Sunday, January 26, 2003

Arts Notes


'Moon Over Buffalo' is 'all worth it'

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Do not try to interrupt a conversation among this trio.

The subject: Moon Over Buffalo, Ken (Lend Me a Tenor) Ludwig's latest theatrically themed comedy. It opens Thursday for a two-week run at Rising Phoenix in Middletown.

The tea-drinking trio at Starbucks: director Elizabeth Harris, actor (and co-fight choreographer) Gina Cerimele-Mechley and Rising Phoenix executive director Christine Brunner.

"I called Elizabeth and asked her to direct because it seemed like a good fit," offered Ms. Brunner.

"It's farcy fun and I'm a farcy fun kind of girl," Ms. Harris assured.

"Tell her how we got cast," Ms. Mechley suggests.

"We had auditions and call-backs, auditions and call-backs ... ," Ms. Harris started.

"We called. Adam (McLean) and I are a lot younger than the script calls for," says Ms. Mechley, but the physical demands of the show invite casting young.

"There's a swordfight, and we should be diving over furniture," something fight pro Ms. Mechley would be happy to do if she weren't pregnant. (She's due in August.) "I do climb up on the couch a few times. Don't tell my doctor."

Ms. Mechley is playing a role originated by her idol Carol Burnett. (This makes her a teary-eyed, which might be a pregnancy thing.)

So what's Moon Over Buffalo about?

"You start," Ms. Harris tells Ms. Brunner.

"It's all about a family-oriented theater troupe in Buffalo, definitely past their prime," Ms. Brunner dutifully reports. "Due to drinking and confused people, the repertory schedule has changed and not everybody knows it."

So Cyrano and Private Lives somehow end up being performed simultaneously even as all manner of hanky-panky plays out among the company. "It's that constant mistaken identity thing," Ms. Mechley illuminates.

Playwright Ludwig also manages to drive home a few truisms about a life in the theater.

"About not making a living as an actor," Ms. Mechley explains.

"Not selling tickets," adds Ms. Brunner.

"Not being paid for weeks," Ms. Mechley continues, then grins. "It's so nice. It touches on all these serious subjects and all you can do is laugh."

In case you were wondering, "It's all worth it," Ms. Harris smiles, whether it's Buffalo or Middletown.

Moon Over Buffalo plays weekends Thursday-Feb. 9 at the Temple Art Center (4 N. Main St.) in Middletown. Call (513) 705-4131.

Quick sub: Speaking of backstage drama, Playhouse in the Park lost a leading lady and several performances of Proof when Jessica Lancaster had to drop out of the show after opening night Jan. 16 due to illness.

Director Michael Haney got the call in New York, where he was casting The Syringa Tree. He huddled with the casting agent and found two actresses who had done Proof.

Michelle Six was hired and flew into Cincinnati the next afternoon. She rehearsed with the cast Saturday night, spent Sunday afternoon rehearsing with Mr. Haney and went on Sunday night.

She flew back to New York on Monday to pack enough clothes for the remainder of the regular run (through Feb. 14). Tuesday was devoted to costume fittings, a new photo call and more blocking overseen by stage manager Jennifer Morrow before Tuesday's show.

Then Mr. Haney returned with more notes Wednesday.

"I've given her a lot of notes about where I want her to go with it," Mr. Haney explained. "She and Jessica have different personalities."

Happily, he adds, "Michelle retains information and blocking like nobody I've ever seen."

Rescheduled performances for Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize -winner Proof are Feb. 16, 21 and 22. For reservations and information, call the box office at 421-3888.

More backstage drama: Plenty of headlines last week about the stalled renovation of the Empire Theater in Over-the-Rhine and the whereabouts of its developer.

The first performance was to have been in April, with an independent production blueS alleY caT, a "popera" about Over-the-Rhine life. (The story of the Empire looks like it has the makings of a good second installment.)

Never fear, says co-author Joe Gorman. The show has been pushed back to summer (a blessing for fund-raising efforts) at another site, details to be announced. Lyle Benjamin, artistic director of Queen City Off-Broadway, has signed on as director.

Upcoming dates: Happy Chinese New Year, arts and culture lovers! On Feb. 1 we enter the Year of the Sheep, which is the patron of the arts. So schedule a Chinese dinner and cross your fingers that all good things will come to the arts this year.

Also coming up: Valentine's Day. If you haven't made plans, consider joining my Dinner & a Show series. We'll see the musical comedy Illuzio at Stage First in the Fifth Third Bank Theatre.

Enjoy a group price by signing on for show only or dine with us close to the Aronoff Center.

E-mail me for details. And tell your friends.

CCM can brag: Manhattan's Best of Cabaret 2002 Awards have been announced ,and CCM's musical theater department has a few things to sing about:

Piqua native Matt Bogart (class of '94) was named as best male vocalist for his stint at Joe's Pub. Brandon Cutrell (class of '99) scored best male debut for his engagement at Don't Tell Mama's, and Scott Coulter (class of '93) snagged two awards. He tied for best CD and best cabaret party for his CD release, where he lost his voice but friends stepped up to help.

Mr. Bogart's busy schedule continues. He starts the year performing Starbuck in 110 in the Shade at Washington, D.C.'s Signature Theatre, then goes on to Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey to play Lancelot in Camelot.

More life to cabaret: Speaking of cabarets, you can check out Plush, the cozy space upstairs at Carol's on Main (825 Main St., downtown), on Feb. 9 as local musical theater's best talent comes together to raise some cash for the many downtown theaters.

Terrific Ty Yadzinski is the latest to join the cast of the Enquirer's Footlights Cabaret and Show Tune Sing-along. A favorite at La Comedia, and a regular actor/director for Showboat Majestic, he made a big impact as the first star of the musical It's a Wonderful Life for defunct Downtown Theatre Classics.

Also among the Footlights cabaret cast are Pam Myers, Katie Laur, Blythe Walker, Scot Woolley, David Kisor, Spring Starr Pillow, Deb Girdler, students from CCM musical theater, Northern Kentucky University's musical touring ensemble with Broadway vet Mark Hardy, Joe Stollenwerk, Jim Stump, performers from Cincinnati Music Theatre's Mame, and even some talent from Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival. (And more!)

Tickets are $25, with proceeds benefiting theater projects. Make reservations at the Ensemble Theatre box office, 421-3555. Be sure to specify the 5:45 p.m. or 8:15 p.m. show. For more information (but I won't tell you who's booked for which show), call me at 768-8530.

Saturday class: Ovation's second annual "Saturday Symposium" for actors is scheduled for Feb. 8 in the Aronoff Center rehearsal room, downstairs from the Fifth Third Bank Theatre.

Following 8 a.m. registration and continental breakfast there will be sessions including stage combat, media relations, lighting, stage fright, auditioning for musicals and movement and puppetry.

Sessions are $5 each or $25 for all day (pre-registration, $30 at the door). There is a free lunch. For more information, visit www.cincinnatiovation.com. To pre-register, contact Blake Bowden at 253-7920 or e-mail BSBowden@aol.com.

New musical: When Cincinnati hosts the Stowe Festival in February (celebrating the life and work of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin), one of the showcase events will be an evening of selections from Harriet, a new musical by local team Janet Vogt and Mark Friedman.

You may recall their Green Gables, which had a workshop production at Ensemble a couple of years ago and which is scheduled for a staged "singing" by Human Race In Dayton in May. Harriet is an original one-act musical drama that spans her life, which, they promise, is pretty interesting.

"Her father was a fiery preacher, she was passionately in love with her husband - there was a lot of fire in her," says Mr. Friedman. "She lost a child when she was living in Cincinnati."

"She took her own life experience and had a great ability to empathize," adds Ms. Vogt.

Harriet never may be more than a one-act because they have a lot going on, including a new revue War Games: Marriage on the Front Lines.

"It goes where I Love You, You're Perfect dared not go," cracks Mr. Friedman. (Songs include "I Want to Have Sex with Someone I Like.") The demo tape, featuring CCM students, including Ashley Brown and Leo Nouhan, has been recorded.

And they're huddling with director and fight director Drew Fracher over a possible musical adaptation of Scaramouche.

They're not completely ruling out an expansion of Harriet. Mr. Friedman says audience response could make the difference.

"We're happiest when we're juggling a lot of projects," Ms. Vogt adds.

Selections from Harriet will be performed at 7 p.m. Feb. 12 at the Mercantile Library (414 Walnut St., downtown). For reservations and information about the Stowe Festival, call 621-0717.

E-mail jdemaline@enquirer.com




ARTS PLAYERS, A YEAR LATER
Pop music: Bright blowing through third CD
Classical music: Bespalko keys on Bach and a baby
Theater: Phillips grabs two new roles
Visual art: Versoza has a one-man show
Theater: CCM's Gaylor on Broadway
Visual art: Show time for Buddendeck
Film: Morehart lands his 'dream job'
Classical music: Thompson is going for Baroque
Pop music: Venneman adds his voice to fine guitar

NEWS
National bands to play at Cammys
Get to It: A guide to help make your day

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
Arts Notes: 'Moon Over Buffalo' is 'all worth it'
Film Notes: Two chances to see BBC biography about Kissinger
TV Notes: Jimmy Who? You laugh now ...

REVIEWS
Beethoven opera 'Fidelio' comes to life under Jarvi
'Triumph' falls short of a total success
'Beowulf' previews future for Festival

PEOPLE
DAUGHERTY: We know what game 'football' players play
Playful dachshund best of her collection
Family leaves nest, stays part of the network
Meet-and-eat sessions nibble at differences

TASTE
Best chili-cheese dip? It's Skyline
Serve it this week: Escarole
Celebrate Chinese New Year with food