The story of King Records in Cincinnati is probably way too big for one play to hold, but gosh golly does writer/director KJ Sanchez go for the gusto anyway. Retelling the stories behind the songs, she empowers her cast to talk directly to the audience – breaking the fourth wall throughout the production. Normally that lazy storytelling device annoys me, but the actors who are cast in this new production at the Playhouse in the Park are charming enough to make it work.
The charming Stanley Wayne Mathis plays “Philip Paul,” a session drummer with whom Sanchez interviewed extensively for this production. Neal Benari plays mogul “Syd Nathan,” and instead of making him a one-dimensional tyrant, Benari performs the role as a three-dimensional person. “Little Willie John” is remarkably portrayed by the charismatic and energetic Richard Crandle. He livens up the stage and sprinkles enough sass during the exposition-heavy sequences that the show continues moving. Rounding out the cast are the talented Cullen R. Titmas and Anita Welch, showing versatility as they sing, dance, and perform as multiple characters. And Tracy Schoster, local treasure, finally shows up in Act Two as “Roberta Paul.” There’s a great four piece band, too.
The music from the show is lively and well-performed. And the stories of power struggles, stolen opportunities, and unexpected successes are interesting. The audience I was with oohed and ahhed at several facts that were revealed during the show. I’m sure people are raving; its going to be a hit. A lot of work went into it’s development, for sure.
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CINCINNATI KING runs through December 23rd in the Thompson Shelterhouse at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park (the theatre in the complex that’s NOT showing A CHRISTMAS CAROL).