MONDAY MATINEE: Theatre – Looking Back and Looking Ahead

Welcome to the first post of 2012!  I thought I’d take a look back at some of the highlights of my theatre-going career in 2011 and tell you what I’m looking forward to in 2012.

Matthew Smith

First, the year started with “Jekyll & Hyde” and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” both in Dayton.  “Jekyll” was produced by Wright State University, while “Spelling Bee” was done at the Dayton Playhouse.  I saw both of these shows multiple times and they were truly outstanding shows.  Blaine Boyd‘s performance as “Jekyll” and Matthew Smith‘s characterization of “William Barfee” in “Spelling Bee” both deserved all the accolades they received.

In February ,I tried Miami Univeristy’s “Independence” however I left at intermission.  If you can’t be bothered to nail your lines I can’t be bothered to watch your show or sit through a depressing second act.  I also felt letdown by CCM’s production of “RENT” but part of that might have been the terrible seat I had.

Max Meyers

Fortunately, February was not a total flop.  I’d never seen any Neil Simon done in live theatre, so I was excited to catch “Brighton Beach Memoirs” at the Covedale Center for the Perorming Arts on the Westside of Cincinnati.  Max Meyers, a young exciting actor, stole the show as the lead while the supporting cast held their own.

In April, I went to Mt. Carmel School and watched the a very popular and well attended production of “The Wiz.”  Everyone worked very hard and I admire the amount of work that goes into something like this.   One of the best shows I saw all year was WSU’s “StuCab 2011.”  This 100% student produced, directed, and acted cabaret was funny and inspiring and I cannot wait for the 2012 version.  I also really enjoyed “Shrek: The Musical” at the Aronoff.  The music was catchy and the comedy light and well done.  It was better than I anticipated.

Nancy Corsmeier

April was rounded out with the opening of Kings Island’s summer season.  I’m not a giant fan of country music, but the patriotic finale of “American Country” featuring Nancy Corsemeier (and sometimes the swing, Paige Dobkins) singing “God Bless America” moved me all summer.

In May, I saw the disappointing but ambitious spectacle, “Bernstein’s MASS” at the Schuster Center in Dayton.  It was way over my head and a little too abstract for my tastes but I certainly appreciate the work that went into such a big show.  “42nd Street” at Wright State stole my heart and the dancing and singing of the entire cast was amazing.

Dayton’s Encore Theatre Company produced “Altar Boyz,” in June.  It was fine but seemed to lack the energy needed to take it to another level.  This was not an insult to the performers but to the crowd that didn’t seem to really “get it.”  In August, ETC totally “got it,” though, with their staged reading of “Pump Up the Volume.”  This brand new musical is likely to be a hit on Broadway once all the kinks are worked out and Drew Bowen‘s fine performance of “Hard Harry” stood out.  In July, I was asked to take photographs to be used in a brand new play called “Drawing Room” that debuted at the Dayton Playhouse’s FutureFest.  It was a bazillion degrees in the theater due to an air conditioning problem and the play itself was somewhat over-written, however the acting was good.

Charity Farrell

September came and I was privileged to see “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” at the Showboat Majestic, which featured the mega-talented Charity Farrell as well as standouts Collin Kessler, Danielle Meo, and Matt Hill.  This might have been my favorite show all year and I saw it four times.

I was tremendously let down by the “Playhouse in the Park” production of “God of Carnage.”  It had some funny moments but the end was flat and it felt like the writer just gave up.  Contrast this comedy with the very serious and very sad, “Death of a Salesman” at Wright State, which featured some fantastic performances from both professional union actors and the students there.  I was also very impressed with the student produced “I Love You Because” at WSU, especially the subtleties brought to their roles by James Oblak and Kathleen Ferrini.

It was back to CCM for their Studio Series production of “Make Me a Song: The Music of William Finn.”  The singing was exquisite, however the songs lacked melody and meaning to me.  WSU produced “Hairspray!” and did so with gusto.  This ambitious production featured the superb talents of Drew Helton as “Edna” and Melissa Hall as “Penny,” and they stole the show.

Franklin Johnson and Ray Zupp in “Master Harold and the Boys”

November started with a bang as I was fortunate to see Ray Zupp star in “Master Harold and the Boys.”  Matthew Smith directed this three-man one-act play and it was very emotional and beautifully acted.  That same weekend I caught the chaotic and non-linear “Dead Man’s Cellphone.”  I can’t fault any of the performances but I found the writing to be silly and dumb.

Also in November were two theatre classics.  First was the very popular “Wicked” at the Aronoff Center. I loved it but probably not as much as most of my friends.  I’m not a huge “Wizard of Oz” fan, but I certainly understand why so many people love it.  Mamie Parris, who played “Elphaba” is gifted.  Then it was “Oklahoma” at CCM and finally a show at this famous and well regarded school caused me to feel emotion.  I also marvel at the technical precision there but seldom do I feel emotionally engaged.  “Oklahoma” did just that.

Jon Kovach

With the holiday season comes festive shows and the Covedale’s performance of “White Christmas” was disappointing.  I found the performances to be average or less than and not what I’ve come to expect from this company.  Finally also in December I saw the North American preview of “Nothing,” a play about a boy with autism.  My friend, Jon Kovach, starred as “Ben,” and completely transformed himself into this misunderstood and complex character.  The writing was superb and I have been very blessed to contribute to this production with photography and as an expert in mental health.  I am excited about where this production is headed as it evolves.

All in all it was a very good year.

But now 2012 is upon us and I’ve already got tickets and plans to see some very exciting shows.  First will be “Spring Awakening” produced by ETC in Dayton opening January 21st.  That same weekend, I will see “RENT” at Wright State.  The next weekend, the Aronoff Center presents “Billy Elliot.”  Not too long afterwards, CCM is also producing “Spring Awakening.”  Its my favorite show and so I intend to see it as often as possible.

Jon Hacker

In February, I will trek back to WSU for “Merchant of Venice” and will go to Hamilton’s Fitton Center for the Arts to see Kings Island Entertainment’s big cheese, Kevin Brunck, direct a play called “Good Boys and True.”  Early March features several of my favorite performers, including Jon Hacker and Drew Helton in WSU’s “Berlin to Broadway.”  Also the Aronoff will present both “West Side Story” and “The Addams Family” in early 2012.  I’m also very excited about Kings Island’s “British Invasion” show that will likely open with the park this summer.

So, as you can see there’s lots more to come and lots to tell you about throughout the year.  And we haven’t even covered the movies I want to see this year!  I hope you’ll follow along my journey in and out of the theatre as we discover new shows and new talented performers to support.

What are you going to see this year? Write about it in the comments section!  See you Wednesday for our first Wednesday Words of Wisdom blog!


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