This year, I laughed, I cried, and I got to bear witness to some excellent pieces of theatre in the Queen City. From high kicks in chorus lines to constitutional debate, here’s my top five Cincinnati theatre picks from 2023 (and three I am looking forward to in 2024).
1. A CHORUS LINE – Playhouse in the Park – March 2023
This was my first time seeing this show, and I was floored. The show itself is so affecting and ties together so nicely anyways, but truly leapt off the stage in Playhouse in the Park’s sparkling new theatre. Led by Drew Lachey as the man behind the casting table, the show follows the highs and lows of intensive dance auditions, and delves into how the dancers got there.
Featuring crowd-pleasers like ‘I Hope I Get It’ and ‘Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello, Love,’ the breezy one-act musical was a rapturous opening to their new facility. My favorite performance, perhaps, of the entire year was by Alexa Racioppi as Val, always yearning to grow bosoms. Racioppi was sleek when dancing, and just brassy enough to bring out the hilarity in the show. Not to be forgotten are the miraculous leaps and combinations from Shiloh Goodin as ‘Cassie,’ and her unforgettable ‘Music and the Mirror.’ This production made me fall in love with the show in the sleekest and most fun ways.
2. MORNING SUN – Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati – January 2023
At just the start of the year, Ensemble Theatre presented a tear-jerking title about aging, love, and loss in Morning Sun by Simon Stephens. 50 years of life pass by in a two-hour play, as Charley McBride feels her most elated highs and regretful lows. With a small cast of three, this show surprised me in just how affecting the text was in leaving things unsaid, and giving room for the humanity of the story to come alive.
Leading the trio, Annie Fitzpatrick, as Charley, portrayed such a deep and solemn grief, which was hilariously counteracted by scene-stealer Christine Dye, as Claudette and others. Becca Howell played her daughter, Tessa, and the three’s impenetrable chemistry elevated this material, and had me in tears.
3. SANCTUARY CITY – Playhouse in the Park – September 2023
In contrast to the aforementioned Playhouse production, this play was stripped-down and intimate. Author Martyna Majok authored a poetic and affecting story of two friends who find the law as a barrier to their dreams. The smaller theatre helped make this show more impactful, and the scenery was expertly-designed to spin, and introduce many fun surprises–most notably, the glittery ending.
Amira Danan, a Playhouse vet, played ‘G,’ a headstrong friend of Jordan Anthony Arredondo’s ‘B,’ and the two had electric chemistry. Perhaps the most engaging element of this show was the illumination on the deteriorating American dream, and it strikes a particular tone with the ongoing global conflict, making it a story with constant relevance.
4. ‘WRECKING BALL’ Cincinnati Shakespeare Company – November 2023
I knew when I heard the classic Miley Cyrus hit as I entered, this show would be a fun one. Luckily, the multi-talented playwright Zina Camblin delivered a thoughtful and hilarious show about a Hollywood writers’ room, which hit just at the right time with the then-ongoing Hollywood strikes.
Sara Mackie and Burgess Byrd, two of my favorite local performers, were side-splittingly funny as larger-than-life characters, and had great physicality–even sitting on yoga balls. The show hits on sexism, racism, homophobia, and the deflated hope in America through a lens we don’t see very often. As meta as a show about writing a show can be, I thought it was the self-awareness that made this show that much more enjoyable.
5. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN – UC-CCM and Cincinnati Shakespeare Company – October 2023
There’s nothing like a vampire story at Halloween to get you spooked, and this production was straight out of an HBO series. UC-CCM and Cincy Shakes’ production of Let The Right One In was eerie and unsettling in just the right ways. The technical design was just as impressive as the acting, with flying platforms and unsettling projections.
The leads of Oskar and Eli, played by Nathan Flesch and Lyd Noll, respectively, were thrilling counterweights to each other–logic versus emotion, thought versus impulse. Specifically haunting was Flesch’s meek depiction of Oskar, with an appropriate bowl-cut for the 1980s Stockholm setting. This show was a feast for the eyes, and a devilishly good time if you’re not afraid of a little blood. Plus, the performers were all students which makes it equally as impressive as it was fear-inducing.
Highly Anticipated Cincy Theatre in 2024…
Now, looking forward, there’s a trove of great shows coming to Cincinnati’s local theatres. At the top of my list is 1) Stewby Zora Howard at Playhouse in the Park. It’s a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a raw look at tradition and family bonds, centered on the African-American experience.
For those seeking a thrill, the Know Theatre will be bringing us a sci-fi epic in 2) Kairos. Kairos will be a refreshing change of pace before the annual Cincinnati Fringe festival this summer. During that time there will be another title that I am looking forward to: 3) Hands on a Hardbody. This musical is premiering at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati in June. It promises to be a hilarious and poignant look at competitors in a touch-the-truck contest.
Explore Your Cincy Theatres
No matter what you choose to see, there’s sure to be a show that will delight at the numerous theaters across the area. Here’s to a fabulous 2023, and an even more exciting 2024 in Cincinnati theatre!