Sunday, March 19, 2000

The myth behind cowboy vampire

'Dark Paradise' coming to Playhouse

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Myth has to start somewhere, so here's the version I like. I'm talking about how Keith (Thunder Knockin' on the Door) Glover was inspired to write the cowboy vampire tale Dark Paradise and how it came to be next season's Rosenthal New Play Prize winner at Playhouse in the Park.

        Not so long ago in Manhattan, Mr. Glover and Playhouse producing artistic director Ed Stern took each other to the movies. Mr. Glover's half of the double feature was John Carpenter's Vampires.

        “Wouldn't it be great to have a play like that,” marvelled Mr. Glover, “but how can we do it?

        “Because what you don't want is just a quickie rip-off of whatever. You want to try new techniques and say something. You want something a little deeper to be there for people who are looking for it.” Fable-loving Mr. Glover adds, “Fairy tales always have life lessons — but you have to work hard to find them.”

        They started talking. And talking. Finally Mr. Stern said, “If you're crazy enough to write it, I'm crazy enough to produce it.”

        I am not saying any of this is true, I'm just telling you the way Mr. Glover told it to me — and we know he's a man who loves a good story.

        Speaking of his good stories, Thunder finally does appear to be heading for New York and off-Broadway's Minetta Lane Theater in May, as soon as current tenant Fuddy Meers exits. The plan will be to take the show to Stamford, Conn., for a warm-up week starting April 25 then “hopefully to New York two weeks later.”

        There are some new songs by multiple Grammy-winning Keb Mo, and this time the musical team does plan to have a CD released in time for opening.

        Mr. Glover has kept himself well occupied as New York went on and off the burner for Thunder.

        He's thrilled to be working with Charles (Annie) Strauss on a musical update of Clifford Odets' Golden Boy. “I'm so blessed to be able to work with men and women who have walked ahead of me,” he says.

        What Odets was writing about in the '30s, says Mr. Glover, “is even more immediate now — the corruption of youth, the reclaiming of a life.” Potential producers are waiting with interest for the official first draft.

        NEW THEATER: Arts in Middletown's Michael Coyan is masterminding a new professional theater for Warren-Butler counties and beyond.

        Actors Repertory Theatre will debut in October at Middletown's Masonic Temple (in the middle of a spiffing up). The season will include Into the Woods, Private Lives, holiday show Christmas with the Boys: 1944, Twelfth Night, Long Day's Journey into Night and The Real Inspector Hound.

        There also will be a second stage series “for die-hard theatergoers,” titles to be announced. He plans to keep the second stage “way open,” the better to “create a creative family.”

        Mr. Coyan recounts a recent Cincinnati theater adventure to prove his point about the need for professional theater beyond I-275.

        “I came down with some friends to see Cincinnati Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew — which we loved. But we hit a traffic snarl on I-75, didn't have time for dinner, and in fact the curtain was held for late-comers. We didn't get out till 11:35 and we hadn't ever had dinner.” He sighs, eloquently.

        “People from Oxford, Springboro, Lebanon, West Chester don't want to come downtown all the time.”

        Mr. Coyan figures Actors Rep could pull from Clinton and Preble as well as Butler and Warren, “and from southern Montgomery and northern Hamilton” counties.

        Actors Rep is a long way from an Equity contract, but that's fine with Mr. Coyan. He's hoping to recruit talented graduates from the “22 colleges and universities” sprinkled throughout the region.

        “They want to work, but there is no place to work. The fact is Ensemble, Cincinnati Shakespeare, Human Race can only hire so many people.” He'd like to keep them in the neighborhood for a while, before they try their wings in bigger towns.

        The plan for the first season is to assemble a rep company of six or seven performers. They'll be paid a stipend. “It's not a salary, but it's a start,” he says. He's looking for directors and designers, too.

        To that end, Actors Rep will hold auditions Saturday and April 1. Information: (937) 219-4673.

        BITE OF DRACULA?: What about that season-ending “surprise” Downtown Theatre Classics is promising for 2000-2001? (See story on Page G1) One possibility could be a musical version of Dracula by University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music grad Richard Oberacker.

        DTC producer Anton Shilov is making a mission of a commitment to CCM talent and to musical theater. That should assure Dracula a spot in the “to be considered” stack of scripts. Word is that Mr. Shilov's creative consultant Worth Gardner is looking it over.

        Mr. Oberacker's newest work, In This Valley, was one of 10 picks for last year's Alliance of Musical Theatre Producers' Festival of New Works. Valley had a staged reading (singing?) at the fest in New York.

        These days Mr. Oberacker is conducting Cirque de Soleil's touring Dralion, currently in San Francisco. He reports that the tour has been extended for another two years with Cincinnati on the list of possible stops.

        One requirement would be a place to put a very large tent. Broadway Series producer Brad Broecker has shown a tendency in the past to favor home base Louisville and Columbus when booking slightly off the treadmill work.

        “We'd have to look at the cost of the show,” ventures Mr. Broecker. “It's expensive to move and expensive to set up. I'd probably defer to their (Cirque management's) knowledge (of where the show would likely attract the most box office).”

        CAA REPORT: Cincinnati Arts Association board member Kathy Wade knows what she wants as CAA and the Aronoff Center again looks for new leadership.

        “As an appointee of the Mayor's Office, it's my charge to have a real performing arts center for Cincinnati,” she says. “Non-stop, non-traditional, that creates access for all. The board needs to review the direction we're going in . ... It's a golden opportunity.”

        ARTS FUND CORNER: Think opera is always grand and just for summer? Ask your kids about OperaCadabra, midway through its four-month tour to hundreds of schools in the Tristate. Local magician Drew DiCostanzo worked with Cincinnati Opera Outreach Ensemble to help singers appear and disappear as they teach children in grades K-6 about opera. Cincinnati Opera's ability to do outreach is helped by the Fine Arts Fund Drive.

        Last year the ensemble performed for more than 57,000 students. Of 160 shows, 93 were free to the host school.

        Opera Outreach is already planning folktale opera Brundibar for next season. Sung in English and performed by children, Brundibar was written in 1938 and scheduled to be performed in a Jewish orphanage in Prague in winter 1942.

        By then, many of the artists involved, including composer Hans Krasa, were interned in a Nazi concentration camp in Terezin, Czechoslovakia. Brundibar was performed there more than 50 times.

        The opera's special guest will be Ela Stein Weissberger, one of about 100 survivors of 15,000 children interned at Terezin. She appeared in every one of the original performances. She'll be here to share her story when the opera is performed at the Aronoff's Jarson-Kaplan Theater in October.

        As of March 15, the Fine Arts Fund has reached $3,747,676. That's 42.4% 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 and Taft Museum of Art.

        Last year about $600,000 was divided among nine midsized associate members and dozens of small arts organizations. Anyone interested in contributing to the Fund can call 871-2787 for more information.

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


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