Sunday, March 04, 2001

Student actors explore 'Laramie'

        The acclaimed The Laramie Project will get its Cincinnati premiere May 23-June 3 by Playhouse in the Park's Ohio University M.F.A. acting company.

        The drama is based on a headline-making incident from 1998, when 21-year-old University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was kidnapped, robbed, beaten and left tied to a fence along a deserted field. He died five days later.

        Hate was the motive for the murder. Mr. Shepard was gay. The site was the rural town of Laramie.

        Moises Kaufman, whose Gross Indecency was a recent hit for Playhouse, led 11 members of his Tectonic Theater Project to Laramie for 200 interviews over the course of six visits.

        The result was a script about how ordinary people are affected by extraordinary events. The New York Times called the off-Broadway production “a deeply moving work of theatrical journalism.”

        Ensemble Theatre artistic director D. Lynn Meyers will direct. Tickets, $15, go on sale April 2. For information, call 421-3888.

        Advice from the top: Lucky Stiff, the first pairing of Ragtime's Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, gets a rare production in the College-Conservatory of Music's studio theater Thursdaythrough Saturday.

        The show's company had a treat last Sunday — they sat down with CCM grad Mr. Flaherty, who had a busy day that included addressing Overture Awards finalists. In between he managed to catch the opening segment of Grand Hotel (closing today at CCM.)

        Earlier in the day over brunch, Mr. Flaherty chewed briefly on the Tony Awards musical categories. He and his partner are a shoo-in for a nomination for Suessical, but for the first time in a long time, the competition is stiff, including The Full Monty, Jane Eyre and the hugely buzzed The Producers (opening under the wire in April). All feature scores by Broadway first-timers.

        At CCM in the afternoon, he told his star-struck young audience how Lucky Stiff came to be. He and Ms. Ahrens were strangers sitting next to each other at a workshop for composers and lyricists. They chose the film Bedazzled as source material but couldn't get the rights.

        She found a dusty copy of The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo at a used book shop. They decided to write an anti-Les Miz, the stage blockbuster at the time, and wrote a score in which every number was funny.

        Lucky Stiff performances are free. Seating is first come, first served.

        Mr. Flaherty and Ms. Ahrens are hard at work on a new chamber-sized project, working with playwright Terrence McNally and director Joe Mantello. More he would not say, except that readings and a workshop are planned.

        Mr. Flaherty ended his day in Cincinnati by bringing CCM student Missy Matherne along to the Overtures program to help him add a big finish to his remarks. They sang “Times Like This” from Lucky Stiff to an audience of finalists and friends and patrons.

        This year's six Overture Award winners are: Creative Writing: Megan Thomas, Ross High School; Dance: Sarah McGing, Kings High School; Instrumental Music, Rob Patterson, Summit Country Day School;

        Theater: Michael Toogood, St. Xavier High School; Visual Art: Robbie Anderson, Covington Catholic High School; Vocal Music: Emily Krieger, Turpin High School.

        Each winner received a $5,000 scholarship.

        Carnegie plans: Sometimes talk is more important than action.

        With long-delayed building renovations now expected to begin in June at Covington's Carnegie Visual & Performing Arts Center (1028 Scott Blvd.), attention is starting to turn toward the center's poorly maintained jewel of an auditorium.

        Of course the theater should be brought up to snuff, the center's theater committee decided.

        What that means is the topic on the table.

        Who will use it, what will be on the stage, how often can it be used? If the dream is to be the home for the region's emerging companies, what can those groups afford to pay in rent?

        While plans for an elevator, refurbished theater lobby and restrooms are concrete, still to be addressed are specific theater needs like expanded stage size and lighting.

        A good conversation is under way, theater program director Dennis Murphy says, and will continue for some time.

        In the meantime, the allegorical AIDS comedy/drama Marvin's Room, playing March 9-18, may be The Carnegie Theater's final production before going dark for as long as a year. The plans for a concert version of a classic but rarely performed musical (a la Encores! at City Center in New York) have now been postponed to spring 2002.

        For Marvin's Room reservations, call (859) 491-2030.

        Musical "Merchant': “We're very lucky to have actors who can do this,” Cincinnati Shakespeare artistic director Jasson Minadakis notes.

        “This” is provide the musical underpinnings to Cincinnati Shakespeare's riveting The Merchant of Venice.

        One of the humanizing elements to moneylender Shylock (Jeremy Dubin) is his inclination to pensively play Jewish folk songs on a guitar. Anne E. Schilling makes the idyllic estate where Portia greets her suitors even more idyllic by providing harp accompaniment.

        Mr. Dubin does not profess to be a musician, but he can find his way around a guitar to sing songs he learned at summer camp as a youngster.

        He's delighted to be having an opportunity to add dimension to his character, which, as written, is that of a miserly, money-grubbing villain.

        “There's so much music in the text, so many songs in the text, so much talk about music — Shylock is even accused of being "a man with no music in his soul.'

        “That isn't true. Music is an important part of the Jewish culture because of our nomadic history. It's how we've always carried our history, our culture, our stories,” Mr. Dubin remarks.

        Ms. Schilling brought her harp with her to Cincinnati when she joined the festival company at the beginning of this season.

        “I started playing in college. I decided if I was going to be an actor, I should learn an instrument. It was either going to be the guitar or the harp, and I decided to go for diversity,” she says, laughing.

        Merchant continues through March 18 at the festival, 719 Race St. Box office: 381-2273.

        "Night' back on: Music in the Night was originally supposed to be in front of Cincinnati audiences a year ago, when it was announced and quickly un-announced before Downtown Theatre Classics folded last fall.

        The Broadway revue sounded like a winner, mostly for its cast, which included Phantom veteran Joseph Pokorski (who put the revue together), Les Miz veteran Ron Baker and CCM's so-talented Angela Gaylor, who's looking very good in Grand Hotel.

        Music in the Night finally will see the light of a stage for three performances Friday through next Sunday at Northern Kentucky University's Greaves Concert Hall.

        For reservations, (859) 572-5464.

        Set designer: Bob Fritzsch may have art in his genes. His great-grandfather was a portrait sculptor (including Cincinnati's statue of William Henry Harrison).

        His grandfather was a violin maker, and his father was an artist. Mr. Fritzsch spent a lot of years as a technical illustrator for General Electric before he retired.

        He's spent almost as many years designing sets for area high schools and community theaters, especially Landen-Deerfield, ever since he was recruited by a friend who also happened to be a high school drama teacher.

        He thinks talent at art might be inherited — “I carve and I sculpt” although “I can't play the violin and I can't make one either,” he says, roaring with laughter.

        Mr. Fritzsch's latest is the rambling backyard set for the period domestic comedy Morning's at Seven for Lebanon Theatre Company. “It's a big set,” he muses, “two two-story houses.”

        The show continues at 2 p.m. today and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Call 494-1932 for reservations and information.

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