Tuesday, March 13, 2001

New season offers two treats

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        To mark 10 years as producing artistic director, Ed Stern is giving himself two gifts in the 2001-2002 Playhouse in the Park season.

  King Lear, Sept. 4-Oct. 5
  Gypsy, Oct. 16-Nov. 16
  A Christmas Carol, Nov. 30-Dec. 30
  Blues for an Alabama Sky, Jan. 15-Feb. 15
  Ten Little Indians, March 5-April 5
  King o' the Moon, April 21-May 24
  God's Man in Texas, Sept. 22-Oct. 21
  Beehive, Nov. 3-Jan. 6
  Rosenthal New Play Prize, Feb. 9-March 10
  Barbara's Blue Kitchen, March 23-April 28
  Dirty Blonde, May 11-June 16
  Five-show packages $132.50-$215, 10-play subscriptions $226-$340. Student and other discounts and baby-sitters rebate available. Single tickets go on sale Aug. 24. A Christmas Carol tickets go on sale Sept. 21. Box office: (513) 421-3888, (800) 582-3208. TDD access: (513) 345-2248.
        The first is season opener King Lear, the theater's first production of Shakespeare's tragedy. Playhouse favorite Joneal Joplin will play the title role; Mr. Stern will direct. “I'll be doing a play that's terrified me for 25 years,” he says, sounding perfectly delighted.

        The second is a return for high-octane girl-group revue Beehive for a nine-week (Nov. 3-Jan. 6) holiday run in the Shelterhouse — just because it's the show he had the most fun watching over the last nine seasons.

        Next season will be the biggest ever for Playhouse in the Park's Marx stage with great American musical Gypsy following on the heels of King Lear. Pam Myers, last seen at Playhouse in another Stephen Sondheim masterpiece, Sweeney Todd, will take center stage as stage mother-from-hell Mama Rose.

        Broadway veteran Ms. Myers is playing two of Broadway's most legendary characters back-to-back this season. She goes straight from Hello, Dolly! in University of Cincinnati's Hot Summer Nights series to Gypsy.

        “Variety” is Mr. Stern's watchword in 2001-2002, in a season that isn't a slave to New York hits.

        Blues for an Alabama Sky by African-American playwright Pearl Cleage is set in 1930, as the Harlem Renaissance wanes into the Great Depression. It has been a hit in regional theater since it debuted in the mid-90s. It had a production by the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music last season.

        Ten Little Indians is, of course, one of Dame Agatha Christie's irresistible whodunits. Strangers are invited for an island holiday by an anonymous host. The boat disappears, the storm comes up, the lights flicker on-and-off and one by one the guests are done in according to the verses of a child's nursery rhyme.

        Over the Tavern, the tale of young Rudy Pazinski, the terrifying Sister Clarissa and life in Buffalo in the late 1950s was a mega hit for Playhouse two seasons ago. The season will close with the show's sequel King o' the Moon, which catches up with the Pazinskis in 1969.

        It's July, Apollo 11 is about to land on the moon, Rudy is AWOL from the seminary to protest the war, big brother Eddie is about to ship out for Vietnam, and sister Annie is thinking about divorce even as their widowed mom is thinking about romance.

        Scheduled as the last production in the Marx season, it looks like there's room for extending the run.

Shelterhouse season

        The Shelterhouse season opens Sept. 22 with God's Man in Texas, a comedy about the business of religion which has gotten lots of play in regional theaters since its Humana Festival debut last year.

        Following Beehive, two new shows are scheduled back-to-back. The Rosenthal New Play Prize winner, to be named, will open Feb. 9.

        Barbara's Blue Kitchen, a one-woman musical written and performed by Lori Fisher, visits Watertown, Tenn.'s favorite diner and its regulars, including the Casanova hairstylist, elderly Miss Tessie, dreaming Miss Morris and of course Barbara, who knows her way around a corn pudding and mashed potato gravy.

        Ms. Fisher has been in discussion with Mr. Stern over the development of Kitchen for three years, almost since she performed here in Chaps. The plan is to warm up Kitchen at Playhouse and move it to New York.

        The New York name on the 2001-2002 schedule is Dirty Blonde. Claudia Shear's hit about Jo and Charlie who meet at the grave site of their idol Mae West. Their budding (if offbeat) relationship is interspersed with song and dance numbers from Ms. West's films.

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