Sunday, February 18, 2001

Director checks into 'Grand Hotel'

        Paul Daigneault, who comes to the University of Cincinnati this month to direct Grand Hotel, got his first look at the show in its pre-Broadway run in Boston 12 years ago.

        A student at Boston College, “I wanted to pursue a career as a director, but I didn't know how to do that.”

        When the musical, based on the 1930s movie classic about MGM stars, came to Beantown for a tryout run in 1989, Mr. Daigneault snagged a job as a production assistant. “I would get (director) Tommy Tune his fruit salad.”

        He had so much fun that Mr. Daigneault ran away to New York with Grand Hotel to join “the theater circus.” He advanced from fruit salad to being the guy who spent every day typing the changes enforced on the show by the emergency book doctors who had been brought in to make it Broadway-worthy.

        “For me it was wonderful,” Mr. Daigneault says. “It taught me a lot about structure in the theater.”

        He returned to Boston to start his own company, the SpeakEasy Stage Company, which has specialized in Boston and world premieres since 1992. He also returned to Boston College as a guest director and worked with Roger Grodsky (University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music's musical director) on a campus production of Grand Hotel in the early '90s.

        Now Mr. Daigneault is one of the Boston Herald's 10 favorite directors and clearly something of a Grand Hotel expert. The show runs Feb. 22-March 4 in the Patricia Corbett Theater.

        Mr. Daigneault is delighted to be in Cincinnati working with “a giant cast” of students. “I love working with students. They're so fresh and eager, they're like sponges. They're not jaded. Helping them keep that freshness feeds my soul.”

        How good are the CCM kids? The new edition of The New York Agent Book lists CCM and the Boston Conservatory of Music as the two best musical theater training programs in the country.

        Tickets $22. CCM box office: 556-4183.

        RCA retreat: The embattled infant Regional Cultural Alliance, which hasn't been heard from since December, finally seems ready to discuss strategy. Or survival.

        This week the executive committee will huddle with P&G senior exec Gary Huysee to see if they can reach some consensus about who they are and what they want to be. The alliance board will have a retreat March 2.

        If you know any of the board members, encourage them to hang in. Nobody said arts advocacy was easy, but it's long past time for some group to lead the way.

        For anyone who thinks the Institute of Fine Arts, now embarked on the Fine Arts Fund, is taking care of it, know that its grass roots advocacy extends as far as annual one-day bus trip to Columbus to chat briefly with state legislatures before attending the Governor's Awards for the Arts.

        “Lobbying isn't a priority,” Institute spokesperson Beth Charlton says. ""Our primary role is fund-raising private dollars. It's tough.”

        A lot of things — including the Museum Center, advocating on behalf of a rehabbed, multi-use Emery Theater, even making a case for cultural funding from local governments — are out in the cold.

        If you believe in a vibrant arts scene for Cincinnati, don't underestimate the need for a Regional Cultural Alliance — or something very like it.

        View from Russia: About a dozen arts administrators from Samara, Russia, are wrapping up an almost three-week visit to Cincinnati this week.

        They — and the International Visitors Council — are testing a pilot program. This is the first Community Connections training program to address historic and cultural preservation.

        The visitors are impressed by what they've found here and baffled, too. Sergei Agapov, speaking through an interpreter, said it all during a question-and-answer session last week. “Why,” he wondered, “don't the (government officials) see the potential of the city's cultural assets?”

        Good question.

        Looking for voices: When Katie Christie was a senior at Miami's New World School of the Arts in 1989, she had the opportunity to go to Latvia on an international exchange.

        The visit changed her life. Until then, she'd only thought about the “gratification I got from performing.” In Latvia she learned “arts could impact a community in a positive way.”

        When she returned to Miami, she founded Voices United, to use the arts “to empower young people to find solutions for community problems.”

        For 10 years, Ms. Christie assembled 150 students, ages 4 to 18 from 60 Dade County elementary, middle and high schools that culminated in an original musical.

        Ms. Christie moved to Cincinnati. Last spring, she read a story in the Enquirer about the new three-year pilot Arts for All. She took the idea for Voices United to the neighborhood cultural arts program. They loved it.

        Auditions for the debut season of Voices United will be Feb. 24 at the Corryville Recreation Center (2823 Eden Ave.): singers, 11 a.m.; actors, 12:30 p.m.; and dancers, 2 p.m. Singers and dancers should bring taped accompaniment.

        Ms. Christie is starting small and expects to cast 50-60 students, ages 13-18ish.

        Participants, she says, will be “working toward an original musical production that they're going to write, about issues that are important to them here in Cincinnati.”

        She promises kids will “learn about themselves, each other and their city.” Performances will be this summer in a variety of locations.

        “We're looking for kids interested in being involved in something great.” Don't call for information, she says. “Just come.”

        Reading one-acts: Theatre of the Mind play reading series returns to Ensemble Theatre at 7 p.m. Monday with some of Cincinnati's best young talent. Jessica Morgan, Sara Mann, Matthew Pyle and Lisa Penning were last together in IF's Blue Window. Also featured is Know Tribe artistic director Jay Kalagayan. Cincinnati Shakespeare's Rebecca Bowman directs.

        The series has an international theme this year, with two Japanese one-acts, Yoroboshi: The Blind Young Man and Sotoba Komachi. Both are modern-day dramas inspired by traditional Noh theater (and performed in English).

        Tickets $5. 421-3555.

        Shakespeare sings: If music be the food of love — play on! Local composer and conductor Steve Reineke is providing the music fortwo full songs and some incidental melodies for Twelfth Night, continuing through next Sunday at Actor's Repertory in Middletown.

        He was recruited by the show's director Jason Heil, now a California-based actor. Back in the late '80s, they were in high school together in Tipp City, Ohio (north of Dayton).

        Writing music couldn't be easier, Mr. Reineke says, when Shakespeare is your lyricist. “The words sing,” he says, laughing.

        For reservations and information call the box office at (513) 727-9361.

        Actor's Rep will be holding auditions for Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound on Tuesday.. Actors must be available for rehearsals and performances from April 9 to May 13. Call the theater for an appointment and directions.

        Famous playwright: The next couple of weeks are high season for community theater. Among the entries:

        Greater Hamilton Civic Theatre will offer the regional premiere of Never the Sinner: The Leopold and Loeb Story Thursday through Sunday. Leopold and Loeb were, of course, the advantaged young thrill killers Clarence Darrow tried to keep out of the electric chair in one of the earliest Trials of the Century.

        The Big Deal is that the playwright is John Logan, much better known as the screenwriter of multiple Oscar-nominee Gladiator, Any Given Sunday, X-Men and the upcoming remake of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine for Steven Spielberg.

        Director Brian Smith says he didn't have a clue when he read Never the Sinner last year and submitted it for possible production. He just thought it was a terrific script.

        Tickets $8. Performances are at Miami University-Hamilton Campus in Parrish Auditorium. For reservations and information call 737-7529.

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