May Tickets $24, students and seniors $21 (handling fee for inline orders). 859-957-1940 and here.

Musical adapted from the movie starring Leo DiCaprio as of Frank Abnagale Jr., who gained fame as a teenager who passed himself off as everything from an airline pilot to a surgeon, and the FBI agent intent on chasing him down.

Antony & Cleopatra, May 13-June 4. Cincinnati Shakespeare, 719 Race St., Downtown Cincinnati. 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $22-$39 (plus fees.)  513-381-2273 ext. 1 and www.cincyshakes.com.

The victors of Rome’s civil war have divided the Empire among themselves, and Marc Antony (Nick Rose) has traveled to exotic Egypt to take up rule over his corner of the globe. There he encounters Egypt’s monarch Cleopatra, a woman of infinite variety, and finds her irresistible. Tragedy ensues – remember that poisonous snake.

Soulbrette (Puccini to Prince), 7:30 p.m. May 14. Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, Florence Baptist Church at Mt. Zion, 642 Mt. Zion Rd., Florence. Tickets $40-$24, age 18 and under 50% off (handling fees: $1.50 per ticket plus credit card merchant fee 3.5%.  Mailing an additional $1.15 if requested.) 859-431-6216 and here.

Featuring sultry (yet wholesome!) soprano Morgan James performing a program of Puccini, Strauss, Lehar, Tesori, Styne, Nina Simone, Prince, Maroon V and more. Her videos with Post Modern Jukebox have received millions of views.

Cincinnati Fringe Festival, May 31-June 11. Know Theatre, 1140 Jackson St. and venues across Over-the-Rhine. Watch for a performance schedule early in May. Tickets $15, six-show flex pass $70, all-access pass $225. 513-300-5669 and www.cincyfringe.com

The 13th annual festival has 50 productions from near (31) and far (18) and really far (one from Australia) with plenty of strong Northern Kentucky entries. Visual Fringe, the nightly Fringe Bar Series – lots of alternative fun.

A couple selections from my Don’t Miss List: CESSNA: A Drama Noir (with music) from the folks who brought us Loveland Frog and Don’t Cross the Streams. Inspired by a bit of local history when a plane crashed into a Montgomery bookstore; Fruit Flies Like a Banana, a “madcap variety hour” which comes to town with major awards from Orlando and Minnesota fringes;

My Left Teeth, scripted by favorite Fringe storyteller Paul Strickland and starring Miranda McGee and Annie Kalahurka; SHEnatra! brings terrific Sadie Bowman back to town (I’ve been a fan since Calculus in 2007 – which is having a one-night return on April 30, see it and bring the kids!) in a critically raved-about show which has Frank and Dino in purgatory serving time as gals and examining gender issues through classics songs with new opinions.

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts