Sunday, February 20, 2000

Rehabbed Emery would fill gap

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Do you miss seeing touring Broadway straight plays? Like the Broadway hit Art that's been to Columbus and is reportedly headed to Louisville but will skip Cincinnati?

        Do you long for chamber opera? For one-night stands by performers such as Broadway diva Audra McDonald? (She's scheduled in Columbus in two weeks). For a regular concert jazz series? For a solution for local organizations still building their audiences?

        What do those towns have that we don't?

        The right-sized theater.

        Both cities (and many, many others) have one or more theaters with seating capacity between 900 and 1,800.

        As an audience, we're like Goldilocks. The Aronoff Center's theaters are too big (2,700 in Procter & Gamble Hall) or too small (440 seats in the Jarson-Kaplan) to easily accommodate any event smaller than a Broadway show but larger than a recital.

        A few blocks north of the Aronoff on Walnut Street is the potential just-right of this Goldilocks tale. Plans for a renovated and improved — and 1,600-seat — Emery Theatre are complete and being presented to interested parties as the capital campaign gets underway.

        The cramped lobby will flower to two stories and extend to the corner of Walnut and Central Parkway to accommodate a box office, coat room, restrooms, concessions, intermission crowds. The rear wall will be cut away to make the stage house deeper. The theater's historic friezes and ceiling murals will be restored.

        A sixth floor gymnasium will be transformed into a black box space. It, and the balcony, will be accessible by elevator.

        Locally based national theater consultant Alan Yaffe, whose numbers are always conservative, estimates 300 days of use, 175 on the main stage (including a presenting series), 126 in the black box space, including rehearsals.

        He also estimates a $3.5 million annual economic impact on the area.

        The price tag: $17.5 million. That adds up to $7 million in public money (they're asking $5 million from the state, $2 million from the city); $7 million from corporations and individuals (pledges stand at $2.5 million); and $3.5 million historic tax credit financing.

        The Emery folks want to raise the money in two years and open the doors at the end of 2004.

        Along with money, they want to be able to send the message that “the arts community wants this.”

        A letter is being distributed, waiting for supporters' signatures. Project leader Beth Sullebarger would like “a stack of them” to present to potential funders.

        Want to get in on the act? Call her at Cincinnati Preservation Association, 721-4506, and ask for a copy, or stop by 342 W. Fourth St., downtown, and sign on.

        "OH, JACKIE!': Mel Helitzer, former Madison Avenue ad man, longtime Ohio University journalism prof and 75 years young will show off his first stage musical effort Oh, Jackie! to local audiences next weekend.

        A few years in the making, Oh, Jackie! isall about Jackie O. and her dad Black Jack Bouvier. There's already been a staged reading in Athens, Ohio, and a production last fall in Columbus. Cincinnati is the latest stop on Mr. Helitzer's would-be road to the Great White Way.

        It plays here at 8 p.m. Friday and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday at the Aronoff's Jarson-Kaplan Theater. Taking the title role is 1990 CCM grad Jennifer Milligan.

        Mr. Helitzer has invited lots of VIPs to the performances. He's loathe to name names, but when pressed says he expects reps from Disney and Kennedy in-law Ah-nold Schwarzenegger and an in-person appearance by Robert Goulet and his retinue.

        Mr. Goulet was, of course, Broadway's Lancelot at about the time the Kennedys were enjoying their White House Camelot. Mr. Helitzer says Mr. Goulet might be interested in playing Black Jack, reportedly a gambling womanizer and an alcoholic, whose character is now more of a scamp.

        Mr. Helitzer is hoping backers will ante up $4 million to have Jackie! playing Toronto or Cleveland by summer, then on to the West Coast by fall.

        He'd like to see Jackie tour itself toward Broadway. Pace, which has a piece of a lot of Broadway touring series across North America (including Cincinnati) “has been approached” but isn't nibbling. “It's been a long, tortuous road,” sighs Mr. Helitzer, “and I don't imagine it's going to get any easier.”

        He believes Oh, Jackie! has what it takes, including a score mostly by Bernie Toorish, co-founder, arranger and lead tenor of '50s boy group The Four Lads. “The songs all sound like they come from that era,” Mr. Helitzer says. “People in the audience come up and ask me why they don't write songs like this anymore.”

        Tickets are $20 and $30 (plus handling charges). For reservations call 241-7469.

        COMING HOME FOR CHARITY: Cincinnati and Broadway's Ron Bohmer, whose most recent stint on the Great White Way was in the title role in The Scarlet Pimpernel, makes his annual trek home to make a guest appearance in Back to Broadway revues for his favorite causes.

        First up is 4 p.m. next Sunday for St. Xavier High School's scholarship fund. He'll also sing for Caracole, which provides housing opportunities for people with HIV and AIDS, at 8 p.m. March 11.

        For St. Xavier tickets and information call 761-7600, ext. 113. For tickets to the Caracole night (there's also a pre-show dinner) call 761-1480. Both performances are at the College of Mount St. Joseph.

        MONEY SIDE OF THEATER: Start-up theater companies and project-minded theater artists, help has arrived.

        The League of Cincinnati Theatres will hold a pair of hour-long workshops Monday at Ensemble Theatre, 1127 Vine St. At 5:30 p.m., the subject is marketing, at 6:30 p.m., fund-raising. Leading the sessions will be staffers from Playhouse in the Park, Ensemble and Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival. Stick around for a social hour (with free food).

        Workshops are free to League members (you can join when you register), $15 for non-members. To reserve a space call 281-1659 or e-mail

        LEADERSHIP: What should Cincinnati Arts Association and its Aronoff Center be looking for in the way of its next leadership?

        Board member (and Hamilton County Commissioner) Tom Neyer Jr. notes, “Ed Stern, Victoria Morgan, Nic Muni, Charles Desmarais, and recently Timothy Rub and now Paavo Jarvi — there's been a string of successful artistic hires and some common themes.

        “First and foremost, a passion for the art within the constraints of fiscal responsibility, as opposed to a passion for fiscal responsibility that constrains the art.

        “It's not always easy,” says Mr. Neyer, but he believes CAA must follow the same path.

        FINE ARTS FUND UPDATE: Where do Fine Arts Fund contributions go? A lot of unexpected places, including the Cincinnati Institute of Fine Arts' Arts Services Office.

        The ASO devotes itself to the needs of smaller and mid-sized arts groups, numbering in the hundreds, and teaching them to help themselves. That includes holding a number of workshops every year intended to make artists adept at the art of business.

        In a 1999 survey those groups made the art of sponsorship their top priority and the ASO has scheduled the free workshop the Business of Sponsorship from 5 to 8 p.m. Feb. 28 at Memorial Hall (1225 Elm St.)

        “Developing sponsors takes a lot more energy than most people can imagine,” says ASO director Heather Hallenberg. “Doing it well is an involved process.”

        The workshop will provide a step-by-step guide to building sponsorship relationships. Arts administrators, artists, board members and volunteers are invited to attend.

        Later this spring, 15 organizations will be invited to develop a sponsorship proposal in a follow-up workshop led by Playhouse in the Park's Peter Bilotta. “Will we help make matches? Sure. We can't do it for them, but we can help make logical choices of who to approach.”

        The workshop's first hour will be devoted to registration and a light repast. Reserve a place by calling Heather Hallenberg at 871-2787.

        As of Feb. 17, the Fund has reached $2,910,904. That's 32.8% of this year's $8,886,458 goal. The fund drive ends April 27.

        The fund primarily supports Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati Ballet, Cincinnati Opera, Cincinnati Symphony, Contemporary Arts Center, May Festival, Playhouse in the Park, Taft Museum of Art.

        Last year about $600,000 was divided among nine midsized associate members and dozens of small arts organizations.

        Jackie Demaline is Enquirer theater critic and roving arts reporter. Write her at Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati OH 45202; fax, 768-8330.


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