Elaborate ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ Production Entertains at ETC

Quite possibly the most elaborate and entertaining show to hit Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati (ETC) this year, Around the World in 80 Days takes the audience on an exotic journey with a story told through song.

Set in London in 1899, the precisely punctual and clever Phileas Fogg wagered his life savings on a bet that the world was able to be circumnavigated in 80 days. Between boarding trains and steamships, Fogg and his witty French butler, Passepartout, dodge bandits, stampedes, and the thick of the jungle all while being pursued by the British police.

Will the race against the clock defeat them from a timely journey to win their bet?

The production marks the largest cast to take the stage at ETC in recent years. Seventeen actors filled the intimate stage with the grace and grandeur of a national Broadway show. Familiar faces return from past shows, including powerhouse vocalist Torie Wiggins and her co-star Annie Fitzpatrick from Black Pearl Sings. In a vast contrast to the solemn production of The Whipping Man, lead actor Ken Early delighted the audience with his portrayal of Phileas Fogg, who was filled with optimistic perseverance.

The incredibly interchangeable set design transformed, in a matter of moments, and created vehicles from hot air balloons to trains, ships and elephants. In addition to the actors, puppeteers were incorporated as animals in a variety of scenes.

Of course, it would not be a musical without claiming a favorite song. Torie Wiggins, who played supporting character Aouda, a rescued Indian princess, performed a soulful and inspiring “Strong Wind, Strong Woman” as she intuitively guided a sailboat for a nearly defeated Phileas Fogg.

Around the World in 80 Days was one of Ensemble Theatre’s first commissioned musicals, with its last performance taking place 13 years ago.

There are 13 more scheduled performances, including a show at 7pm today. The final performance is scheduled to take place at 2pm on Sunday, January 5, 2014. Only a very limited number of tickets remain for performances scheduled this week, but there are a number of good tickets remaining for performances the first week of January.

All images provided.

PIPPIN Kicks off Carnegie’s Diverse Theater Season

The Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center kicks off its 2011-2012 season with the provocative tale of young Pippin’s relentless journey through politics, war, sex, and marriage seeking his “corner of the sky.” PIPPIN’s tale of self-discovery is itself edgy and glossy; the score is bright and clever; and the Carnegie production promises all the glam its audience can handle: “young, spry, sexy dancers and performers is what this show needs,” reports Joshua Steele, The Carnegie’s Managing Director, “and we’ve got them.”

More than half of the production’s cast is comprised of the region’s top young talent from the award-winning musical theatre programs at Northern Kentucky University, The University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music, and Wright State University.

Adventurous, insatiable young Pippin is played by Chris Stewart, a gifted Nebraska native who is active with the the Children’s Theater of Cincinnati, the Showboat Majestic, the Cincinnati Opera, and the Commonwealth Theatre Company.

The fresh pizzaz of the young talent is matched by the professionalism and experience of Greater Cincinnati theatre favorites including Deb Girdler, Brooke Rucidlo, and Jim Stump. Girdler, whose resume boasts 40 years of stellar performances including a record-breaking 46 parts on the Showboat Majestic and 25 critically-acclaimed turns at the Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, takes on the comedic role of Pippin’s grandmother, Berthe. A show-stopping number in the first act filled with verve and energy lets Girdler truly shine. Rucidlo, regarded as one of the area’s top rising young talents, plays PIPPIN’s non-traditional ingénue, Catherine. Stump, the Artistic Director of Cincinnati’s New Edgecliff Theatre was last seen as Mr. Bumble in Carnegie’s production of Oliver! Here, he appears in the role of Pippin’s father, Charles.

PIPPIN challenges as it inspires. “It is a very self-aware show,” Steele says, “When you walk in, you are completely aware that you are watching a show. It satirizes the traditional theatrical process and all the things we expect from it.”

The show is delivered by a complex, talented production team. PIPPIN marks the second time the Carnegie has partnered with Commonwealth Theater Company, the professional production arm of Northern Kentucky University’s Department of Theater and Dance. Commonwealth contributes the peerless vision of multiple Acclaim Award Winners, Ken Jones (director) and Jamey Strawn (music director). In 2008, the pair brought the critically acclaimed Carnegie / Commonwealth collaboration of Jesus Christ Superstar, which set and still holds Carnegie theatre attendance records.

The Carnegie starts its season with the wile and sheen of PIPPIN and ups the ante with its second production. From November 4-20, 2011, Carnegie joins with CCM Drama to bring the regional premiere of In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play, about a doctor at the dawn of electricity who invents the vibrator to treat hysteria in women. “The content of it probably pushes the envelope for us at The Carnegie,” reports Steele.

The second half of the Carnegie season is much more traditional. Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I will be presented in concert with musicians from the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra from January 20-29, 2012. The season closes with Pump Boys & Dinettes running April 13-29, 2012. “We have some nice variety this season,” concludes Steele, “and PIPPIN will kick us off!”

PIPPIN will feature eight performances, all during weekends between August 19, 2011 and September 3, 2011. Tickets may be purchased through The Carnegie Box Office at 859.957.1940 (open Tuesday through Friday, noon to 5:00 pm) or
online .

PIPPIN picture provided.

2011 Cincinnati Fringe Festival serves as a vehicle for collaboration

For funky and cutting edge arts events and experiences in Cincinnati, the place to be is the Cincinnati Fringe Festival, May 31 through June 11. The first Fringe Festival originated in Edinburgh, Scotland 51 years ago. The Cincinnati Fringe Festival in its eighth season, and like its forefather, showcases theater, comedy, performance art, fine art, and film that explores the weird, outrageous, and the provocative.

With 12 days and 160 performances of 35 productions showcasing both local and out-of-town performers and artists, plenty of opportunities exist to whet the appetites of audiences. Starting this year the Cincinnati Fringe Festival offers Fringe Next, a program that features performances created, produced, and performed by local high school students.

Some of the highlights from this year’s line-up include: Fire & Light – fire-based performances by Incendium Arts; The Masculinity Index – the exploration of what it means to be a man through theater, spoken word, music, movement and much more; Darker – a love story involving light bulbs; Fringe Documented – a film documentary focusing on bringing the Fringe to Cincinnati; and The Body Speaks: Calligraphic Photography – a photography exhibit created by Sean Dunn, a local Cincinnati photographer, focusing on “unifying the mediums of calligraphy and photography.”

Work created by Dunn served as inspiration for three other fringe projects that include: The Body Speaks: Movement, The Body Speaks: Scripted, and The Body Speaks: Captured. Dunn will be viewing the finished projects for the first time during the Fringe.

“I want my work to speak for itself; I did not want to interfere or impose my thoughts or criticisms and diminish any of the collectives’ innate creativity,” Dunn said. “I eagerly look forward to seeing and hearing The Body Speaks Projects in their polished state over the course of the Cincinnati Fringe Festival.”

For Dunn, the Fringe is vital because of the collaborative opportunities it affords artists from multiple platforms. “The Cincinnati Fringe Festival is important because it presents artists of all walks of life the opportunity to work together and gives well deserved attention to the Cincinnati art scene,” Dunn said. “What’s more, Fringe Fest provides artists an exceptionally welcoming and comfortable environment in which unorthodox styles of creativity and presentation are encouraged.”

Ticket prices range from $12 per performance, $60 six-show pass, and an all-access pass for $200. For more information about performances and show times you can visit the Cincinnati Fringe Festival website.

Fringe Festival picture provided by Know Theatre.

‘End Days’ a quirky ETC production featuring young talent

End Days, a play by Deborah Zoe Laufer, is an amusing and philosophical comedy now showing at the Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati. The divinely inspired comedy by Deborah Zoe Laufer enjoys its regional premiere at the Ensemble from March 16-April 2, 2011. It is directed by guest director Michael Evan Haney, Associate Artistic Director at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.

The show features two young local actors who both make a stunning debut at the Ensemble. Lily Hidalgo plays the lead, Rachel Stein, and is a freshman at St. Ursula Academy. Her character’s beau, nerdy Nelson, is played by Richard Lowenburg, a skilled magician and seasoned performer having worked with Playhouse in the Park, CCM Prep, SCPA, Xavier University, and Cincinnati Music Theater, attends the School for Creative and Performing Arts.

Other performers include Amy Warner and Barry Mulholland playing Rachel’s parents, and Michael G. Bath in an interesting double billed role as both Jesus and Stephen Hawking.

End Days tells the story of the dysfunctional Stein family, who left New York after 9/11. With a depressed father and a newly religious mother, youngster Rachel Stein has nowhere to turn but her teenage angst and her obnoxious, Elvis-impersonating neighbor, Nelson.

When Nelson persuades Rachel to read Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, she becomes interested in physics. Eventually he ingratiates himself in the Stein family. With the help of a secret confidante, the family and friends join and realize that togetherness can make life worthwhile, even despite a coming apocalypse.

End Days was awarded the 2008 American Theatre Critics Association Steinberg Citation. It received its NYC premiere at Ensemble Studio Theatre through an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Grant. End Days is listed in the Burns Mantle Yearbook as one of the best regional plays of 2008, and is published in The Best Plays of 2008.

With great acting and fantastic lighting, the show had audience members laughing out loud. Get down to ETC and enjoy this regional premiere for a rollicking good time and look at life, love and faith.

End Days is on stage now through April 3 at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, located in historic Over-the-Rhine at 1127 Vine St. in the Gateway Quarter. Ticket Information
Single tickets are $34 to $42, depending on the day. Children’s tickets are $16 for all performances.

Rush Tickets: $15 rush tickets are available for all performances 15 minutes prior to curtain and are subject to availability. Senior/ student, Cincinnati Public Radio Perks Card, ArtsWave Fun Card, AAA, and Enjoy the Arts discounts available. ETC accepts all major credit cards, Over-the-Rhine Merchant gift cards, and Downtown Cincinnati gift cards. Group rates are available for 10 or more people.

Patrons may purchase tickets in person at the ETC box office, by calling (513) 421-3555, or online.

image provided by ETC.

Bloody Good Fun: ‘Evil Dead: The Musical’

Just in time for the Halloween season, Evil Dead: The Musical made its area premiere at the Falcon Theater this weekend. The show runs at the Newport theater through November 6, 2010.

The first indication that this isn’t your typical horror show are the seats covered in plastic. Evil Dead is billed at the world’s first musical with a splatter zone. A section of the theater is reserved for adventurous patrons who don’t mind leaving the theater with bloodstains (all the ‘blood’ washes out easily).

Instead of scary and creepy, Evil Dead: The Musical is a hilarious mash-up of comedy, horror, and in-your-face innuendo set to music. Based on Sam Raimi’s cult favorite Evil Dead film series, the musical blends story lines and characters from several of the movies. The action begins with five young people embarking on their spring break adventure to a cabin in the woods. Housewares employee Ash (Nate Moster) leads his girlfriend Linda (Hannah Balash), whiny kid sister Cheryl, randy best friend Scott, and Scott’s ditzy new girlfriend Shelly across the only bridge to the cabin.

The group discovers an old manuscript and recording left behind by the cabin’s owner. They listen to the strange recording, inadvertently unleashing an ancient curse. Cheryl (Rebecca Weisman) is the first to fall victim to the strange noises coming from the woods. She’s transformed into an annoying demon that pops up out of the cellar to torment everyone else in the cabin. Eventually everyone falls victim to misfortune – some accidental – as Ash tries to destroy the demon. Fans of the Evil Dead franchise will be excited to see the singing moose make an appearance.

As his friends die off, Ash is confronted by the cabin owner’s domineering daughter Annie (Michelle Grove) and her boyfriend Ed (Jeff Surber). Only Annie can decipher and counteract the curse. However, more hilarious misfortunes – and a riotous musical number – befall the remaining non-demons before order is restored. Bryan Franke shone as Jake, the hillbilly who gets caught in the crossfire guiding the couple to the cabin.

While all the songs were witty and playful, “All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed by Candarian Demons” will stick in your head for day. Sean Mize was great as the lustful and foul-mouthed Scott, while Rebecca Weisman created the perfectly grating demon in Cheryl. While not a perfect, polished performance, the cast was full of energy and passion that left the audience in stitches. Simply put, Evil Dead: The Musical is bloody hilarious fun.

Evil Dead: The Musical runs at the Falcon Theater now through November 6, 2010. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the box office at 513-479-6783 for $18 ($15 students, seniors).

Performance Dates:

  • October 22, 23, 28, 29, 30, 31
  • November 5, 6, 2010
  • 8:00pm start time for all performances