My Favorite Productions in 2021
As the calendar year winds down, I thought it’d be fun to look back at some of the theatre that I was able to see. But, of course, in this post-COVID world, things are different. Still, I have appreciated the efforts made by theatres all over the city to normalize things when possible while taking precautions and making changes when needed.
All the way back in October of 2020, CCM students produced “Into the Woods” outside in Tower Park. It was a masked, socially distanced production – and it was great to finally see live theatre again. The ambition showed by the students who organized this event was inspiring, and the location played host to a few other productions following that I wasn’t able to see.
CCM Acting (under the direction of Brant Russell) produced “Our Town” in September 2021. While I appreciated the minimalistic approach (in keeping with other traditional versions I’ve seen of the play), the production was challenged by the university’s mask mandate requiring the performers to be masked throughout the show. Still, you have to admire the cast and crew’s resolve and their “on with the show” mindset. (k. Jenny Jones directed “Julius Caesar” in early December, but I missed that one.)
CCM musicals, “Xanadu” and “Once,” also suffered from the cast wearing masks (by no fault of anyone involved in the productions), but there were enjoyable performances, and the shows looked great. Xanadu was incredibly colorful. Cassie Maurer, Leo Carmody, and Tyler Martin had the difficult task of gaining our emotional buy-in without showing their entire faces but were enthusiastic enough to overcome many of these challenges. I very much enjoyed the villainous duo of Chesney Mitchell and Kassi McMillan. I was especially blown away by the versatility of Eli Owens in multiple ensemble roles. His tap dancing was the highlight of the show.
It might be unconventional theatre, but one of the most energetic shows of the year was “Hot Rhythm Nights” at Kings Island’s Grand Carnivale celebration this summer. The choreography was exciting, and the vocal performances were top-notch this season. And of course, who doesn’t love a live band with a great brass section?
I had the good fortune to see “Wicked” in both Dallas, TX, and here in Cincinnati. “Wicked” was the first national tour to reopen, and Dallas was the city it restarted in. Since I can work from anywhere, I decided to spend a week hanging out and catching the show. It was magical; the audience was engaged on a different level than I’d seen them pre-pandemic in Vegas and St. Louis. And then, the Cincinnati engagement was even sharper. (It probably didn’t hurt that director Joe Mantello visited the night before I saw the show.)
Ensemble Theatre produced the intimate play, “The Guys” at the Cincinnati Fire Museum starring Derek Snow and Kelly Mengelkoch. Snow is reliable (and is so versatile – he’s directing “Intimate Apparel” opening in January and has been gaining great momentum as a playwright this year, too).
Mengelkoch remains at the top of my list of favorite actresses for her deep emotional connection to whatever material she’s working with.
Ensemble kicked off the season with the timely and outstanding “Pipeline,” which I saw the night before the shutdown closed everything in 2020. The photos from “Cinderella,” their non-traditional, non-denominational, family-friendly holiday offering, looked as fun as always.
Falcon Theatre started out their season strong, with a robust production of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” directed by Piper N. Davis. I thought their second production, an unusual play called “Well,” was exceptionally well-cast. Angela Nalley shown brightly as a sickly but loving mother and Samatha Joy Luhn was equally engaging as her frantic daughter. The rest of Burgess Byrd’s ensemble was hilarious, too. I’m really looking forward to the Tara Williams directed “Red Speedo,” featuring the returns of Nik Paijic and Jared Earland to the local stage.
Know Theatre’s “Shock” was a great Halloween treat, with superb performances from Tess Talbot, Paul Riopelle, and Brianna Bernard. I heard good things about “Glassheart,” and I’m excited to see what happens to the always amazing Cincinnati Fringe Festival under the new direction of Katie Hartman.
Finally, I’ve had a very busy December, checking out as many holiday offerings as I could. King’s Island’s Winterfest is chock full of fantastic holiday entertainment. I saw Nancy James (and River City, the band from “Hot Rhythm Nights” at Kings Island and many other shows there) at the Federal Warsaw Incline Theatre. I was super impressed by the performance (and the pre-show meal across the street at Primavista).
“Every Christmas Story Ever Told” at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company remains at the top of my list of seasonal favorites. Miranda McGee as Santa Claus is can’t miss casting, and I loved the new additions to the cast (Candice Handy and Geoffrey Warren Barnes).
But the highlight of this year for me was sitting front row for one of Bruce Cromer’s final performances as Ebeneezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. This remarkable show is retiring after this season and I’m so glad I got to bid it – and Mr. Cromer, who is also retiring – adieu.
It’s been a tough year of recovery for our local theatre community, but I’m excited about the year to come.
What shows have you seen? Which ones were your favorites?