Cincy Fringe 2024: “Cancel this Musical” and “Songs Without Words” Strong

Songs without Words is a rich and beautiful tapestry of two composers' lives that is well told and wonderfully acted.

By Alan Jozwiak

Enjoy your Cincy Fringe 2024! Here are some shows you may want to attend:

Cincy Fringe 2024 Top Pick: Cancel this Musical by Wesley Zurick

This is one of my favorite shows so far. Zurick showed his work in 2011 when he co-wrote the sellout Cincy Fringe musical The First Book of: The Bible! This show won Zurick a FringeNext award (given at the time for the best teen created Fringe show). It showcased the comedic and musical range of the then SCPA senior.  Skip a few years and Zurick is now a theater artist based out of New York City and he has come back to his hometown with his musical Cancel This Musical.

This show tells the story of Wes (played by Wesley Zurick) who accidentally becomes a victim of cancel culture when a video of him protesting the lack of pens at the DMV goes viral. Without spoiling too much of the plot, Wes’ life becomes an absurd mess that ends in a hilarious scene at a funeral that needs to be seen in order to be believed. All I can say is that the scene rises to the occasion.  With a strong cast (Monica Ho, Maki Borden, Ben Schrager, Christian Jimenez, and Aja Downing) and an equally strong list of songs, this irreverent and no-holds-bar musical pokes fun at our desire to stand out and judge others who end up standing out.  Trigger warning: This play depicts sexual situations making it inappropriate for a younger and/or more prudish audience members.

Cincy Fringe 2024 Top Pick: Songs without Words (Or, the Mendelssohn Play) by Jennifer Vosters

Another contender for favorite show is Songs Without Words. In this solo show, Jennifer Vosters performs the dual roles of Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn to recount the lives and musical careers of the sometimes-competing brother-sister composers. Felix’s musical career overshadowed Fanny’s career, but through this play, Fanny has her day and time in the spotlight. Vosters does an outstanding job by playing both siblings and this is evident within a montage showcasing the ascent of Felix’s musical career while also showing Fanny’s declining musical career.  She quickly shifts between Fanny and Felix without missing a beat. It was masterful, as was the description of the composition of Felix’s well-known Hebrides Overture (Fingal’s Cave) and the way that Fanny had a crucial hand in shaping that piece. As a classical musical nerd, I loved every moment of this play and learned a great deal about Fanny’s artistic output and career.

Vosters is a recipient of 2024 American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) Osborn Award for the script and that award is richly deserved.  Songs without Words is a rich and beautiful tapestry of two composers’ lives that is well told and wonderfully acted.

Bloody Mary by Kelly Collette

I’m certain you’ve heard of that old game. Say the name “Bloody Mary” three times into a mirror and Bloody Mary will come and kill you–or maybe hang out with you and your friends for a week and go with you to the Homecoming dance.  This latter is the premise behind Kelly Collette’s delightful play “Bloody Mary.” The play tells the story of three Catholic school co-eds–Elle (Imani Derden), Harriet (Alaska Stoughton), and Monroe (Remy Elton-Alexander)–who accidentally summon the demon of Bloody Mary (Aiden Sims) by saying her name multiple times in the mirror. What follows is Mean Girls meets Weekend at Bernie’s as Bloody Mary navigates the rigors of Catholic high school life.

Sims steals the show as Bloody Mary with some impressive physicality to match her devilish mischief.  Combining impressive acting, a skillful script by Kelly Collette, and expert direction by AJ Baldwin and you get a frothy piece of Fringe fun. Fun which strives, in the words of Sims, to get to know one’s demons or to have tea with them.

Mounting Washington: The Story of a Mountain & a Miracle by Penny: For Your Thoughts

Finally, Penny Sterling’s latest show recounts her desire in mid-life to bicycle up Mt. Washington, known as the most difficult and challenging mountain to climb in the Northern United States.  As she recounts the massive multi-year preparations for her ride, Sterling is riding on a stationary bicycle which even changes angles to mimic the steepest ascent she has while riding Mt. Washington. By the end of the show, I felt like I had pedaled in her shoes by understanding her life and her struggles.

This is a compelling story. I applaud her fortitude to keep up with the grueling practice schedule over the course of years. My only complaint about the show is that it was hard to hear Sterling speak at times over the hum of her bicycle.  The acoustics of the venue tended to make that hum compete with her voice. 

However, in short, Mounting Washington is a solo show that will lift you up and make you feel like great life changes are possible.

Cincinnati Fringe 2024

No Passengers by Gideon Productions

Gideon Productions is a regular to Cincy Fringe audiences.  They have a history of producing well-acted, well written, thought-provoking pieces. No Passengers by company member Mac Rogers is no exception. It mixes séances and 19th century Spiritualism with premature death and grieving ex-spouses.

The play tells the story of Alan (Mac Rogers), an academic English instructor who falls apart after learning of the premature death of his ex-wife, the successful novelist Maddie (Kristen Vaughan).  Alan’s current wife, the historian Diane (Rebecca Comtois), balances dealing with Alan’s grief spiral with her research on the 19th century Spiritualist Comfort James and the reasons why she stopped conducting séances after the death of her husband. What follows is a smart, funny, and heartfelt exploration of grief, revisiting lost love, and finding a way forward after that lost love passes.

Rogers’ script is offbeat and unusual, exploring the well-worn topic of grief over a loved one in new ways. There is even a recreation of a Comfort James séance at the end of the show that goes into some surprising directions. In short, No Passengers is a thought-provoking show that made me laugh and empathize with the characters. One of my favorites this Fringe. Get Tickets HERE.

1-Man, No-Show by Isaac Kessler

Kessler hails from Toronto, Ontario and is recognized as a big comedic star up North.  For the Cincy Fringe, Kessler is producing a solo comedy show that is. . .well, about nothing in particular.  The title pretty much sums things up.  It is just him on stage with some props and a huge digital timer that marks down the hours to the end of the show.  There are some prepared bits, but a large portion of the show comes from audience interaction and spontaneous moments, such as when Cincy Fringe Producer Katie Hartman failed to get a banana piece into the open mouth of Kessler (that was very funny, both from Hartman’s reaction and the absurdity of the situation).

A lot of the audience members found him to be hilarious, and plan to see him multiple times–as every show is different. I did not particularly find Kessler’s work super funny (and I love comedies) so I guess I’ll chalk it up to individual taste in humor. 1-Man, No-Show is a brave exploration of what happens when a lone actor gets on stage and tries to make theater along with the audience. Get Tickets HERE

Cincy Fringe 2024

Cincy Fringe 2024: Tickets and Schedule of Remaining Shows

As always, you can get your tickets to any or all of the shows in Cincy Fringe 2024 at the Box Office, online or in person at Know Theatre. So many good shows–there’s still time to see plenty. Here is a link to the schedule.

A new Calendar for everything onstage from LCT’s member theatres.

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