Sunday, April 21, 2002

Ovation sticks with formula


'Towers' leads off 2002-03 season

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        For 2002-03, Ovation Theatre will stick to a formula that's spelled success since the company's debut four years ago: choosing challenging but accessible theater.

        It's a path that's kept the company growing by 50 percent every season.

        The opening production will be The Two Towers (Oct. 25-Nov. 2), continuing the epic stage J.R.R. Tolkien adventure Ovation began last fall with Fellowship of the Rings. Both adaptations are by company member Blake Bowden.

        Again Ovation will temporarily leave its home base in the Aronoff's Fifth Third Bank Theater for the larger Jarson-Kaplan Theater. Two Towers will debut more than a month before the movie version hitscreens for the holidays.

        The remainder of the season will also be new to most Cincinnati audiences.

        • Musical Triumph of Love (Jan. 24-Feb. 1) will gets its first full production in Cincinnati. (It was a workshop at College-Conservatory of Music a few years back.) Triumph is based on an 18th-century comedy about a princess who disguises herself as a man (of course) and falls in love with a prince. Dennis Murphy will direct.

        • Award-winning playwright Wendy Kesselman provides a new adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank (April 4-19), which includes portions of the diary that were held back from publication in 1947. “There were problems between Anne and her mother,” Ovation artistic director Joe Stollenwerk says, “and she wrote about her attraction to other girls.” Patrick Downey will direct.

        • Avow by Bill C. Davis (Mass Appeal) closes the season Aug. 1-9. Mr. Stollenwerk will direct the regional premiere of a family comedy about what happens when a young gay couple askstheir parish's liberal priest to marry them.

        Last season, Fellowship of the Rings was a box-office success for Ovation. Puppet artists Carus Waggoner and Aretta Baumgartner, who did some jaw-dropping work for Fellowship, return to the project.

        Gina Cerimele-Mechley will direct, and Grammy nominee Steve Goers is scoring the show.

        Both Two Towers and Anne Frank will be offered to school audiences as part of Cincinnati Arts Association's educational programming calendar.

        Next up for Ovation is a program of one-act comedies From Page to Stage & Script to Screen featuring funny stuff by Christopher Durang, David Ives and Aaron Sorkin, creator of The West Wing.

        Lots of well-known local stage names are featured including Gary Anaple, Dan Cooley, Taren Frazier, Judy Malone and Brian Robertson. Page runs May 10-18 in the Aronoff's Fifth Third Bank Theater.

        Note the Mother's Day special for the May 12 matinee. Buy a ticket, and mom gets in free.

        For information call the Aronoff box office at 241-7469. Season subscriptions are now on sale.

        Old home week: When the national tour of The Producers arrives in Cincinnati in October, it might look like old home week.

        Villa Hills native Angie Schworer is already announced as blond bombshell Ulla.

        Chat is that University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music alum Jim Walton is being tapped as one-half of the starring team, and that Lee Roy Reams (of Covington and UC) may be onstage in the show-stopping role of flaming director Roger de Bris.

        Cowboy favorite: Congratulations to CCM musical theater grad Justin Bohon (2000) who scored a nomination as best featured actor in a musical earlier this week from the Outer Critics Circle, the first of a slew of New York theater award nominations in the next few weeks.

        Mr. Bohon is lassoing fans on Broadway nightly as Will Parker in the Oklahoma! revival.

        Winners will be announced April 29. Tony Award nominations will be announced May 7.

        Rising Phoenix lineup: Christine Brunner figures if it's not broken, why fix it. So the executive director of Middletown's Rising Phoenix Theatre Company will follow the formula that brought 4,000 people into the theater in its freshman season: musical/American classic/holiday musical/dramatic comedy/musical/comedy.

        The 2002-03 season lineup: Little Shop of Horrors, Sept. 12-22; Of Mice and Men, Oct. 24-Nov. 3; Taking Christmas to the Troops, Dec. 6-21; Moon Over Buffalo, Jan. 30-Feb. 9; Songs for a New World, March 20-30; Steel Magnolias, May 8-18.

        A big part of the decision-making, Mrs. Brunner says, was “I wanted roles for more ethnicities.”

        As for the musicals, Little Shop, she says “is edgy for Middletown,” the annual locally written Troops show will probably move to the South Pacific in 2002, and New World is the outgrowth of this year's Hood. “I found out we can sell a musical nobody's ever heard of.”

        More immediately Mrs. Brunner is concerned with selling a show everybody's heard of.

        The current season closes with Neil Simon's The Odd Couple, playing May 2-12. For reservations, call (513) 705-4131.

        Festival update: Don Sherman, producer of the Midwest Regional Black Theatre Festival earlier this month, says he's “still crunching numbers” but is overall pleased with the outcome.

        Attendance was low the opening weekend, but “things picked up toward the end,” he said, so that attendance averaged in the 50 percent range.

        Despite its hopeful title, the festival was more local than regional, with most productions based at the Arts Consortium by local performers.

        “People not being sure about the boycott zone, and (the festival) being new and the pricing” all worked against the event to some extent, Mr. Sherman says.

        His enthusiasm isn't dampened. The biennial effort will return in 2004. “Most definitely.”

        Best of Lucy: Improv/sketch comedy troupe Friends of Lucy have been around long enough (almost three years) to have a “Best of...” show. They'll be presenting it April 26-May 4 in their first permanent home, the Monmouth Theater in Newport. Call 588-0513.

        Mind matters: Say goodbye and hello to Theatre of the Mind.

        When the third season of the staged reading series wraps in May with In the Blood, the first Cincinnati showing of work by new Pulitzer Prize winner Suzan-Lori Parks, it will mark an end and a beginning.

        The series' founders are stepping away and handing the series off to Ensemble, which will give it a new direction.

        “Everything evolves,” Theatre of the Mind co-founder Norma Jenckes says. “We had fun with it, and we experienced some wonderful evenings that showed the power of the word and of storytelling to transform and enthrall us.”

        Theatre of the Mind has devoted seasons to work that wasn't being done in Cincinnati: plays by contemporary American women, by great international 20th-century playwrights, and, this season, plays that look at America from a variety of viewpoints.

        Next season the series will be taken over by Ensemble Theatre, which has hosted it for the last two years. ETC producing artistic director D. Lynn Meyers will use the series as workshops for new work.

        The plan is to bring in playwrights and directors for 10 days of rehearsal, culminating in a public reading. The first entry will be James and Annie by Warren Leight on Sept. 23. The drama will debut in a mainstage slot in spring.

        Audience feedback, Ms. Meyers says, will be a part of the play's development process. The remainder of the five-reading calendar will be announced.

        “I believe one of the best testimonies to a great idea is that it has an independent life beyond the efforts and energies of the people who originally started it,” Ms. Jenckes says.

        “I'm grateful to all the actors and directors who made the first three years of Theatre of the Mind happen.”

        Catching up with "Curfew': Curfew's subtitle says it all: The Nights the Lights Went Out in Cincinnati. Jeff Shelby, who won last year's Dreambuilders Celebration best screenplay award with Shawn Scott for Our Father Our Friend, turns a playwright's eye to last year's civil unrest.

        His family comedy-drama set during the curfew premieres this weekend with three performances by his Alpha to Omega Productions at Agape Church Theater (4814 Whetsel Ave. Madisonville).

        Mr. Shelby didn't have to look hard for inspiration for Curfew. “I live right in the heart of Over-the-Rhine, and I was watching everything from my window,” he says. “It was very scary.”

        His creative process kicked in. “When I feel really strongly about something, I felt a little stirring up in me,” he says. By last May the play was taking shape in his mind. He started writing in June.

        Tickets: 241-4376.

        E-mail jdemaline@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/demaline

       



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