Sunday, August 01, 1999

Production group forms in Indiana


'Superstar' opener for ambitious arts, theater rehab project

BY JACKIE DEMALINE
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Melvin Tunstall had stopped by his alma mater, University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (BFA '98), for a voice lesson when he checked out an audition posting for Jesus Christ Superstar. It was being presented by a new regional company, Ohio-Indiana-Northern Kentucky Regional Productions.

        Mr. Tunstall is an old hand at Superstar, having sung the role of Judas for Northern Kentucky Symphony and Xavier University in the past year.

        Now he's singing it for — yes, the acronym is OINK — at 8 p.m. tonight and Friday through next Sunday on stage at Indiana's South Dearborn High School. (Tickets $8 and $10 at the door; 727-8587.) Mr. Tunstall, by the way, is also the show's choreographer.

        The new production company is the project of retired high school teacher T. Steven Hedges. He's overseeing a plan to transform Aurora's old Gambles Building, now a warehouse, into its former glory as the Lyric Theatre.

        The restored Lyric would be an anchor to bringing tourism to Aurora, Mr. Hedges says.

        “The gambling boats have awakened southern Indiana — with rather a jolt,” he says. “The Rising Sun traffic has to pass through Aurora, and we're so close to the Argosy.

        “Everybody thinks Indiana is so far from Cincinnati. I can get downtown from my home in 40 minutes. That's how long it takes most people who live in the suburbs.”

        The plan is for OINK (“We'll laugh all the way to the bank,” Mr. Hedges says dryly) to be an umbrella organization for performing groups.

        While a restored Lyric might be as many as five years away, Mr. Hedges is already thinking about what he'd like to see there: a concert series by the local arts council, professional and community theater productions.

        He's planning to talk to CCM opera faculty member Malcolm Fraser about an opera presence. A few years back, Mr. Fraser was very involved in trying to restore Aurora's old opera house as a performance space. If the gambling boats had been up and running, that story might have had a different ending.

        Mr. Tunstall, meanwhile, will go from Judas to Jesus. He'll star in Godspell for a religious convention meeting in Cincinnati over Labor Day weekend. And he's been working on a one-man show at the Cabaret. He's also been developing a revue of the work of Broadway songwriter Cy Coleman, while working with the Cincinnati Church of Christ arts ministry.

        LEAGUE MEETING: The new League of Cincinnati Theatres has scheduled an organizational meeting for 4 p.m. Aug. 9 at Playhouse in the Park.

        Topics will include criteria for and levels of membership, election of an executive committee and plans for the upcoming season. Everybody is welcome.

        VIVA VICTORIA: So what's the deal with the new Cincinnati Ballet brochure? Flip open the front cover and the first thing you see is a full-page, full-color Victoria Mor gan. The artistic director is in a chic black leotard and doing avant garde things with her arms.

        “We're totally flooded with people adoring Victoria,” enthuses the Ballet's Susan Eiswirth, “so we decided to pump the celebrity” in the 1999-2000 season brochure.

        “She's a personality in Cincinnati. We present each ballet as a stand alone, but she's the glue that holds it all together.”

        Taking a quick look at some other arts brochures, D. Lynn Meyers at Ensemble Theatre, Jasson Minadakis at Cincinnati Shakespeare and Nic Muni at Cincinnati Opera are all represented thumbnail size.

        If only they'd known, says a tongue-in-cheek Chris Milligan from the Opera, that the Ballet was going to “set a precedent” this year with a new cultural cult of celebrity.

        “We think Nic is just lovely,” he adds. “We're thinking of going bigger with him next year.”

        But wait. Producing artistic director Ed Stern is nowhere to be seen in the Playhouse in the Park season brochure. Not pretty enough?

        After he stopped laughing, Mr. Stern noted that in the brochure that marked his first term as Playhouse chief eight years ago, there were pictures of him “everywhere, with the slogan "This man will make all your dreams come true.'” When subscribers didn't start winning Powerball, his mug shot just kept getting smaller.

        A PAYING GIG: Do you have a great, short (30- to 45-minute) performance project? Xavier University Theater may have a slot for you — and it's a paying gig. Xavier's producer Cathy Springfield plans to put together a triple-bill evening of home-grown work Sept. 30-Oct. 3.

        Right now, the only committed slot is a new short play by Nancy Bailey White, creative writing teacher at School for Creative and Performing Arts.

        The plan is to make $2,000 available to produce each of the segments. What's Ms. Springfield looking for? “Dance? Theater? Puppetry?” she muses. Something good. She asks for proposals/scripts/concepts. Call her ASAP at 745-3578.

        TOUR CANCELED: If Julie Taymor's Juan Darien: A Carnival Mass at the Wexner Center was on your list of show-going for fall, take it off.

        The national tour has been canceled. The Wexner's multimedia retrospective Julie Taymor: Playing with Fire opens Sept. 18 and continues through Jan. 2.

        Jackie Demaline is Enquirer theater critic and roving arts reporter. Write her at Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati OH 45202; fax, 768-8330.

       



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