The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park (PIP) opens its 40th Anniversary Season this evening with a production of a play that is ten times as old -- William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. Public previews for Much Ado began Sept. 7 and the show is scheduled to run through Oct. 8 in the Robert S. Marx Theatre.
PIP's producing artistic director, Ed Stern, set this production of Much Ado circa 1918, in Midwest America, just as the United States was embracing new hope after World War I. Some of the design elements in the show include period early century costumes by Elizabeth Hope Clancy, lighting by Peter E. Sargent and set designs by Joseph P. Tilford .
Written in 1599, on the eve of a new century and between the writing of his history plays, Henry V and Julius Caesar, Much Ado is Shakespeare at his best.
"It is a perfect play and a perfect way to open this landmark season," said PIP's Ed Stern. "The end of the war marked the true beginning of the American century. In the wake of the war's massive chaos and suffering, we were on the verge of a remarkable new age. Shakespeare's comedy thrives in the fresh light that follows darker times."
The cast returns several Playhouse favorites to Cincinnati: Joneal Joplin (Scrooge in A Christmas Carol) as Leonato; Christopher McHale (the befuddled father, Chet, in Over the Tavern) as Don Pedro; and Robert Elliott (Capt. Queeg in The Caine Mutiny Court Martial) as Dogberry. Also featured are Christa Scott-Reed as Beatrice, Don Burroughs as Benedick, Allison Krizner as Hero, Steven Michael Harper as Claudio, John Rensenhouse as Don John, Mark Mineart as Borachio, John Camera as Antonio, Brian Daniel Sharpe as Balthasar, Stephen Skiles as Conrade, Trish McCall as Margaret, Suzanne Grodner as Ursula, John Thomas Waite as Friar Francis, Christopher MacEwan as the Messenger, Manon Halliburton and Shelly Sproles as townswomen, Erik Melver as the Townsman, Patrick Toon as the Musician, and seven-year-old Chase Griffith as the Boy. PIP's Much Ado is a co-production with the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, which will present it later in October.
As reported earlier on Playbill On-Line, Cincinnati's Playhouse in the Park scored a coup for its 40th Anniversary season by snagging one of the first post New York mountings of Wit, Margaret Edson's Off-Broadway smash about a professor brought low by cancer. Also on the roster for PIP this season will be Martin McDonagh's The Beauty Queen of Leenane and the world premiere of a sequel to Smoke on the Mountain: Sanders Family Christmas: More Smoke on the Mountain.
The 10-month season also includes The Last Night of Ballyhoo, A Christmas Carol, A Little Night Music, Barrymore, The Glass Menagerie, and Spunk. In this banner year, the PIP will also recognize a promising new script with a production and their Lois and Richard Rosenthal New Play Prize.
• Wit reaches The Playhouse's Shelterhouse space Feb. 5-March 5, 2000 (opening night: Feb. 10). Dr. Vivian Bearing is a professor of 17th century poetry who unexpectedly finds herself in the final stage of cancer. At first her academic prowess seems foreign in the face of this "real world" catastrophe, and she finds poetry, wit and efficiency to be useless against the onslaught of chemo and callous doctors. Throughout, she speaks directly to the audience the way a teacher engages her pupils -- even as she reverts to a childlike state.
• The Thompson Shelterhouse season begins with William Luce's solo, Barrymore, running Sept. 25-Oct. 24 (opening night, Sept. 30). The show became an award-winning Broadway vehicle for Christopher Plummer two seasons back. At PIP, Playhouse favorite Philip Pleasants stars as "The Great Profile" John Barrymore, just weeks before his death in 1942. Ensconced in his backstage dressing room, eroded by time and whisky, Barrymore's power and magnetism still reverberate as he works toward a final triumph: recreating his masterful portrayal of Richard III. As the evening passes, he regales his audience with the many tales of his many lives, loves and comrades, on stage and off, as well as observations on his star-studded relations. Stephen Hollis will direct.
• Tennessee Williams' classic, The Glass Menagerie will play next at the Marx Theatre, running Oct. 19-Nov. 19 (opening night, Oct. 21). Amanda Wingfield and her children share a cramped apartment in the 1930s. Tom longs to escape his domineering mother, who has begun to panic over the future of mildly crippled Laura, a young woman as fragile as her collection of glass animals. At Amanda's insistence, he invites a co-worker for dinner. In one evening, the Gentleman Caller gives Laura her greatest joy and signals the family's collapse, leaving an image of tragic beauty etched on Tom, Tennessee and the theatre forever. Charles Towers, Playhouse associate artistic director, will direct.
• Six years ago the sold-out musical, Smoke on the Mountain, introduced PIP audiences to the heavenly sounds of the Sanders Family Singers. Once again the Shelterhouse Theatre will become Rev. Oglethorpe's tiny Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in Sanders Family Christmas: More Smoke on the Mountain, Nov. 6-Dec. 23 (opening night: Nov. 11). It's just after Pearl Harbor, time for a tuneful return visit from Burl, scripture-quoting Vera and the rest of their kin. As the congregation welcomes Christmas and an uncertain future, this nostalgic new musical comedy praises the only certainties left in a mixed up world: faith, family and lots of sweet, sweet music. Written by Connie Ray, the show will be directed by the man who conceived both the original and this sequel: Alan Bailey. A New York revival of the original show struggled at the Lambs Theatre Off-Broadway earlier this season.
• Perennial audience favorite, A Christmas Carol will return to PIP, Dec. 3-30, in the Marx Theatre. Adapted by Howard Dallin from the original novel, the story of miserly Mr. Scrooge and his night among the spirits blends with dazzling costumes and jaw-dropping special effects to create a spectacle for the senses and a tonic for the heart. Director Michael Haney returns, as does PIP audience favorite Joneal Joplin as Scrooge.
• 1997 Pulitzer Prize-winner The Last Night of Ballyhoo by Alfred Uhry comes to the Marx stage Jan. 16-Feb. 18, 2000 (opening night, Jan. 20). It's December 1939 and most of Atlanta is ablaze with the premiere of "Gone With the Wind." But the city's Jewish community is going gaga over Ballyhoo, the social event of the holiday season. "Boo" Levy's misfit daughter Lala is having a hard time getting a date and, while she prefers handsome young Joe Farkas, he turns her down -- only to fall for her debutante cousin. Before long, everyone learns bittersweet lessons about love, prejudice and the importance of family.
• Martin Mcdonagh's The Beauty Queen of Leenane runs in the Marx Theatre, Feb. 27-March 31, 2000 (opening night, March 2). The drama pits 40-year-old spinster Maureen against her manipulative, selfish mother Mag in the cottage they share in Ireland's County Galway. The two verbally bat and scratch at each other, forever swapping the upper hand in a circular game of power. Mag delights in taking preemptive strikes at Maureen's happiness, and when a potential beau crosses into the maelstrom these two call home, the resulting tempest threatens to obliterate everything in its path. John Going will direct.
• Over the past dozen years, the Lois and Richard Rosenthal New Play Prize has celebrated new voices in the American theatre by honoring one script with a world premiere within the Playhouse's regular subscription season. Such past winners as Jeffrey Hatcher's Scotland Road, and Pulitzer Prize nominee In Walks Ed have gone on to major subsequent productions. Charles Towers will direct next season's winner, to be announced at a later date. It will run March 18-April 16, 2000 in the Shelterhouse (opening night, March 23).
• Set against the elegance of turn-of-the-century Sweden, Sondheim's classic musical A Little Night Music will conclude PIP's Marx Theatre's season, April 16-May 19, 1999 (opening night, April 20). Night Music includes the hits "Send in the Clowns" and "A Weekend in the Country" as it tells of three tangled love triangles intersecting during a pivotal country weekend. The musical is based on Ingmar Bergman's film "Smiles of a Summer Night."
• George C. Wolfe's adaptation of the works of Zora Neale Hurston - Spunk will close the Shelterhouse's season, May 6-June 4, 2000 (opening night, May 11). With a mix of storytelling, prose, music and dance, Spunk tells universal stories of love, betrayal and forgiveness during the first half of the Twentieth Century. Wolfe, artistic director of NY's Public Theatre, recently staged On The Town on Broadway.
To purchase subscriptions or for more information on the 1999-2000 season, call (513) 421-3888.