Central Ohio Live Theatre Resources

Last fall I assumed the position of President of SRO Theatre Company, which has severely limited my ability to review local theatre (please hold the applause). I now receive many requests for information on local theatre, ranging from auditions, script submissions, unsolicited resumes – you name it. I have a list of website links on this blog to assist people in finding the answers to so many of these questions, but in this day and age it seems to “like” and “subscribe” to a company’s events on their Facebook page is the easiet and most efficient way of keeping on top of things. There are also several groups that are helpful to join as well, in addition to some performance and audition calendars.

Here I am posting links to many important resources; some are websites, but many more are Facebook pages or groups. This list is not complete (is any list ever?), and I aim to add to it in time. It doesn’t include the many fine high school theatre departments as I found that many either didn’t have websites and Facebook pages or that they weren’t always up-to-date. There is also no distinction between professional, semi-professional, and community theatre in this list. Still, this is a good starting point to add to your Facebook “likes” and bookmarks for the time being.

I believe that fans of theatre will see more theatre if they know of all the options available. I also don’t believe one theatre company has to do poorly for another to do well (I know several theatre companies appear to feel differently). Unless we are all doing the same shows at the same time, we aren’t in competition. At SRO, we now have a policy to display as many cards and flyers for other theatre companies as we receive at our performances. We don’t ask for or expect other companies to follow that practice; some are open to it while others are silent, and that’s fine. The bottom line is I want everyone to succeed and to help connect theatre with the community. While there may be individual people within certain organizations that I feel try to denigrate and dismiss other companies and their work, I find that, by and large, the artists, technicians, and audiences just want to come together and enjoy the experience of live performance.

Please help me add and correct this list by posting comments.



Columbus Makes Art (GCAC events)

Columbus Theater Events

My Auditions Calendar (Columbus, OH)

My Performance Calendar (Columbus, OH)



Central Ohio Auditions

Grandview Carriage Place Players – Audition Page

I Support Local Live Theatre

Shameless Production Plugs of Central Ohio Theatre

Theatre Audition and Job Notices



Actors’ Theatre of Columbus

Arena Fair Theatre

Available Light Theatre


CATCO is Kids!

Columbus Children’s Theatre (CCT)

Columbus Civic Theater

Curtain Players


DNGinc Productions

Eclipse Theatre Company

Ember Women’s Theatre

Evolution Theatre Company

Gahanna Community Theatre

Gallery Players

Hilliard Arts Council

Imagine Productions

King Avenue Players

Little Theatre Off-Broadway (LTOB)


Mine4God Productions

Ohio Musical Theatre Institute

Onyx Productions

Original Productions Theatre

Out of the Box Community Theatre (OOTBCT)

PAST Productions Columbus

Performing Arts Creative Ensemble (PACE)

Pickerington Community Theatre

Red Herring Productions

Shadowbox Live

Short North Stage

State of the Arts Productions (SoArtsPro)

Tantrum Theater

The Tipping Point Theatre Company

Westerville Parks & Recreation Civic Theatre

Worthington Community Theatre



Ashland University Theatre

Capital University

Denison University

Ohio State University Department of Dance

Ohio State University Department of Theatre

Ohio State University School of Music

Ohio University Lancaster Theatre

Otterbein University Theatre and Dance

Theatre Columbus State



Beavercreek Community Theatre (Beavercreek, OH)

Bespoke Theatre (Columbus, OH)

The Black Box Improv Theatre (Dayton, OH)

Dare to Defy (Dayton, OH)

Dayton Playhouse (Dayton, OH)

Dayton Theatre (Dayton, OH)

Dayton Theatre Co-op (Dayton, OH)

Dayton Theatre Guild (Dayton, OH)

Frontgate Theatre Troupe Productions (Dayton, OH)

Human Race Theatre Company (Dayton, OH)

The Lancaster Playhouse (Lancaster, OH)

The Libby Art and Theatre Company (Dayton, OH)

Licking County Players (Newark, OH)

Magnolia Theatre Company (Dayton, OH)

The Musical Theatre Initiative (Dayton, OH)

On Stage Dayton (Dayton, OH)

The Playground (Dayton, OH)

Roundtown Players (Circleville, OH)

Sinclair Community College Theatre (Dayton, OH)

UD Studio Theatre (Dayton, OH)

University of Dayton Theatre, Dance, and Performance Technology Program (Dayton, OH)

Weathervane Playhouse (Newark, OH)The Zoot Theatre Company (Dayton, OH)

Children of Eden (Dare 2 Defy – Dayton, OH)

In lieu of a full review, here is a promotional video I created for Dare 2 Defy’s Children of Eden, which runs for only three performances this weekend in Dayton, Ohio. I attended the dress rehearsal and found the score catchy, the choreography highly inventive, and the cast of nearly fifty full of energy. I was worried that this would be somewhat like Stephen Schwartz’s Godspell, but it wasn’t in the slightest. Though the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and Noah and his ark are told, they are treated more like literature than a Bible lesson, making the subject matter highly accessible to any audience, be they believer or Atheist. *** 1/2 out of ****

The Glass Menagerie (The Human Race Theatre Company – Dayton, OH)

There’s never any guarantee that your children will end up being anything like you; that’s the lesson Amanda Wingfield just can’t wrap her head around (much to her chagrin) in Tennessee Williams’ classic, The Glass Menagerie, currently being presented in quite a fine production by The Human Race Theatre Company in Dayton. 

The great Tennessee Williams had his first success when The Glass Menagerie premiered in Chicago in 1944, landing on Broadway in 1945 and running nearly a year and a half in an era when a hit play meant a run of only half as long. It has been revived on Broadway six times to date (once a decade since the 1960s), adapted for film in 1950 and 1987, and was produced for television starring the great Katharine Hepburn in 1973; still, this is a piece that works best live.


Photo: Scott J. Kimmins – (left to right) Jennifer Joplin (Amanda), Scott Hunt (Tom), and Claire Kennedy (Laura)

The Glass Menagerie takes place in a Chicago tenement circa the 1940s and is about Amanda Wingfield, a former Southern belle living with her two adult children: Tom, a restless warehouse worker who wants to leave for the navy; and Laura, a powerfully shy introvert with an emotionally crippling limp. Amanda talks of the days when she entertained seventeen gentlemen callers all at once, and by all accounts she was as popular in her heyday as her offspring now are not. Knowing that her days of having Tom be the breadwinner for the family are limited, Amanda sets her sights on Laura, plotting to have her marry well; but poor Laura is so withdrawn and meek that she grows ill at the thought of speaking to someone outside of her family, and she has no friends, let alone any prospects for a husband. None of that deters Amanda though as she pressures Tom to bring home his buddy Jim from the warehouse to be a “gentleman caller” for his sister, forcing Laura to face the prospect of having to entertain him alone when her usual hobbies include such solitary pastimes as playing with her collection of glass animals and listening to old records.


Photo: Scott J. Kimmins – (left to right) Jennifer Joplin (Amanda) and Drew Vidal (Jim)
Amanda Wingfield is one of those powerhouse roles that actresses have to earn the privilege to play; any production of The Glass Menagerie is only as good as its Amanda. Thankfully, Jennifer Joplin is on hand to be stern, charming, manipulative, pushy – you name it, and Ms. Joplin can do it. Scott Hunt is her son, Tom, playing the part with an edge that makes it hard for me to believe that he would put up with Amanda’s shenanigans; still, Mr. Hunt’s quiet moments with Laura, played by Claire Kennedy, are heartfelt and caring, as they both seem to be victims of their mother’s stifling persona.


Photo: Scott J. Kimmins – (left to right) Scott Hunt (Tom), Jennifer Joplin (Amanda), Claire Kennedy (Laura), and Drew Vidal (Jim)
As Laura, Ms. Kennedy reacts like a taunted and tortured animal, too afraid to confront her mother (or anyone for that matter) but also too timid to run away. It would take someone as magnanimous and handsome as Jim, played winningly by Drew Vidal, to reach Laura where she is; and that Mr. Vidal does, almost too good to be true and completely accepting of Laura’s handicaps. Their chemistry only makes the denouement that much more heart-wrenching and effective.


Photo: Scott J. Kimmins – (left to right) Drew Vidal (Jim) and Claire Kennedy (Laura)
The Glass Menagerie is one of those seminal works for which there will always be a place in modern theatre, and Greg Hellems’ direction thankfully shies away from too being delicate and precious, a criticism I often have when I see subpar productions of Williams’ work. No moment is wasted in this staging, but it also doesn’t feel rushed. Eric Barker’s set looks suitably antique in appearance with lace and embroidered seat coverings evoking The South to which Amanda refers so fondly; there are even thick navy velvet curtains framing the living room of the Wingfield apartment that look as if Scarlet O’Hara might at any moment appear to make a gown out of them. The set is on a platform that reveals a steady collection of odds and ends scattered about beneath it, like playthings from a forgotten childhood. John Rensel’s lighting casts a slight pink glow over the proceedings, as if we are all looking at the past through rose-colored glasses, and Laura’s glass collection glows with green light as if illuminated from within, looking as magical to us as it surely does to Laura.


Photo: Scott J. Kimmins – Claire Kennedy (Laura)
Any person who has had a rather domineering mother (most of us, I’m sure) can relate to how Amanda’s children feel in this play, and it’s that feeling of not wanting to disappoint but also not being able to rise up to meet expectations that rings true. The scenes where Amanda prods at Laura are uncomfortable, like witnessing someone harshly disciplining their child on the playground knowing full well that there is a better way to handle the situation. Seeing how Laura begins to come out of her shell when Jim breaks through is as touching as the realization that the moment is short-lived is devastating; all of the build-up to the gentleman caller’s visit brought to my mind poor Carrie White from Brian De Palma’s film of Stephen King’s Carrie (1976), waiting to attend the prom only to have it turn out to be a disaster.

The one element of this production that proves to be distracting is the music by Jay Brunner that bridges scenes; it is discordant, sounding as if two unrelated compositions are being played on top of each other, and it sounds highly unnatural and out-of-place. Any tension created by Ms. Joplin is shattered every time a new cue starts, though I’m sure there is some well-intentioned meaning behind using such music; it’s lost on me though, as it sounded more like musicians warming up than actual music.

The Glass Menagerie is heartbreaking, and The Human Race Theatre Company does right by the material with some really special performances and a striking set. It’s unfortunate that a professional production like this is saddled with such inappropriate music at scene breaks, but even that isn’t enough to derail this otherwise admirable effort. See this one even if you’ve seen it before; they just don’t write and perform them like they used to, but this is the rare production that is the exception to the rule.

*** 1/2 out of ****

The Glass Menagerie continues through to February 21st in The Loft Theatre at 126 North Main Street in downtown Dayton (just over an hour outside Columbus), and more information can be found at http://humanracetheatre.org/1516/glass-menagerie/index.php

The Great American Trailer Park Musical (Dare to Defy Productions – Dayton, OH)

Trailer parks get a bad rap. I’m not saying a lot of the stereotypes aren’t true (there’s often a kernel of truth in such preconceived notions, though often warped), but I’m sure that there are plenty of kind, sane, and peaceful people that live in double wides. Fortunately, none of those people are in Dare to Defy Productions’ The Great American Trailer Park Musical, a rollicking indictment against the inhabitants of a trailer park where life is a soap opera but with bigger hair and more makeup.

The Great American Trailer Park Musical, with music and lyrics by David Nehls and a book by Betsy Kelso, ran for a few months off-Broadway in the fall of 2005; since then it’s become a favorite of regional and non-professional groups across the country looking for a musical more contemporary than the usual stalwarts of West Side Story and Annie. Set in Armadillo Acres, a trailer park in Starke, Florida, the story focuses on Norbert, a toll collector, and his agoraphobic wife, Jeanne, and how their lives are turned upside down when bad girl stripper Pippi becomes one of their neighbors; little does everyone know that Pippi is on the run from a crazy ex-boyfriend who is hot on her trail. Did I mention that some of the other residents are named Linoleum and Pickles? 


Photo: Matthew Smith
There isn’t a bad performance in the show, with special recognition earned by Tia Seay, Lisa Glover, and Angie Thacker. Ms. Seay really whoops it up as Betty, the queen bee and manager of the trailer park, her strong and bold voice a pleasure to enjoy as she comments on the action of the residents. Lisa Glover is similarly fearless as Pippi, the stripper without a heart of gold; she and Ms. Seay hit the fiercest notes and wear the tackiest clothing without fear. Ms. Thacker’s Jeannie is the only character with any deep pathos in the play, so it’s only natural that she doesn’t come off as comical as everyone around her; what’s unnatural is the unexpected sweetness of her singing voice, clear and with vulnerability that is disarming.

Rob Willoughby (who also plays the befuddled Norbert with prickly grit) has outdone himself in designing the set for Armadillo Acres in such a small space. The trailer facades are colorful and functional, especially the way the large picture window of Norbert and Jeannie’s trailer allows us to see directly into their home and glimpse the funny photos on display and odd furniture. A sign in the rear rotates when the location changes to “The Litter Box Show Palace,” the strip club where Pippi (Lisa Glover) works, and Jason Vogel’s lighting changes accordingly to perfectly fit the shift.


Photo: Matthew Smith
Director Matthew Smith stages and moves the actors quite specifically so that they don’t feel like they are on top of each other or in each other’s way, a definite problem that has been sidestepped in working in what could be seen as quite a cramped space. The only time when the presentation falters is when action is blocked by the first few rows of the audience when activity takes place too far downstage to the right, namely during Ms. Glover’s dance routine in which she motorboats Ms. Seay and walks away with lipstick marks around her décolleté. It’s a bold moment where Ms. Glover really goes for it, but I wonder if it was obscured for a lot of the audience (it was partially hidden where I was sitting) because it wasn’t being performed on some sort of raised platform.

The Great American Trailer Park Musical is intended to be performed in two acts, but this production is presented with no break for around an hour and forty minutes. The limited stadium seating and the closeness of the set and actors to the audience makes this a wise decision as any stragglers would have to walk through the action to get to their seat, a difficult interruption of the all-important fourth wall. This approach also helps the play keep up a certain momentum that would be less effective with a break. So remember – get your potty break in before the show, and know that there will be no late seating! 


Photo: Matthew Smith
My friend and I enjoyed Dare to Defy’s The Great American Trailer Park Musical, but our laughter was no match for all the giggles heard all around us. The show isn’t deep, keeping its comedy very much on the surface, and that’s just the way it is played here. I’ve seen the show before, and yet somehow a few of the plot twists still threw me this time around! Some of the language and situations push this into PG-13 terrain, but I’d still consider it a fun show for families with teens. In fact, it’s irreverent shows like The Great American Trailer Park Musical that may connect with younger audiences wanting to look beyond the typically “safe” plays performed at their schools. If having a restaurant named “Grits and Tits” offends you, stay home; if, like me, you find it funny, get a ticket before they’re all gone.

*** out of ****

The Great American Trailer Park Musical continues through to January 16th in the Mathile Theatre at the Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center located on West 2nd Street in downtown Dayton (about an hour outside of Columbus), and more information can be found at http://www.d2defy.com/


Footloose (Dare to Defy Productions – Dayton, OH)

There’s nothing better than seeing a show filled with familiar music that strikes a chord. It’s even better when it is so joyously performed by a large cast in a grand performance space like the Victoria Theatre. Dare to Defy Productions presentation of Footloose is such a show, a surprisingly innocent and family friendly experience playing a limited run of just one weekend in downtown Dayton.

Footloose is based on the 1984 film starring Kevin Bacon about a teenager from a broken home moving from Chicago to the tiny town of Bomont where dancing (and any fun) are illegal; it has been adapted by screenwriter Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie for the stage, opening on Broadway in 1998 where it ran for a year and a half. Footloose is often classified as a movie musical because of the hit soundtrack (like Flashdance), but no characters actually sing in it; the music underscores montages or is source music in scenes. In transplanting the film to the stage, several songs with music by other writers (Jim Steinman, Sammy Hagar, Kenny Loggins, and Eric Carmen) have been retained with additional songs written by Mr. Pitchford and Tom Snow. You’ll still hear all the big songs from the film (including “Footloose”, “Let’s Hear It for the Boy”, “Almost Paradise”, and “Holding Out for a Hero”), but now they are assigned to characters to sing. Amazingly enough, it works quite well, with only a few of the new songs being unnecessary and poor in comparison.


Photo: Sydney Fleming – Eric Thompson (Ren McCormack)
Eric Thompson plays Ren McCormack, the Kevin Bacon role in the movie, and he is a bit of inspired casting. Mr. Thompson sings beautifully but retains the “rough around the edges” quality perfect for the character. So much of the show rides on his shoulders as the boy who “can’t stand still” (one of the better new songs written for the play), and he comes off as likable and quickly present in a way that elevates every scene of which he is a part.


Photo: Sydney Fleming – Abby Cress (Ariel Moore)
Abby Cress is Ariel Moore, the rebellious preacher’s daughter who sets her sights on Ren. Ms. Cress seems to be miscast until she sings “Holding Out for a Hero”; with her sweetly strong singing voice taking on such a challenging pop anthem with no visible effort, she emerges as probably one of the few actresses in the area that can do the part justice and not just play the wildcat. Ms. Cress and Mr. Thompson have chemistry as well, which enhances the storytelling and helps it come off as less corny.


Photo: Sydney Fleming – Eric Thompson (Ren McCormack) & Abby Cress (Ariel Moore)
Other standouts in the cast are David Shough as Reverend Moore, Skyler McNeely as Willard (Ren’s best buddy), and Esther Hyland as Ethel McCormack (Ren’s mother). Mr. Shough plays Ariel’s father and the town leader as more than just an overbearing killjoy; he genuinely believes he is doing what is righteous and best, and Mr. Shough gently brings that out in scenes where he reflects on the passing of his son. Mr. McNeely is spot-on in his comic timing as Willard, always ready with an expression to punctuate a moment and elicit laughter. Ms. Hyland in all likelihood is probably too young to play Ren’s mother, but she makes the most of her underwritten part and reveals her melodious singing voice in “Learning to Be Silent”; she makes an impression in a part that doesn’t give her a lot to do.

Director Craig Smith and choreographer Jessica Tate work well at creating and sustaining so much energy on the stage with quite a large ensemble. The large dance sequences are especially impressive and invigorating, and the cast seems to be having such a good time; their joy is infectious. Though I doubt many of the players were even born in the 1980s, their costumes are humorously accurate to the period, complete with cuffed acid wash jeans, Izod lizards, and popped collars. The cast is credited with the costumes along with Amy Elder Dakin, Olivia Dakin, and Mackensie King, a collaborative effort that surely involved many an excavated closet and trips to thrift stores. Appropriate credit is also due to the people behind the teased hair and glossy makeup as it also helps evoke prime 1984.


Photo: Sydney Fleming – Eric Thompson (Ren McCormack)

Footloose isn’t a great show, but it doesn’t have to be in order to be entertaining. Aside from having a few new songs assigned to characters that should have remained non-singing parts, Footloose is nostalgic in the best possible way. Dare to Defy’s production is solid and a lot of fun; the perfect cherry on the top of this Thanksgiving holiday.

*** out of ****

Footloose continues through to November 28th in the Victoria Theatre at 138 North Main Street in Dayton (a little over an hour outside Columbus), and more information can be found at http://www.d2defy.com/


Steel Magnolias (The Human Race Theatre Company – Dayton, OH)

There will always be a place for Steel Magnolias as long as there are actresses who want to perform as part of a strong all-female ensemble. Since premiering off-Broadway in 1987, it has been transformed into a hit 1989 film starring Julia Roberts and Sally Field, played Broadway in 2005 with Delta Burke, and been performed countless times for nearly thirty years all across the country. There are six productions (!) over the course of one month within 60 miles of Columbus alone, though The Human Race Theatre Company in Dayton is the only professional theatre company performing Steel Magnolias this fall in Ohio.


Photo: Scott J. Kimmins – (left to right) Carolyn Popp, Maretta Zilic, Julia Geisler, Christine Brunner and Patricia Linhart
Robert Harling wrote Steel Magnolias after losing his beloved sister to diabetes. He set the play in Truvy’s Beauty Shop in the fictional city of Chinquapin, Louisiana, in the late 1980s. Six women discuss their lives and loves all while either getting their hair done or doing hair. The play begins on the day M’Lynn’s daughter Shelby is to be wed, and it covers the next few years in their lives as Shelby suffers with her diabetes and the women bond over trying to see her through it. There is Truvy, the owner of the beauty shop; Annelle, her newly hired assistant; Clairee, a football-loving widow; and there is Ouiser, a grouchy neighbor who runs everyone the wrong way.


Photo: Scott J. Kimmins – (left to right) Carolyn Popp, Christine Brunner, Caitlin Larsen, Julia Geisler, Patricia Lindart and Maretta Zilic
It’s nice that the actors in this production aren’t trying to copy the performances in the popular 1989 film adaptation. There are many different ways to plays these parts, and the film is by no means definitive as far as I’m concerned (though I know every scene and line by heart). It’s refreshing to see Caitlin Larsen’s Ouiser even though I also enjoy Shirley MacLaine’s rather one-note performance. Ms. Larsen allows Ouiser to mellow and grow throughout, as even her clothing and tone reflect how having her old beau Owen back in her life (all because of Shelby) has changed her for the better. This Ouiser is still a pistol, but she’s a person too because of what Ms. Larsen brings to the table. Patricia Linhart as Clairee and Julia Geisler as Shelby are two other standouts in the cast, offering a bit more sass in those parts when compared with the film.


Photo: Scott J. Kimmins – (left to right) Christine Brunner, Caitlin Larsen, Maretta Zilic, Julia Geisler and Patricia Linhart
The only performance I find disappointing is by Christine Brunner as Truvy. Ms. Brunner stays close to the surface and appears to be listening for her cues more than listening to her cast mates. When Shelby announces that she’s pregnant, Ms. Brunner reacts before anyone else, so quickly that it didn’t seem like Ms. Geisler had even completed her line! She appears more concerned with getting her accent right and being consistent with it than offering much in the way of feeling. Some of Truvy’s best lines fall flat because of it.


Photo: Scott J. Kimmins
The set by Eric Moore is inspired and appears ready for business. The plumbing and appliances all work, and the kitchen off to the side (only visible to half of the audience) has a fridge and sink as well! Back issues of magazines, pastel patterned furniture, and beauty parlor equipment are all in evidence; so realistic is the set that it’s doubly odd that the backdrop outside the window and door are blank, ruining the illusion. The second scene in the first act takes place in darkness as a fuse has been blown and Truvy and Annelle are off futzing with the circuit breaker – yet a lamp and string of Christmas lights off to the right are still illuminated. These flaws stick out mainly because of how well handled the set and utilities are otherwise; they are unfortunate issues with an otherwise very impressive set and lighting design.

I should divulge that this is the second production of Steel Magnolias that I’ve seen in as many weeks, the first being the King Avenue Players production in Columbus. Though that production was pretty iffy with a cast of variable ability (I preferred their Truvy and M’Lynn though), I must admit that I teared up at the conclusion. I didn’t have the same reaction this time, though I’m not sure if it is the fault of the production, the acting, or my having seen it two weeks earlier. I suspect it is the latter, as so much of this production is strong and enjoyably familiar.

*** out of ****

Steel Magnolias continues through to November 29th in The Loft Theatre at 126 North Main Street in downtown Dayton (just over an hour outside Columbus), and more information can be found at http://humanracetheatre.org/1516/steel-magnolias/index.php

Godspell (Dare to Defy Productions – Dayton, OH)

I first saw Godspell twenty years ago; I was in high school in Ashland, KY, and it was a community college production so awful that I was turned off from seeing any theatre for years. The lyrics were drowned out by the music, the actors ran through the aisles of the auditorium in an effort to engage the audience, and I couldn’t follow what was going on at all. Ever since then, even though I now love musical theatre and particularly the works of Stephen Schwartz, the mention of Godspell is enough to make me groan. All of this leads me to Dare to Defy Productions and their staging of this show now running in Dayton, and I figured it was time to give it another chance.

Godspell premiered off-Broadway in 1971, ran five years, then transferred to Broadway and ran well over another year. With music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by John Michael Tebelak, the show is comprised of Bible stories from the Gospel of Matthew and Luke, each with some lesson to impart as guided by Jesus to his flock of hippies (depending on the production). The show spawned an average film adaptation in 1973 and a hit single (“Day by Day”), and it has gone on to be a popular property in community theatres across the country. It is predated chronologically ever so slightly by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar, another rock/Broadway interpretation of The Bible with a score close to my heart. Is it possible to like both Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar? If I were to pick one, it’s definitely the latter, no question. Still, Dare to Defy’s production has some very good qualities for fans of Godspell.


Photo: Laura Dell (19/19 Photography)
Director Becki Norgaard guides a lively, diverse, and vocally gifted cast around the intimate performing space of the Mathile Theatre, assisted by a terrific band and sound design. If there was ever a production that could help me see more of the joy within Godspell, this is it. The show moves quickly, running just around two hours with an intermission, and there are humorous moments when the cast engages some audience members in the action. I’m not quite sure why M&M’s and wine are served at the last supper, but why not? There is a funky vibe to this production that is welcoming, even if it doesn’t make me a believer in the material.

So charismatic and honest is Bobby Mitchum as Jesus that I didn’t recognize him from his role as Cinderella’s Prince in Dare to Defy’s Into the Woods just last month! It’s not that he looked so completely different or anything (though he is one of those rare guys that can pull off wearing white jeans); it’s that his energy is transformative, a far cry from the haughty and spoiled part he played in the other show. The fact that Mr. Mitchum is so good in both quite different roles goes to demonstrate his versatility.

Photo: Georgia Cheliotis

Kudos are also due to Tia Seay as a member of the ensemble, careful to blend in through much of the first act before pulverizing everyone with her solo; then Ms. Seay gracefully steps aside to make sure her cast mates each get their moments to shine as well. Grant Warden in the ensemble also stood out to me in “Light of the World,” his big act one closing number. Mr. Warden is open to being as goofy and unabashedly joyous as the song requires, not letting his matinee idol looks get in the way. 

Did this production revise my opinion of Godspell? Well, no, it didn’t, even though the cast is energetic and the plot more discernible to me now than it was on my last experience with the show. I’ve come to the conclusion that I just don’t like the music or the play, but that’s no fault of the talented performers in this production (I can’t say the same of the one I saw in high school). There is a preachy component in the material that doesn’t work for me, but that is the same element that the friend I attended this production with appreciated and enjoyed. She also saw and liked the 2011 Broadway revival. The audience was really into Dare to Defy’s production, and they were quick to give a standing ovation as soon as the lights came on. I can recognize that this is a beloved musical and that this production has a talented cast, but Godspell just isn’t for me.

If you like the play and music: *** out of ****

If, like me, you don’t like the play or music: ** out of ****

Godspell continues through to October 24th in the Mathile Theatre at the Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center located on West 2nd Street in downtown Dayton (about an hour outside of Columbus), and more information can be found at http://www.d2defy.com/godspell-flyer/

Into the Woods (Dare to Defy Productions – Dayton, OH)

I understand why Into the Woods has become a modern classic. Since its premiere on Broadway in 1987, Into the Woods has been recorded for television broadcast, toured, had several subsequent major productions in London and New York, been licensed for production by tens of thousands of high schools and community theatres, and was finally transformed into a star-filled 2014 feature film starring Meryl Streep. The show has a terrific score with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, an unpredictable but intriguing book by James Lapine, and requires a large cast of talented performers to pull off; Dare to Defy Productions presents their Into the Woods for just one weekend at the Victoria Theatre in downtown Dayton, paying justice to the material with distinct qualities that make it worth seeing even if one has already seen dozens of productions of the show in the past.


Photo: Sydney Fleming – Tori Kocher (Little Red Ridinghood) and Ray Zupp (The Baker)

Into the Woods tells of famous storybook and fairy tale characters inhabiting a land together and how their lives change in strange and new ways once their paths cross. There is a witch, a baker and his wife, Jack and his beanstalk, Cinderella and her family, Rapunzel, and Little Red Ridinghood; they all have desires and lives that are derailed by wolves, giants, and circumstances involving death and infidelity. Even though the story meanders quite a bit in the second act and comes off as a little preachy (must so many songs in one show have some kind of moral message?), the score includes such classics as “Children Will Listen,” “Stay With Me,” “No One is Alone,” “Last Midnight,” and “Giants in the Sky,” all songs forever to be performed in auditions by budding performers. This production is fortunate to have John Benjamin directing and conducting a talented team of musicians that bring the score to life with the kind of brisk tempo the material requires.

A notable surprise is the song “Our Little World”; it was written for the London production but is not always performed. It was in the 2002 Broadway revival that I saw with Vanessa Williams as The Witch, but it was not in the film. Though listed in the program erroneously as “Rapunzel,” the song gives The Witch (and especially Rapunzel) another moment to shine and examine the complexities of their relationship. I had forgotten about the song’s existence until it appeared like a gift in this production.

Director Mathys Herbert and set designer Ray Zupp (he also plays The Baker to great effect with a clear voice and good diction) have transformed this play by using the theatre as its own setting, creating a kind of “found theatre” approach by employing so many types of media and backstage equipment in this production. No attempt has been made to recreate the woods in the story, the stage appearing to be a combination of scenic elements from various prior productions with suitcases, trunks and such items as a Victrola all around the set; it all looks more like Follies than Into the Woods, but I liked it. A rolling ladder with a platform at the top represents the tree where Cinderella’s mother is buried; an overhead projector is used to project an image of the wolf on a screen for the baker to slash through and rescue Little Red Ridinghood and her grandmother; animated silhouettes represent a large eye of the female giant to great effect. The mix match of design extends to the characters as well; the stepmother (Amy Askins, as svelte and statuesque as any runway model) is dressed in a sparkling dress as if she walked out of “Real Housewives of New York,” while Cinderella’s father is a puppet that looks a lot like one from Avenue Q, and Milky White is a puppet controlled in plain sight a la War Horse (though curiously without legs, appearing to float on udders). It’s all terribly inventive and fresh, and bravo to Herbert and Zupp in pulling it off, with great assistance via the atmospheric lighting by Sammy Jelinek, puppet builder Danielle Robertson, and costume designer Carolyn McDermott.


Photo: Lauren Schierloh (edited by Sydney Fleming) – Natalie Sanders (Cinderella)
The cast is uniformly good, though there were some notable standouts; Natalie Sanders is a wistful and longing Cinderella, with a thrilling voice; Evan Benjamin is a buoyant Jack, with athletic movement akin to an older Billy Elliot and a sweet innocence that is charming; Kelsey Hopkins brings humor to The Baker’s Wife more than I’ve seen before, though when she lets her hair down (literally and figuratively) she is dramatically effecting (her performance of “Maybe They’re Really Magic,” a great song with clever lyrics that was not in the film version, is precise and performed with exactly the right tone); Jackie Darnell has a splendidly operatic voice as Rapunzel, and projects more than just the sad victim as the role is often portrayed; Tori Kocher reinvents Little Red Ridinghood as a physically developed, precocious vixen, loud and fierce; Kocher is a great foil for The Wolf, played by Bobby Mitchum, who is also Cinderella’s Prince, classically handsome and unafraid to poke fun at that fact; and last but not least is Mimi Klipstine as The Witch, wry and enjoyably abrasive, her performance of “Last Midnight” particularly enjoyable.


Photo: Lauren Schierloh (edited by Sydney Fleming) – AJ Breslin (Rapunzel’s prince)
I can’t say I was a fan of the obtrusive masks worn by The Wolf and The Witch (before her transformation); they were quite stylized and well-executed but covered too much of the performers’ faces and were set off of their heads in a way that cast shadows with the lighting that often hid their mouths. Still, that is a relatively minor criticism in a production so striking and original. It’s a shame that it gets to haunt the classic Victoria Theatre for only three performances, only two left later today at the time of this writing. This Into the Woods dispenses with trying to cater to the kiddies, feeling delightfully more adult though still appropriate for the middle school crowd. Even if you’ve seen it before (and if you’re reading this, you probably have), you really should catch Dare to Defy’s production of Into the Woods before it’s gone.

***/ out of ****

Into the Woods continues through to September 5th in the Victoria Theatre at 138 North Main Street in Dayton (a little over an hour outside Columbus), and more information can be found at http://www.d2defy.com/