| As the song says, there are "no skies of gray on the great white way." And that's also true right here at home, where the best of Broadway's touring shows - many of them first-run - begin new seasons throughout the state. Here's a sampling of what the three C's - Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus - have to offer, not only on stage but off, with performing-arts venues that have more than just a little touch of star quality.
Cincinnati: A new look
As the lights dimmed and the overture to Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Sunset Blvd." began, Justin Patterson dreamed of the day when he would be the one taking center stage at Cincinnati's Aronoff Center for the Arts. A musical-theater major at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Patterson attended plays at the Aronoff whenever he had the chance, and he knew the center's lavish Procter & Gamble Hall would be a perfect fit for him. At 2,700 seats, it was the epitome of intimacy: a place where, he explains, "actors have the audience in the palm of their hand."
Patterson's aspirations have been fulfilled beyond anything he deemed imaginable. The 29-year-old, 1999 CCM graduate is returning to the Aronoff, only this time as part of the ensemble of "Monty Python's Spamalot," the Tony Award-winning comedy about King Arthur's quest for the Holy Grail. (Patterson's the guy doing double duty as the dancing monk and the French taunter.) The musical is coming to Cincinnati as part of Broadway Across America's 2006-2007 season.
"The show is brilliant," Patterson enthuses. "True to Monty Python, the comedy is honest, not absurd." (Patterson will also be part of "Spamalot" when it tours in Cleveland, along with cast members Kevin Burrows and Amanda Kloots, who hail from Cleveland and Canton, respectively.)
It's easy to see why Patterson is so passionate about the Aronoff Center, an $82 million jewel in the Queen City's crown, named for former Ohio senator Stanley Aronoff, who helped secure $40 million in state funding for the project. Designed by architect Cesar Pelli, the center is a dazzling mix of art deco styling and contemporary stainless-steel accents. Four colors of marble â€” russet from Sicily, yellow-cream from Spain, blue-green from Guatemala and an oxblood hue from France - grace the floors and staircases leading up to the orchestra level in Procter & Gamble Hall, named for the consumer-products company headquartered in Cincinnati.
"It's truly an international approach to design," says Steve Loftin, president and executive director of the Cincinnati Arts Association, the nonprofit organization managing the center.
The quartet of colors not only complements the building's flame-red masonry brick exterior, it also provides a dramatic contrast to the 73-foot-high windows dotting the lobby and dark cherry trim framing the walls. While at the Aronoff, be sure to peruse the Weston Art Gallery, which showcases regional talent.
"Instead of saying we have tickets to the Broadway series, many patrons say, 'We have tickets to the Aronoff,'" Loftin says. "That a wonderful endorsement."
Aronoff Center for the Arts, 650 Walnut St., Cincinnati. For show times and tickets, call 513/241-2345 or visit www.BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com.
Cleveland: History lessons
Chita Rivera is used to being in the spotlight when she brings one of her Broadway shows to Cleveland. But it's the mezzanine level of the State Theatre that the legendary Tony Award-winning dancer considers to be her favorite place. In 1977, when Rivera was in town for a variety show, the theater was undergoing extensive renovation. To show her support for the project, she climbed the scaffolding and added touches of gold trim to the auditorium railing.
"We are so lucky that these theaters are still here and thriving," she says.
Rivera is not alone in her reverence. The story of Cleveland's Playhouse Square Center - which at 10,250 seats is the second-largest performing arts complex in the country, outside of New York's Lincoln Center - is a wellspring of civic pride.
In 1970, theater lovers banded together under the leadership of Clevelander Ray Shepardson to prevent the State, Palace, Ohio and Allen from being turned into parking lots. The 34-year renovation project that followed resulted in the creation of the eight stages now comprising the center.
This season, shows in Cleveland's Broadway series will be staged at the State and Palace theaters, opened as vaudeville houses in 1921 and 1922, respectively.
To Jeannie Emser Schultz, co-author of Playhouse Square Cleveland: An Entertaining History, each theater is a leading lady with her own distinctive attributes. There are, for instance, the four 85-year-old murals that are the focal point of the State Theatre lobby, painted by American modernist James Daugherty, including "The Spirit of the Cinema," which graced the cover of Life magazine in 1970 and added fuel to the civic fires already ignited to save the theaters.
"Art historians from all over the country come here to study the murals," she says.
And there are the echoes of the past left by stars who played there - the comments, for instance, of The Three Stooges' Moe Howard, who proclaimed in the 1940s that the Palace had everything backstage an actor would desire - right down to the regulation-size pool table and laundry room. And the finickiness of those such as Yul Brynner, who insisted that his dressing room in the State Theatre be painted brown during his 1984 appearance in "The King and I." (Twenty-one years after his death, the color remains.)
"These theaters are a saved opportunity," says John Hemsath, Playhouse Square Center's director of theater operations, "not only for us, but for future generations."
Palace Theatre, 1615 Euclid Ave., State Theatre, 1519 Euclid Ave., Cleveland. For show times and tickets, call 216/241-6000 or visit www.playhousesquare.org. For theater tours, call 216/771-4444.
Columbus: Saved assets
Whenever Todd Bemis crosses the thresholds of Columbus' historic Palace and Ohio theaters, chills run up his spine. And it has nothing to do with the thermostat setting.
"I often think to myself, 'What would this city be like if we didn't have this?' says Bemis.
He reflects on the fact that the Palace was neglected for more than a decade as its future was debated. He marvels at the notion that the Ohio came within an inch of being demolished by the wrecking ball to make room for an office building, spared only by the determination of a band of theater lovers who formed the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts.
"Inevitably, some little kid walks in on a tour and his head goes up and his mouth drops open, and he's tripping all over himself because he can't take his eyes off the surroundings," muses Bemis, CAPA's vice president of operations. "And I think, 'Yeah. This 6-year-old gets it. Why didn't the adults get it back then?'
Opened in 1926 as a vaudeville house and patterned after France's Palais de Versailles, the 2,827-seat Palace Theatre is resplendent with verde-antique marble paneling on the walls and throughout the foyer. The magnificent 28-foot-wide grand staircase is constructed of gleaming white statuary from Italy, adorned with eight-candle brass torchieres. "Grandeur of the Dramatic Arts," depicting the evolution of comedy, love, tragedy and music, graces the arch over the staircase. It was painted in 1987 by muralist Alejandro Cataldi, then a senior at the Columbus College of Art and Design.
A 2,779-seat Spanish-Baroque masterpiece that opened in 1928 as a movie theater, the Ohio Theatre boasts a dazzling 21-foot-high, 339-bulb chandelier weighing 2 1/2 tons. The theater's pipe organ cost $21,000 when it was installed in 1928. Designed to accompany the silent movies that played at the Ohio during the late 1920s and early '30s, the instrument is equipped with a variety of sound effects, ranging from firebells to waves at the beach. These days, the organ sets the mood during CAPA's Summer Movie Series, a feast of classic films running through this month.
"No one even attempts to recreate these types of theaters today," Bemis says. "They know it just can't be done."
Ohio Theatre, 55 E. State St.; Palace Theatre, 34 W. Broad St. For show times and to order tickets, call 614/431-3600 or visit www.ticketmaster.com. For theater tours, call 614/469-1045 or visit www.capa.com.
Here's a sampling of coming attractions:
- All Shook Up: Romantic comedy about a girl and a rock 'n' roll roustabout, set to Elvis Presley's greatest hits. (Feb. 13-18, Columbus; Feb. 27-March 11, Cincinnati; April 10-22, Cleveland)
- Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life: Rivera performs excerpts from shows such as "West Side Story," "Bye Bye Birdie" and "Chicago." (Feb. 13-25, Cleveland)
- Dirty Rotten Scoundrels: Based on the film, the musical comedy follows the adventures of two con artists. (Dec. 19-31, Cincinnati; Oct. 24-29, Columbus; June 12-24, Cleveland)
- The Light in the Piazza: A mother and daughter on vacation in Tuscany learn about the countryside and each other. (Sept. 5-17, Cincinnati; Jan. 16-28, Cleveland; March 13-18, Columbus)
- Monty Python's Spamalot: The search for the Holy Grail "lovingly ripped off" from the film classic. (Oct. 3-15, Cleveland; Oct. 17-29, Cincinnati)
- The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: Six youngsters learn that winning isn't everything. (Nov. 14-26, Cincinnati; April 24-29, Columbus)
- Twelve Angry Men: Richard Thomas stars in this drama about a murder trial that's far from an open and shut case. (Nov. 28-Dec. 3, Columbus; Jan. 16-28, Cincinnati)