Few professions were so directly affected by the coronavirus pandemic as the performing arts – in this case, theater and dance. Measures to slow the spread of the virus struck at the heart of these groups’ collective mission – to bring people together, literally, to share experiences that could feed our spirit. It was a cruel irony that these groups had to pause their work just when our spirits so needed an extra helping of food.
We’re not yet back to “normal,” of course, but this fall is looking more familiar as many groups return to full-capacity, in-person performances. Many seasons are starting later and are weighted more toward the end of the year. Nevertheless, there’s no scrimping on the product, and there’s plenty that qualifies for don’t-miss classification. Just in case, double-check nearer the date to confirm that these events with these artists are still on the bill.
Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati: ‘Pipeline’
Plenty of organizations are symbolically picking up where they left off when the pandemic broke. Ensemble Theatre is taking that concept more literally. Dominique Morisseau’s “Pipeline” had just opened in March 2020 when the world closed down. With the investment in the production already made and its still-timely message, why not give the work its due? Why not, indeed.
“Pipeline” tells the story of Nya, an inner-city public high school teacher who is committed to her students. She’s also desperate to give her son, Omari, opportunities she knows her students won’t have. When a controversial incident at his upstate private school threatens to get him expelled, she must confront his rage and her own choices as a parent. It’s a compelling portrait of parenthood, education and the experience of young Black men in America.
Sept. 22-Oct. 16, Ensemble Theatre; www.ensemblecincinnati.org
Cincinnati Ballet: ‘New Works’
It’s not unusual for us to tout Cincinnati Ballet’s annual “New Works” program as a best bet. It’s often been sold out because of being staged at the Aronoff Center’s smaller Jarson-Kaplan Theater. If you’ve been thwarted before, this is your year. The ballet is giving its new works a breath of fresh air – in this case at Eden Park’s Seasongood Pavilion. In a big leap of faith, all six performances Thursday-Sunday will be outdoors, and – best of all – free.
These pieces are so new, almost all are still TBA according to the ballet’s website. What we can tell you is that the program will feature world premieres from Heather Britt and three of the home team’s dancers: Melissa Gelfin De-Poli, Daniel Baldwin and Taylor Carrasco. “Sit,” by the company’s resident choreographer, Jennifer Archibald, is back for a second look.
This season is Victoria Morgan’s 25th and final year as artistic director, and the company moves into its new home, conveniently just across Gilbert Avenue and down a long flight of stairs from Seasongood Pavilion. To celebrate, as the song says, “Everybody dance now.”
Sept. 23-26, multiple times, Seasongood Pavilion; www.cballet.org
Playhouse in the Park: ‘The West End’
Undoubtedly this season’s biggest deal in the local theater scene is Playhouse’s season opener. It’s another world premiere by Keith Josef Adkins – a bona fide Queen City scion. He’s a 1983 Princeton grad and now a New York-based veteran playwright and television screenwriter. In 2014, the Playhouse premiered his “Safe House,” which addresses the challenges facing free Blacks in Kentucky before the Civil War, inspired by Adkins’ research into his family’s history.
If PiP’s decision to mount “Safe House” in its larger Marx Theatre was somewhat of a risk, the run’s (big) success made a follow-up collaboration on a new work a no-brainer. A few years and a pandemic later, the result is “The West End,” a story set in the namesake Cincinnati neighborhood in 1941. The play follows Grace, who houses African Americans migrating from the Deep South and German residents facing growing hostility on the brink of World War II. When a stranger arrives in the middle of the night in her backyard, Grace must confront the secrets of her past and the irrevocable ripples they have made on her present.
Oct. 9-Nov. 7, Playhouse in the Park; www.cincyplay.com
Cincinnati Ballet: ‘King Arthur’s Camelot’
As part of Victoria Morgan’s victory-lap valedictory year, Cincinnati Ballet is reviving “King Arthur’s Camelot,” a 2014 commission for the company’s 50th anniversary with music by Canadian John Estacio and choreography by … you guessed it, Victoria Morgan. It’s a chance to see Morgan’s impact on the region’s premier professional dance company in microcosm, and a great farewell present both from and to her. Better yet, you’ve got five chances over three days to catch it.
Nov. 5-7, various times, Music Hall; www.cballet.org
Broadway in Cincinnati: ‘Wicked’
The Great White Way in New York is slowly turning lights on again, so no surprise that touring Broadway productions are coming back to life, too. The Broadway Cincinnati series heats up November with a return run of “Wicked,” the blockbuster 2003 gravity-defying adaptation of Gregory Maguire’s revisionist take on Frank Baum’s stories of Oz. Time to find out if, after the pandemic, we really have been changed … for good.
Nov. 17-Dec. 5, Aronoff Center; www.cincinnati.broadway.com