Connecticut Theater Goers Should Have Difficulty Choosing among Up-coming Productions This Spring

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By Karen Isaacs

 Connecticut might be a small state, certainly in square miles (it is the third smallest behind Delaware and Rhode Island), yet it is blessed with numerous fine professional theaters. So it should not be surprising that despite our small size, sometimes two theaters schedule the same work in a season; many audience members do not want to travel distances to attend a show.

Nora Torvald, Ibsen’s protagonist in A Doll’s House is making two appearances in Connecticut this spring, but not in the Ibsen play. Instead, two of Connecticut’s regional theaters, separated by 40 miles or so, are producing the Tony-winning play, A Doll’s House – Part 2. This work by Lucas Hnath, imagines what happened to Nora after she slammed the front door and left her husband, her marriage, and her children. Twenty years later she returns.

This work is among the most produced plays in the US in the last year. So it isn’t surprising that Rob Ruggiero at TheaterWorks and Long Wharf both decided to stage it. TheaterWorks is doing it first, Friday, Jan. 18 to Sunday, Feb. 24) and then May 1 to 29, is Long Wharf’s turn.

Even though I did not particularly care for Hnath’s future for Nora, nor the play, I’ll be interested in seeing both productions. Why? A different director, a different cast and even a different size theater can alter the dynamics of a piece. Jenn Thompson who is directing the TheaterWorks production will probably have a very different approach to the play than Will Davis, who will direct the Long Wharf production. Perhaps I will revise my judgement of the work.

So what else is on my list of must see shows through June? My choices are influenced by the work itself or the director. Plays and musicals that are new or less often done are more likely to catch my interest than a work that is often seen.

I’ll highlight some of the musicals that I’ll be interested in:

Working the Stephen Schwartz musical based on the Studs Terkel book about working people, is getting a rare production at ACT-CT, a newer theater in Ridgefield Thursday, Feb. 14 to Sunday, March 10 This show has been under almost constant revision. It’s billed as a world premiere of new version which includes new songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Daniel C. Levine. The show incorporates high tech media displays.

Darko Tresnjak’s last directing assignment at Hartford Stage before he departs will be the new musical The Flamingo Kid, based on the film, May 9 to June 2. Can Tresnjak repeat the smash success of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder or the solid success of Anastasia? We’ll see.

 We had Hamilton this December but Westport Country Playhouse is presenting Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first hit, In the Heights to open their season, April 23 – May 11.

Among the touring shows playing the presenting theaters, I will absolutely see the national tour of Come from Away which is at the Bushnell from April 30 to May 5. I loved this show on Broadway (where it is still running). It is imaginative and heart-warming without being sentimental.

The Music Man will open the Goodspeed season (April 12 – June 16), while this show is frequently done, I still love the Meredith Willson music and lyrics. Plus, Goodspeed always produces his quality.

A case where the director and theater is putting a show on my list is Cabaret at MTC in Norwalk from Friday, March 29 to Sunday, April 14. Artistic Director Kevin Connor has shown a true genius for taking large shows and making them work in the small, intimate, three-quarter round stage.

The last musical on my “must see list” is the most controversial. Playhouse on Park, a smaller theater in West Hartford is presenting Kander & Ebb’s The Scottsboro Boys, June 26 – August  4. The musical is about the travesty of justice in the 1930s when a group of young black men were accused of raping a white woman. But Kander & Ebb took it one step farther; the show is designed like an old-fashioned minstrel show with the almost all male black cast playing all the characters. It’s a daring choice for the theater. I saw the show on Broadway and found it both entertaining and horrifying.

Dramas and Comedies

The Connecticut Rep on the UConn campus, is producing an adaptation that combines Shakespeare’s Henry IV parts one and two, April 25 – May 5. These show how has the heir apparent to his father, Henry IV, the young Prince Hal learns how to be a ruler.

TheaterWorks is presenting a play that seems ripped from the headlines. Actually is about two young college students and what really happened in their encounter at a freshman year party. It runs, May 23 to June 23.

Yale is presenting two world premieres both of which sound interesting. Good Faith – Four Chats about Race and the New Haven Fire Department, runs from Friday, Feb. 1 to Saturday, Feb. 23. The Tony award winning Kenny Leon directs this piece that explores the results and conflicting views today of the 2009 Supreme Court ruling that New Haven had violated the civil rights of a group of firefighters passed over for promotion.

Later in the spring, April 26 to May 18, Yale presents Cadillac Crew which looks at the civil rights activist women of the 1950s and early ‘60s. These are the forgotten leaders who fought for both civil rights and women’s rights.

For comedy, I’m anticipating with pleasure the silly British humor of Jeeves & Wooster in “Perfect Nonsense” at Harford Stage, Thursday, March 21 to Sunday, April 14. If you don’t know these characters created by P. G. Wodehouse, Jeeves is the valet who continually saves day for the Bertie Wooster, whose fabrications get him into multiple jams.

While I these shows are high my list, many others sound very interesting. Long Wharf is presenting a one-man reworking of Homer’s Iliad (Wednesday, March 27 to Sunday, April 21), plus Tiny Beautiful Things an adaptation of a novel about an advice columnist. It runs, Wednesday, February 13 to Sunday, March 10.

So, make time for theater this winter and spring.

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