Category Archives: Theater News

“Assassins” at Yale Rep – Is it Sondheim’s Best Musical?

Assassins_600x600 By Karen Isaacs

Assassins, the Stephen Sondheim & John Weidman musical that opens at the Yale Rep on Friday, March 17, may not be familiar to the casual theater goer. But for director James Bundy, it is a show that he has wanted to direct for many years.

One reason, Bundy said, is that he felt it would resonate with the audience.

Assassins is staged as a revue; the characters are the men and women who made successful and unsuccessful attempts on the lives of US Presidents.

“I was particularly drawn to it when we were planning this season because of the tenor of national politics, which are driven in part by the kind of anger and resentment, as well as the pursuit of fame and celebrity, that is so prevalent in our contemporary political culture,” Bundy explained. He added that when he scheduled the piece last spring, he had no idea who would be the Presidential nominees or who would be the winner of the election, but he felt the idea of the show would still be relevant.

The show itself was written in the late 1980s and was based on an idea by Charles Gilbert, Jr., an aspiring writer of musicals. Sondheim has said he read Gilbert’s script of a show about presidential assassin as a panelist for the Musical Theater Lab. Later, he asked and gained permission to use the basic idea though in a very different form. The original script had a typical plot about a fictional character.

The musical that Sondheim and Weidman developed is more of a revue, set in a carnival arcade shooting gallery where the different assassins interact despite wide variations in their historical time period. They added three non-historical characters: the Proprietor who owns the shooting gallery and provides the guns; the Balladeer who serves as the narrator; and Billy, Sara Jane Moore’s son, the son was real but the name was changed.

The show brings together the well-known assassins – Lee Harvey Oswald and John Wilkes Booth – with those that have been lost to history such as Charles Guiteau (President Garfield’s assassin) as well as some who made attempts on the lives of Presidents, and in one case, a President-elect.

In explaining his reasons for doing the show, Bundy said, “our job as artists is to notice what is going on around us.”

He describes Assassins as a “classic” and said that as such “it connects vividly to the preoccupations of any period. Although there are ways in which the specifics of the show are fixed in time, and the history is unknown to some of us, the fixations of the characters are utterly current.”

Yale

James Bundy. Photo by Joan Marcus

Bundy said the Yale production includes a 13-piece orchestra playing the original Broadway orchestrations. But he also said the production which is about the American Dream invites “a theatrical interpretation that combines our national iconography with originality and contemporary perspective.” These include digital design with contemporary and folk art.

Whether it be Oswald, Booth or Byck (attempted assassin of Richard Nixon), what the show points to, Bundy said, is that “political violence has been part of American culture for more than 150 years – as have the strains of entitlement, misguided rage, and gun culture that fueled the phenomenon.”

The press release on the show points out, Assassins is about nine people who, “united in disillusionment and alienation, take what they believe is their best – and only – shot at the American Dream.”

Bundy agrees with Sondheim, who has often stated that he viewed Assassins as his most “perfect” musical.  In an interview with the Globe (London) in 2014, Sondheim said “John Weidman [the librettist] and I knew what we wanted to do, and we did it.” He added it that it fulfilled his expectations.

Explaining what he finds so intriguing and perfect about the show, Bundy said, “The creators were able to write in different genres and create a prismatic view of our nation’s history and character. In less than two hours, they raise gripping questions about who we are and what we tried to do.”

They were, he said, able to create a range of audience reactions from laughter to horror to sadness.

He also liked that Sondheim and Weidman took risks in combining the surreal and the documentary, the comic and the tragic.

The music embraces all American musical genre that reflect the periods of the assassins. Thus the shows as songs that sound like folk and revivalist numbers as well as those that reflect the ’60, ‘70s and ’80.

The show opened off-Broadway for a limited run at Playwrights’ Horizons in 1990 but did not get a Broadway production until 2004, again a limited run this time at Roundabout Theatre. A production scheduled for after 9-11 was shelved. In the Broadway production, a relatively unknown Neil Patrick Harris played both the balladeer and Lee Harvey Oswald.

Initially, while many critics liked the show and admired Sondheim and Weidman’s brilliance, a number were put off by the subject matter and unsure whether the authors were condemning or glorifying the assassins. Some missed the obvious satire in the piece.

In the Globe interview in 2014, Sondheim said, ““Nobody at the end of the show should feel that we have been excusing or sentimentalizing these people. We’re examining the system that causes these horrors. The US Constitution guarantees the pursuit of happiness. It doesn’t guarantee the happiness. That’s the difference. These are people who feel they’ve been cheated of their happiness, each one in a different way.”

assassins rehearsal 2 _edited

Rehearsal

The Yale production which runs through Saturday, April 8 has assembled a cast that includes Broadway veterans Stanley Bahorek as Guiseppe Zangaria who appeared in a number of Broadway musicals, Stephen DaRosa as Charles Guiteau who received a Connecticut Critics Circle award for his performance in These Paper Bullets!,  Austin Durant as the Proprietor and P.J. Griffith as Leon Czolgosz. Robert Lenzi who was in Tuck Everlasting and South Pacific on Broadway plays John Wilkes Booth.

Other cast members include Dylan Frederick as the Balladeer who is a 3rd year student at the Drama school

Assisting in the production are Andrea Grody as music director. She is fresh from the off-Broadway debut of the musical The Band’s Visit which received rave notices. David Dorfman is doing the musical staging.

The production team includes Riccardo Hernandez who has created the sets, Ilona Somogyi the costumes, Yi Zhao the lighting.  Nathan A. Roberts and Charles Coes are the sound designers and Michael Commendatore is the projection designer.

Assassins runs Friday, March 17 to Saturday, April 8 at the University Theater, 222 York St., New Haven. For tickets, visit Yale Repor call 203-432-1234.

This content is courtesy of Shore Publishing and zip06.

 

New Plays by Women Will Get Productions at Ivoryton Playhouse’s First Women’s Playwrights Imitative

ivoryton-playhouse-front-2015_editedBy Karen Isaacs

 Politics, love, betrayal, power and powerlessness, redemption, coming of age, motherhood. These and more were the subjects of plays submitted for the new Ivoryton Playhouse Women’s Playwright Initative.

Ivoryton Playhouse is undertaking the new program to help women playwrights develop new works.  As Jacqui Hubbard, the Playhouse’s artistic director said, developing new plays was “something I always wanted to do.” She added that the typical Ivoryton audience is more comfortable with more familiar works.

The idea of the women’s initiative came because she believed that women often feel a need for empowerment.  She had recently met with Laura Copland, a former actress, college professor/administrator and a lawyer who recently relocated to Ivoryton, and discussed ways Copland could become involved. From that meeting, the Women’s Initiative was born.

“We thought it would be a good idea, so we put out a call for submissions through the League of Professional Theatre Women and the call was quickly spread,” she said.

While Hubbard and Copland, the newly appointed director of play development at the Playhouse, expected maybe 20 or 30 submissions and mostly from nearby, they were amazed when 183 scripts arrived. They came from all over the country – and Canada and even one from Israel.

Copeland said she read every single script. In addition to her reading the scripts, a group of actors, other playwrights, directors, critics and other theater professionals were each asked to read between 5 and 20 scripts.

The 183 scripts were finally narrowed down to 14 finalists, Copland said. A final selection committee read the finalists and chose the four plays that will be rehearsed and presented, Friday March 3 and Saturday March 4. The final committee included Copland; Hubbard; Ivoryton box office manager Sue McCann; director, theatre critic and academic Brooks Appelbaum and Margaret McGlone Jennings, a director, teacher and actor.

Due to limitations of time and funding, Huibbad said, there are two one-act plays and two very short plays (10-20 minutes). “We had really almost no money for the expenses of this initiative.” They were unable even to provide travel money for the playwrights to attend; yet, Hubbard said, all four are attending, one from California.

In addition to the subjects mentioned above, Copland said, the submissions dealt with “Beauty, aging, sex, sexuality, the military, need and yearning. The passion rippling through all these works was astonishing. Reading them was a gift.”

This first iteration of the initiative will include one week of rehearsal for each play, workshops for the playwrights plus a semi-stage reading of the work in front of a live audience. In addition, there will be “talk-back” after the performances so the audience can provide more feedback to the playwrights.

Lauren Yarger, critic and co-founder of the newly formed Connecticut chapter of the League of Professional Theater Women, has organized a panel discussion for Saturday, March 4 prior to the evening’s productions. The panel will feature a discussion with the four women whose works were selected for the iniatitive.

Moderating the panel discussion is Shellen Lubin, co-president of the Women in the Arts & Media, as well as vice president for programming for the League of Professional Theater Women. Lubin who has extensive experience as a director, songwriter/playwright, and vocal/acting coach, will be directing one of the plays.

Brooks Appelbaum, PhD who is both a member of the Quinnipiac University English Dept., stage director and theater critic, served on the final selection committee and will direct one of the plays.

She said that of the group of plays she read, some “shared the overtly feminist theme of women who were oppressed. Others were female-centered comedies.”  But she added while the themes varied, most contained “strong female characters.”

Directors applied and were selected to direct. Open auditions were held to find actors for the various roles.

Appelbaum will direct Apple Season, one of the two one-act plays presented. The play by Ellen Lewis from California. Copland described the play as “to make arrangements for her father’s funeral, Lissie returns to the family farm she and her brother fled 26 years ago. Billy, a neighbor and school friend, comes by with an offer to buy the farm. As memories, needs and passions are stirred, we learn what happened to the siblings as children, and of Lissie’s startling price for the farm.”

“What immediately drew me to the play was the subtle delicacy with which the playwright handled the plot’s disturbing elements and the beautiful theatricality she employs in revealing, through flashbacks, the characters’ struggles at different ages,” Applebaum said.

She went on to say that this one of the few scripts she read that pulled her in immediately. “I forgot I was reading to assess it; I was completely in the Apple Season world.”

While it is not a finished work, Applebaum said the play “is, to my mind, at the perfect stage for a workshop such as ours. All the important script elements are in place.”

Apple Season will be the longer piece on Friday, March 3. The shorter play is Guenevere by Susan Cinoman. Copland described that play thusly: “Guenevere and Arthur are best friends—a fierce competitor, she always bests him in sword fights. What will be the outcome when confronted with Excalibur in the stone?”

“My play is the first part of a full length play called, Guenevere  about a  fictional character of my own, inspired by the Arthurian legends. In my play, Guenevere pulls the sword from the stone, and though entitled to the leadership of England, she must overcome many obstacles to try to claim her place,” Cinoman said. “It’s something of a political allegory but also a personal story about love and sacrifice. And comedy.”

Like most of the playwrights attending, Cinemon, who lives in Woodbridge, hopes to get ideas for the play’s development.  She has extensive writing credits writing plays, films and for TV (The Goldbergs). The play will be directed by Hannah Simms who works with HartBeat in Hartford.

On Saturday, March 4, the evening will open with Buck Naked by Gloria Bond Clunie directed by Lubin. This works is described: “Two daughters are thrown into a tizzy when they discover, Lily, the 60+ year-old mother has decided to spice up life by tending her backyard garden, au naturel!”

Clunie who is travelling from Illinois, also have extensive credits as well as multiple awards.

The final work will be Intake by Margot Lasher. It is described as “an arrogant young psychiatrist meets and 80 year-old woman for what he assumes will be a routine examination. During the course of their relationship, he comes to realize how little he knows; as she reveals her deep love and understand of her two aging dogs, both doctor and patient learn about life, love and hope.”

Lasher is from Vermont. Her play will be directed by Sasha Batt, literary manager of West Hartford’s Playhouse on Park.

Tickets are available for each evening or a package for both days. Call the box office at 860-767-7318 to book the 2-day pass. Individual evening tickets can be purchased at ivorytonplayhouse.org.  Each evening begins at 7 p.m.

This content is courtesy of Shore Publications and Zip06ivoryton-playhouse-front-2015_edited

From Behind-the Scenes to the Business Side of Musicals

book-coverBy Karen Isaacs

 One of the highlights of the symposiums on Saturday, Jan. 14, presented as part of the Goodspeed Festival of New Musicals will be the conversation by Jack Viertel with theater writer and critic Frank Rizzo.

Viertel’s book, The Secret Life of the American Musical is a must read for musical theater fans. In it, he draws on his years of experience as a critic, producer and teacher at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, to dissect what makes the some musicals great and others also-rans.

jack-vierte“I wrote the book because whenever I gave a talk to lay people about musical theater, they would also ask when would I write a book. So, six or seven years ago, I started writing,” Viertel said. It is based on the teaching he did at NYU for theater professionals who wanted to become writers of musicals –lyricists, composers or book writers.

He has developed a series of what he calls “patterns” that are present in all outstanding musicals. He said that these patterns are still necessary if today’s shows. “They aren’t being broken,” he said. “They’re being up-dated and rethought for a different world.”

“We’re in a period of tremendous vitality for musicals,” Viertel said and pointed to Hamilton, the recently opened Dear Evan Hansen and the off-Broadway The Band’s Visit as three examples. “The new writers have different approaches to telling a story.”

When a musical fails there can be a number of reason, Viertel said. “It isn’t engaging enough, maybe the story doesn’t need to be musicalized, the writers haven’t found the key to tell the story or musicalizing it, or sometimes all the elements just aren’t good enough.”

Viertel is the artistic director of the Encore! series at City Center and senior vice president of Jujamcyn Theaters.

But the conversation with Viertel is just one of many symposiums that day.  For those interested in the backstage life of a musical, Chris Zaccardi will share stories on a stage manager’s life. He will be the stage manager for the revival of Hello, Dolly! this spring. Gillian Lane-Plescia will demonstrate the techniques she uses to help actors with accents and dialects. Tony winning lighting designer Ken Billington will also be featured.

Jayna Neagle and Elizabeth Shumate will share experiences in bringing Cirque Soleil’s first musical Paramour to Broadway. Michael Rubinoff, one of the producers of Come from Away which began life at the Festival and opens on Broadway this spring, talks about the journey that show has taken.

Sean Cercone will share insights about the process of acquiring performance rights and licensing of material including bring stories from the big screen to the stage. He is senior vice president of new musical development for Theatrical Rights Worldwide.

The symposiums are open to Festival gold package ticket holders. For information, contact goodspeed.org or call 860-873-8668.

Musical Theater Fans Flock to Goodspeed’s Festival of New Musicals

sign.jpgBy Karen Isaacs

 What draws so many people from New York City, Connecticut and surrounding states to East Haddam Friday, Jan. 13 to Sunday, Jan. 14, that tickets are scarce?

It’s the Goodspeed Annual Festival of New Musicals now in its 12th year. The Festival features a weekend long roster of activities and according to Bob Alwine, associate producer, many of the festival’s special packages that include tickets for multiple events sell out.

The focus of the festival is just as its name implies: developing new musicals by giving the creative teams a chance to work with directors and casts to rehearse and then put on a staged reading in front of an enthusiastic and knowledgeable audience.

Over the years, Goodspeed has developed a relationship with the Hartt School at the University of Hartford and uses its senior students majoring in musical theater for the roles. Students from the Boston Conservatory of Music also audition for some of the roles.

This year, Alwine has been instrumental in putting together the shows being staged, although each came to his and Goodspeed’s attention in a different way. Yet they share one thing in common; all of the writing teams had been part of the Johnny Mercer Foundation Writers Workshop. This month long program allows writing teams to work intensively on new works while having the support of an on-site dramaturg, producer and Goodpseed’s music department. The Mercer Colony Workshop begins Monday, Jan. 16 for four weeks.

Selecting the musicals for the Festival is part balancing act, according to Alwine. “We consider, of course, the quality of the work, but we also have to consider more practical matters. Since we cast with students we look for shows that have appropriate age ranges in the cast and ethnic backgrounds. Unfortunately, there is not always a lot of diversity in the student bodies at some of the schools.”

“Lots of new musicals feature small casts,” Alwine said, “because for new writing teams small cast shows are easier to get produced.  But we want each student to have a role, so we need to consider cast size as well.”

Over the years, the reputation of the Festival has grown which means that more works are asked to be considered and more established writing teams submit works for consideration.

ZM is just such a show. Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis created the satiric musical Urinetown which ran for just under 1,000 performances on Broadway and won Tonys for best book and score. It has toured and played London. They had been working on ZM at the Mercer Colony and submitted it for consideration; they thought it was “fit to work on with students,” Alwine said. Urinetown was known for its political satire – it is about a time when water is in such short supply that toilets are controlled by corporations and people must pay to use them. The show also paid homage to other social-conscious musicals such as Threepenny Opera, The Cradle Will Rock and even Les Miz.

This show, Alwine said which is about a fast food chain’s “special sauce” that turns people into zombies, is not as satiric as their other show. “It’s still tongue-in-cheek and a little campy,” Alwine said, “and it does make some comments about corporate greed.”

The show that opens the festival, Picnic at Hanging Rock is by Daniel Zaitchik whose musical Darling Grenedine will receive a workshop production at Goodspeed’s Norma Terris Theater in Chester this year (Aug. 18 to Sept. 17). The show is based on a novel by Joan Lindsay and is set on Valentine’s Day, 1900, in Victoria, Australia. It is described as about a trip a group of young women college students take to Hanging Rock, the ancient geological rock formation. According to Alwine, Zaitchik worked on the show at the Mercer Colony and this past summer it had a reading as part of the O’Neill Center’s musical theater program.

The third musical, Row, is by Daniel Goldstein, who is both a writer and director; he directed Damn Yankees at Goodspeed.  Row with music and lyrics by Dawn Landes) has had several readings but this will be the first staged reading. (The difference is that there is more movement, some costumes, etc). The smallest cast of the three shows, Row is about Tori Murden who in 1998 attempted to row across the Atlantic in a homemade vessel.

“Last year, as part of the Festival’s symposia, we had several writing teams give ‘5 minute pitches’ about their projects to show the attendees the process of getting a work produced. Daniel gave a pitch for Row; that was how it came to our attention,” Alwine said.

A major part of the festival is the multiple symposiums and other activities on Saturday, Jan. 15. Attendees can get to tour Goodspeed, preview a musical that will be produced at the Terris Theater this year, as well as choose from a variety of speakers and panels.

On Friday, Jan. 13 and Saturday, Jan 14, following the staged readings, the Festival Cabaret takes place at the Gelston house, next door to the theater. Alwine said “some of the most enlightening things occur at the cabaret.” Writing teams from the Mercer Colony as well as the three teams showcasing works often present material from the shows they are working on performed by themselves or the students. In fact, Alwine said that the Cabaret was how the Festival found the musical Band Geeks.

This year, the Friday evening cabaret features Matthew Lee Robinson whose music has been heard at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center’s Broadway’s Future Songbook series. Two of his works, Atlantis and Happy People have received workshops.

Mark Sonnenblick will be featured in the Saturday evening cabaret. He is participating this year in the Mercer Colony (he also did last winter) and has been a Dramatists Guild fellow, a librettist for the Kennedy Center’s American Opera Initiative and the Yale Institute for Music Theatre.

The Festival would love to expand, but space is a problem, Alwine said. While tickets are available for the actual staged readings, space is limited for the other events which use the next door Gelston House restaurant and the restaurant La Vita, which is across the street, for the symposiums and cabaret.

Over the years, shows that had staged readings have gone on to production and to licensing agreements which allow schools, colleges and both professional and community theaters to produce them. Among those are Band Geeks, Theory of Relativity and Harmony, Kansas.

One show that began life at the Festival will open on Broadway this Spring: Come from Away tells the story of how the people of Gander, Newfoundland respond when dozens of jumbo jets where diverted to their airport after Sept. 11.

For information on tickets and packages, contact goodspeed.org or call 860-873-8668.

Content courtesy of Shore Publishing and zip06.

2013 Festival of New Artists, Goodspeed Musicals

“Come from Away” which began life at the 2013 festivval (above) will open on Broadway this Spring. Photo by Diane Sobolowski.

 

Inside notes and comments about Connecticut and New York Professional Theater

By Karen Isaacs

A Dangerous Title:  Calling a show a “turkey” usually means that it is a total flop, but the Connecticut Repertory Theater on the UConn campus is taking a chance with the title of its next show. An Absolute Turkey is by Georges Feydeau, one of the masters of French farce. This version is translated/adapted by Nicki Frei and Peter Hall and won raves in London. It’s all about a man who lusts after his friend’s wife triggering a revenge plot and a dizzying spell of complications. It runs from Thursday, Dec. 1 to Saturday, Dec. 10. For tickets call 896-486-2113 or visit CRT.

New Musical:  The Yale School of Drama is presenting a new musical Bulgaria! Revolt! Created by third year Drama School student Elizabeth Dinkova who is also directing. It runs Friday, Dec. 9 to Thursday, Dec. 15 at the smaller Iseman Theater on Chapel Street. The press materials asks if one small person or nation can change the tide of history. “ From a Bulgarian village on the eve of revolution to the fantastical capitalist paradise of America, a condemned poet travels through time and space in this tragicomic new musical inspired by Geo Milev’s epic poem, September.” For tickets go to Yale Drama School or call 203-432-1234.

Where Does He Find the Time? I’m referring to Hartford Stage Artistic Director Darko Tresnjak. In the next few months he is not only directing Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors at Hartford but is also preparing the musical Anastasia, which had its world premiere in Hartford last spring, for a Broadway opening with previews beginning in March. Now it’s been announced that he will direct the Broadway production of Rear Window, an adaptation of the short story that led to the classic Hitchcock film. It is planned for some time in 2017. The production premiere in Hartford in 2015.

Be at Your Computer on Dec. 6: That’s when tickets go on sale for the annual Kids’ Night on Broadway. Many Broadway shows offer a free ticket for children 18 and young with the purchase of a full-price ticket. A 50% discount. Kids’ Night this year is Tuesday, Feb. 28 and many shows have 7 p.m. curtains. Other events are also scheduled on that day as well such as discounts on parking and food. It’s great time to introduce kids to theater but tickets for the most popular shows are snapped up fast. Don’t count on Hamilton or any other smash hit to be included. To find out more about the shows which will participate and the ways to get tickets, visit Kids Night on Broadway

New York Notes: Tickets are now on sale for the musical Groundhog Day based on the popular film. It won raves in London and stars Andy Karl. It begins previews March 16. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster..  It’s a show many insiders are excited about.

Tickets are also on sale for the Manhattan Theater Club’s revival of Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes.  It stars Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon who will alternate in two of the main roles: Regina Hubbard Giddens and Birdie Hubbard. It begins performances March 29. Tickets are through Telecharge.

Oscar winner Cate Blanchett has a long history of stage performances but mostly in her native Australia. She’s making her Broadway debut in the Sydney Theater Company production of The Present. It’s an adaptation of Chekhov’s first play, Platonov and starts performances Saturday, Dec. 17. Tickets are available through Telecharge.

Tickets are on sale for the limited engagement of the musical Sunset Boulevard starring Glenn Close (the original Broadway Norma Desmond in 1994). It begins performances in February for just 16 weeks. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.

Previews are underway for A Bronx Tale, a new musical based on the Chazz Palminteri’s book and film. Interestingly, two people are being billed as the director: Broadway veteran Jerry Zaks and Oscar winning actor Robert De Niro. Tickets are available at Telecharge..

Honor for Lamos: Mark Lamos, artistic director of Westport Country Playhouse, received the John Houseman Award presented by off-Broadway’s The Acting Company at a Gala in New York.  Houseman, a well-known director and actor, was the co-founder of The Acting Company. Lamos who also served as artistic director of  Hartford Stage has frequently directed productions for The Acting Company. It’s a well-deserved honor.

Another Wilson Drama: Following the fine production of The Piano Lesson at Hartford Stage, Yale Rep is presenting August Wilson’s Seven Guitars from Friday, Nov. 25 to Saturday, Dec. 17. The play is set in Pittsburgh in 1948 following the death of a local blues guitarist on the verge of stardom. Andre de Shields plays Hedley. For tickets, call 203-432-1234 or visit Yale Rep.

Business Takeover Comedy:  Next up at Long Wharf is the comedy-drama Other People’s Money which began its life in 1988 at Hartford Stage. The show is about a greedy Wall Street businessman who buys a family owned New England factory and the young, attractive lawyer who tries to stop him from closing the company. It runs Wednesday, Nov. 23 to Sunday, Dec. 18. For tickets, visitLong Wharf or call 203-787-4282.

Homecoming: A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder made a triumphant return to Hartford in October when the national tour made a stop at the Bushnell. The show began its life at Hartford Stage before going on to Broadway and winning the Tony for best musical and Darko Tresnjak, the Tony for best musical direction. To make the visit to Hartford even more special, the touring production recouped its investment with its Hartford engagement.

More New York Notes: Indecent which began life at Yale Rep and won the CT. Critics Circle award for outstanding production last year is heading to Broadway with an opening scheduled for this Spring. Surprisingly, it will be the first play by Paula Vogel to appear on Broadway; her other shows have all run off-Broadway, including her Pulitzer Prize winner, How I Learned to Drive. 

Theater on Screen: Since the success of the Metropolitan Opera productions on local film screens, theaters have followed suit including Britain’s National Theater Live productions, the Royal Shakespeare Company and an occasional Broadway show. Fathom Events will present a one-night only screening of the Broadway musical, Allegiance which stars George Takei and tells the story of the Japanese-American relocation. The broadcast will be Tuesday, Dec. 13. For information about local theaters, visit Fathom Events.

 

Controversy, New Plays, Goodspeed’s Season and More

Inside notes and comments about Connecticut and New York Professional Theater

By Karen Isaacs

 Oscar Winner in Hartford: Richard Dreyfuss, who won an Oscar and has performed before in Connecticut at Long Wharf, has joined the cast of Relativity, at TheaterWorks. The new play by Mark St. Germain is about a mystery in Einstein’s life: the birth of a daughter in 1902 who was never heard about after 1904. Years later, Einstein is questioned about it by a young reporter. Dreyfuss will play Einstein. Artistic Director Rob Ruggiero directs. The play runs to Nov. 13. For tickets visit TheatreWorks.

 Bank Ad Causes Controversy: Wells Fargo Bank probably thought the ad series for the Teen Financial Education Day (Saturday, Sept. 17) was just clever. But the ad series raised the ire of the artistic community, so much so that the company issued an apology and withdrew the ads. The headlines in the ads featured phrase such as “a ballerina yesterday. An engineer today.” These headlines were interpreted as implying that artists would be better served by going into the sciences. Social media is awash in variations on the idea, such as “Bob Newhart – an accountant yesterday, a comedian and star today.”

 Theater’s Loss: The death of Edward Albee at the age of 88 is an enormous loss for not just American theater but the world. While he is best known for his biting but humorous look at marriage in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? his other works often shocked and puzzled audiences while exploring important issues about relationships. Connecticut audiences were blessed to see fine productions throughout the state:  Mark Lamos directed several excellent productions at Hartford Stage, as did Michael Wilson. Long Wharf had a memorable production of Virginia Woolf starring Mike Nichols and Elaine May.

Tickets on Sale: Tickets are on salefor the new musical Anastasia which had its premiere at Hartford Stage last spring. Tickets are available at Telecharge.com.  Also going on sale are tickets for the musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which will star two-time Tony winner Christian Borle which opens in April. It’s also available at Telecharge.

 Broadway Notes: Tony nominees Kate Baldwin will play Irene Molloy and Gavin Ceel will play Corneilus Hackl in the Bette Middler – David Hyde Pierce  revival of Hello, Dolly! which opens this spring. The first day that tickets were on sale via Telecharge, sales exceeded $9 million. Something Rotten! closes on January 1 after an almost two year run; Jersey Boys will also end it’s 11-year run on Jan. 15.  Following it into the August Wilson Theater will be the musical, Groundhog Day which won raves in London. Andy Karl stars. There’s some talk that Colin Firth may star as Professor Higgins in a revival of My Fair Lady; we can only hope.  If you can’t get tickets to Hamilton you may be able to get tickets to the parody Spamilton which was developed by the creator of Forbidden Broadway. Lin-Manuel Miranda has apparently given his approval. It runs through Oct. 30, off-Broadway. Tickets are available at triad.nyc.com/buy-tickets.

 Goodspeed Next Year: Goodspeed next year will present two revivals and a new version of musical flop PLUS three new musicals at The Terris Theater. The season opens with the Tony-winning Thoroughly Modern Millie (April 21-July2), followed by the classic Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma1 (July 14 –Sept. 28) and the season concludes with a revision of the Charles Strouse (Annie) and Stephen Schwartz (Wicked) musical Rags (Oct. 6-Dec. 10). At The Terris Theatre are the new musicals Deathless (June 2- July2), Darling Grenadine (Aug. 18-Sept. 17) and A Connecticut Christmas Carol (Nov. 17-Dec. 24). Season tickets are now on sale at 860-873-8668. Tickets for individual productions go on sale Feb. 19th.

Off-Broadway Notes: The Classic Stage Company is presenting the world premiere of Dead Poets Society directed by Tony winner John Doyle based on the film. Jason Suderikis stars in the Robin Williams role. It begins previews Oct. 27. For tickets call 212-352-3101 or visit Classic Stage.  The Signature Theatre Off-Broadway is presenting Athol Fugard’s “Master Harold” …. and the Boys began on Oct. 18. The play had its world premiere at Yale Rep. Fugard will direct the work. For tickets call 212-244-7529 or Signature Theatreg.

What Kind of Fool? Seven Angels Theater in Waterbury is continuing the Anthony Newley trend in Connecticut with He Wrote Good Songs. Earlier this year there was a concert of his music at the Madison Library, and then a reimagined production of his musical (with Leslie Bricusse) The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd at the Goodspeed’s Terris Theater.  Newley was a British actor, singer, songwriter and more who wrote musicals and hit songs: “Goldfinger,” “The Candy Man,” “What Kind of Fool Am I?’ and “Who Can I Turn To? among others. Jon Peterson has conceived, written and will perform the show. He has done similar work with a show on George M. Cohan. The one man show runs Nov. 3 to Nov. 27. For tickets, call 203-757-4676 or visit Seven Angels.

 New Musical: Ivoryton is presenting the Connecticut premiere of Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical from Oct. 26 to Nov. 13. Clooney started as a band singer, moving on to recording a number of pop hits in the ‘50s and developing a movie career. Later in life she was a respected jazz and cabaret artist. The musical is described as a biography with her signature songs woven into her story – both her professional life and her struggles in her personal life which included marriage to actor Jose Ferrer and five children. For tickets call 860-767-7318 or visit Ivoryton.

Suspense: MTC in Norwalk is presenting the Tony-winning thriller, Sleuth from Nov. 4 to Nov. 20. The play which also had a successful film that starred Sir Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine, is a cat-and-mouse thriller about a celebrated mystery writer and the younger hairdresser who is his wife’s lover. For tickets call 203-354-3883 or visit MTC

Starting the Holidays: The Palace Theater in Waterbury is presenting the excellent A Christmas Story: The Musical on Nov. 18 and Nov. 19. The musical is based on the classic Jean Shepherd story and subsequent film. The show itself was nominated for several Tony awards during its Broadway run. For tickets call 203-346-2000 or visit Palace Theaterg.

Five More Years: In a somewhat unprecedented move, James Bundy has been reappointed as Dean of Yale School of Drama and artistic director of the Yale Repertory Theater. This,his fourth term, will begin July 1, 2017. It’s unprecedented because previously Yale has limited most Deans – including the Drama School to two terms (10 years) though some served an extra year while the search for a successor was on-going. During his tenure the Yale Rep has produced numerous world and American premieres two of which have been Pulitzer Prize finalists. Congratulations.

Helping the Area Economy: The International Festival of Arts & Ideas which ran June 10-25 generated an economic impact exceeding $15.4 million for the region’s economy. The study was done by Quinnipiac University. It is based on attendance and ticket sales and reported visitor behavior. Other figures: visitors reported spending an average of $140 on food, retail, lodging and transportation. The Festival employed 213 full and season staff. Local vendors, venues and rental companies were hired to help. In addition the 855 artists and speakers required 766 hotel nights in the greater New Haven area.

Election Drama: I don’t usually write about community theater productions though many are excellent. Just too many shows, but I will make an exception for Now or Later at Square One Theatre in Stratford. Why? The play, which I’m unfamiliar with, is written by Christopher Shinn a Connecticut native (An Opening in Time, Dying City) and it is very relevant. The play, which runs Nov. 3 to Nov. 20 is about a presidential election and what happens’ when controversial photos of the candidate’s college age son go viral, potentially sparking an international incident. For information visitSquare One; for tickets call 203-375-8778.

Casting, Controversy, Season Schedules

By Karen Isaacs

Bierko Comes to Long Wharf: Craig Bierko, who was nominated for a Tony for his performance as Harold Hill in the Broadway revival of The Music Man and is now on UnREAL on Lifetime, has joined the cast of Meteor Shower by Steve Martin which opens the Long Wharf season. The show runs Wednesday, Sept. 28 to Sunday, Oct. 23. For tickets visit Long Wharf or call 203-787-4282

Auditions for Kids: Hartford Stage will be auditioning children 5-13 for its annual production of A Christmas Carol – A Ghost Story of Christmas from Tuesday, Sept. 20 to Thursday, Sept. 22. Auditions are by appointment only.  For information about preparation and requirements or appointments email Auditions.

This Year in Waterbury: The season at Seven Angels Theatre has been finalized. It opens with A Room of My Own, a semi-autobiographical comedy about a writer in a wacky family; it runs Thursday, Sept. 22 to Sunday, Oct. 16. Next is the return of Jon Peterson with a one man show about Anthony Newley: He Wrote Good Songs from Nov. 3 to 27. From Feb. 9 to March 3 is George and Gracie: The Early Years about the early life of George Burns and Gracie Allen. R. Bruce Connelly and Semina De Laurentis star. Jesus Christ Superstar, the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical runs from March 23 to April 23. The season concludes with Trav’lin –The 1930s Harlem Musical which recalls the period and features the music and lyrics of Harlem Renaissance composer J. C. Johnson. It runs May 11 to June 11. Tickets are available at 203-757-4676.

King Arthur:  Robert Sean Leonard will be King Arthur in Westport Country Playhouse’s production of Camelot which runs Tuesday, Oct. 4 to Sunday, Oct. 30. It is billed as a “reimagined” production directed by Mark Lamos. While Leonard may be known for his work in the TV series House, he has numerous Broadway credits and received a Tony Award and another Tony nomination. For tickets – which are going fast – visit Westport or call 888-927-7529.

Chasing Rainbows:  Goodspeed’s new musical, Chasing Rainbows: The Road to Oz which is how Judy Garland became a young star, is in rehearsals preparing for its opening Friday, Sept. 16. Of course, the show features many of the songs she made famous and also includes the making of The Wizard of Oz film which was supposed to star Shirley Temple. Goodspeed has a number of special evenings scheduled including a Saturday wine tasting (Sept. 17), teen nights, meet the cast, and others. For information and tickets visit Goodspeed or call 860-873-8668.

 Classic to Contemporary:  Westport Country Playhouse has announced its 2017 season, its 87th.  It opens (May 30 to June 17) with the British comedy Lettice and Lovage which was a 1990 Tony nominee. Following is the 2014-15 Obie (off—Broadway) Award winner for Best New American Play, Appropriate which runs July 11 to 29.  Grounded, a solo production that won the 2016 Lucille Lortel Award in that category and an award at the Edinburg Fringe Festival runs Aug. 15 to Sept. 2. Sex with Strangers, which runs Sept. 26 to Oct. 14 is about a modern relationship in the digital age. The season concludes with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (Oct. 31 to Nov. 19), directed by Mark Lamos, who is well known for his fine Shakespeare production. I still remember his production at Hartford Stage starring a young Calista Flockhart. For information and tickets contact Westport or call 888-927-7529.

Curtain Up: MTC (Music Theatre of Connecticut) in Norwalk opens its season with Gypsy from Friday, Sept. 9 to Sunday, Sept. 25. The iconic show features a cast of solid Broadway professionals. For tickets visit MTC or call 203-454-3883.

Investors Hard to Find: Even Barbra Streisand has problems finding investors. The most recent rumor is that the planned film version of Gypsy that has been talked about for years, is now in doubt again due to the withdrawal of an investor and distributor.

Controversy: Bay Street Theater on Long Island, had planned a concert reading of the new Stephen Schwartz and Phillip LaZenik musical Prince of Egypt, which is based on a film about an Egyptian prince who learns his true identity. Schwartz’ song for the film,“When You Believe” won an Oscar. That was the plan and the concert was cast with some high powered Broadway veterans. But the concert was cancelled after complaints that the cast was not diverse. Apparently there were not just complaints but comments on social media and online which the director termed “harassment” and “bullying.”  This is not the first time recently that a controversy has erupted over casting.

New York Notes:  The Berkshire Theatre Group is transferring its well-received production of Fiorello! to Off-Broadway this fall. It begins previews Sun., Sept. 4 at the East 13th Street Theater. For tickets visit Fiorello or call 800-833-3006. The Pearl Theatre is reviving A Taste of Honey, last seen 35 years ago. Austin Pendleton directs. It runs Tues., Sept 6 to Sun., Oct. 16q. For tickets visit pearltheatre.org or call 212-563-9261. Another off-Broadway Theater – Primary Stages is opening its season with Horton Foote’s The Roads to Home directed by Michael Wilson, former artistic director of Hartford Stage. The production stars Harriet Harris, Devon Abner and Haille Foot. It begins performances Tues., Sept. 13. For tickets visit Primary Stages or call 212-352-3101

New York Notes: Tickets are now on sale for Heisenberg which stars Mary Louis Parker at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater. It begins previews on Tuesday, Sept. 20. Tickets are available through Telecharge.  Jenn Gambatese who starred at Goodspeed in Annie Get Your Gun and has numerous Broadway credits is replacing Sierra Boggess in School of Rock on Broadway. Tickets are also on sale for the revival of Falsettos starring Christian Borle, Andrew Rannells and Stephanie J. Block. The William Finn/James Lapine musical begins previews Thursday, Sept. 29 for a limited run. Ticketmaster is handling tickets.

CRT Season:  The Connecticut Repertory Theater which performs on the UConn campus in Storrs is the last of the Connecticut theaters to announce its 2016-17 schedule. It begins with an ambitious play: Shakespeare’s King Lear from Thurs., Oct. 6 to Sun., Oct. 16. This coincides with the exhibition of a rare Shakespeare first folio to the campus (Thur., Sept 1 to Sun., Sept. 25) via the Folger Shakespeare Library’s tour.  Changing gears, the second show if a translation of the Feydeau farce Le Dindon, called An Absolute Turkey, from Dec. 1 to 10. In 2017, Clifford Odets’ Waiting for Lefty will play Feb. 23 to March 5 followed by Shrek: The Musical from April 20 to 30. Please call 860-486-2113 for information and subscriptions. Tickets for individual performances go on sale Sept. 1. Information is available at CRT.

Broadway People: He’s hot! Lin-Manuel Miranda has left his show Hamilton but he won’t be resting anytime soon. He’s working on the film version of his first hit, In the Heights, which is now a “go” because of the Hamilton success. He’s also signed to co-star in the 2018 Disney film that will be a sequel, Mary Poppins Returns. Emily Blunt will play Poppins. It’s a new story (set in London in the 1930s) and a new score. Angela Lansbury is not retiring; she’s returning to Broadway in 2017-18 in a revival of The Chalk Garden. She’ll be over 90 when it opens. Joe Mantello has been directing more than acting recently; he had two well received shows on Broadway last season. But he’s pulling out his acting talents to co-star with Sally Fields in a revival of The Glass Menagerie that begins previews next February. Sam Gold will direct.

On the Road to Broadway: Lots of shows have Broadway aspirations, but few make it and even fewer succeed. Among the shows that are supposedly enroute is Josephine, about the legendary American performer Josephine Baker who was a major star in Paris. It just played in Florida and producers say the next stop in Broadway.  Grammy nominee Deborah Cox starred. The musical version of From Here to Eternity with lyrics by Tim Rice has played London, but made its US debut at the Finger Lakes Musical Theater Festival this summer. Who knows if it makes it to Broadway; if you’re interested, there is a London cast album. Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty will have Anastasia on Broadway next spring and their other new musical, The Little Dancer is also continuing development. After a production at the Kennedy Center in 2014, extensive revisions were done on the book. It’s inspired by a sculpture by Edgar Degas.

From East Haddam to Broadway:  A musical that began life at the Goodspeed Festival of New Musicals in 2013 will make it to Broadway. Come From Away tells the inspiring story of the residents in the Gander, Newfoundland area who hosted thousands of stranded air travelers when their flights were diverted to Gander on Sept. 11, 2001. From Goodspeed’s Festival, the show has more recently had successful runs at the La Jolla Playhouse, the Seattle Repertory Theater and will soon open at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC before going on to Toronto and then Broadway. It’s scheduled to open in February.

 

Looking at the 2016-17 Connecticut Theater Season – My Top 10 Plus More

By Karen Isaacs

 Each year as I start to think about the upcoming theater season in Connecticut, certain productions jump out at me. Some revivals, new plays or cast/production teams seem to guarantee an exciting evening in the theater.

So, let me tell you about the productions that most excite me, listed by dates.

This summer has already given us some productions that I was anticipating with pleasure – most of them delivered including Bye, Bye Birdie at Goodspeed, The Invisible Hand at Westport, and Rent at Ivoryton though that might have been better.

Joe Orton’s comedies may be not for everyone, but they definitely are for me and Westport Country Playhouse has proved it knows how to do them – particularly when John Tillinger is directing. Add in Paxton Whitehead and What the Butler Saw (Aug. 23-Sept. 10) should be a laugh fest.

 Man of La Mancha has had only an occasional production in the last few years. While it is not one of my top ten favorite musicals, I am looking forward to the Ivoryton production (Sept. 7 – Oct. 2) in part because David Pittsinger has a magnificent voice for the part.

Goodspeed is presenting another new musical in its third slot this year. Chasing Rainbows (Sept. 16-Nov. 27) has potential, so I’m interested. It combines the making of The Wizard of Oz and the early life of Judy Garland.

Steve Martin writes quirky, humorous plays: I’m looking forward to the world premiere of his latest, Meteor Shower at Long Wharf, Sept. 28-Oct. 23.

I’m also anticipating Yale’s opening production; a new play by Sarah Ruhl’s Scenes from Court Life or the whipping boy and his prince (Sept. 30 –Oct. 22) about Charles I and II of England AND Jeb and George W. Bush.

Mark Lamos directing a musical is a formula for success. Plus, I have fond memories of Camelot since I saw the original production. So I’m looking forward to Lamos’ reimagined production at Westport (Oct. 4 -30).

I see potential in Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Story also at Ivoryton (Oct. 26 – Nov. 13). It’s billed as not just a juke-box musical; its success will depend on the quality of the book based on Clooney’s life.

I’ve seen Hartford Stage’s production of A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas multiple times; but I will see it again this year, Nov. 26 – Dec. 31.

Brien Dennehy and John Douglas Thompson – two fine actors are bringing Samuel Beckett’s existential classic Endgame to Long Wharf, Jan. 4 – Feb. 5. This will be a must see.

Combine Shakespeare, in this case the raucous A Comedy of Errors and director Darko Tresnjak and I will definitely want to attend. It’s at Hartford Stage, Jan. 12 –Feb. 12.

Another world premiere that sounds interesting is at Long Wharf, Feb. 15-March 12.  Napoli Brooklyn is a co-production with NYC’s Roundabout Theater.

Yale always has an interesting season. This year I’ve circled the Stephen Sondheim/John Weidman Assassins, March 17-April 8; it is a fascinating musical that I’ve seen several times and want to see again.

End of the Rainbow. Judy Garland is a beloved performer whose life was marred by drugs, alcohol and tragedy. This play looks at her later years; it won acclaim in London and Broadway; if a terrific actress plays Judy, this should be compelling. (MTC – April 7-23).

Broadway saw Shufflin’ Along the story of a 1920’s African American musical last season; now Seven Angels is bringing Trav’lin – the 1930s Harlem Musical to Connecticut, May 11-June 11. It features music and lyrics by Harlem Renaissance composer J. C. Johnson; I know little about him but he wrote “The Joint Is Jumpin’” among his works recorded by Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, the Boswell Sisters and others.

I love George Bernard Shaw and his plays have recently not been done enough in Connecticut. So I’m delighted that Darko Tresnjak is directing Shaw’s Saint Joan, May 11 – June 11, at Hartford..

Connecticut theater goers will be blessed with productions of two of August Wilson’s plays. The Piano Lesson which premiered at Yale will be at Hartford Stage, Oct. 13-Nov. 13.  Yale Rep will present Seven Guitars, Nov. 25 –Dec. 17.

But just about every play on Yale’s and Hartford Stage’s schedule sounds interesting.

Touring productions are in a different category. A number of award winning productions will play Connecticut this year, including:

Tony winning A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is at the Bushnell, Oct. 25-30. If you didn’t see its birth at Hartford Stage, and I did as well as on Broadway, see it again.

In fact the entire Bushnell season looks great – I loved An American in Paris, Nov. 15-20; The King and I, May 30-June 4, won the Tony for best revival and the play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Dec. 27-Jan. 1 is magnificent.

I’m also looking forward to Elf the Musical at the Shubert, Dec. 20 -24. This stage version of the classic movie has a delightful score.

I’m sure that other productions will pleasantly surprise me. I’m constantly amazed at how excellent theater in Connecticut is. And unfortunately some of the things I am most looking forward to will disappoint me.

“Chicago,” Two “West Side Stories,” and Closings on Broadway

Inside notes and comments about Connecticut and New York Professional Theater

By Karen Isaacs

 “All that Jazz”: The long-running musical Chicago by Kander and Ebb hits the Ivoryton Playhouse stage, Sun. July 24. Todd Underwood is directing and choreographing the musical which features several performers familiar to Ivoryton audiences: Christopher Sutton as Billy Flynn, Lynn Philistine as Roxie Hart and Sheniqua Trotman as Mama Morton.  For tickets visit ivorytonplayhouse.org or call 860-767-7318 for tickets.

On Sale Now: Tickets are now sale for the Palace Theater, Waterbury’s presentation of Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage scheduled for Oct. 7-9. For tickets call 203-346-2000 or visit palacetheaterct.org.

 Nostalgic Music at Long Wharf: If you are looking for a light-weight but enjoyable entertainment on a hot summer night, Long Wharf is bringing back the production of The Bikinis from Wed., July 13 to Sun., July 31. The excuse for stringing together lots of great songs from the ‘60s and beyond is the story of a hit girls group from the Jersey shore who, 20 years later are trying to raise money to preserve the Sandy Shores Mobile Home Beach Resorts. For tickets visit longwharf.org or call 203-787-4282.

Seven for Next Season: Playhouse on Park in West Harford is planning seven productions for its 2016-17 season. Three musicals are included: Little Shop of Horrors (Sept.14-Oct. 16), [title of show] from Jan. 11 to 29, and Rockin’ the Forest (March 29–April 9)) by stop/time dance theater. The Playhouse will also present: Unnecessary Farce (Nov. 2-20), Eugene O’Neill’s A Moon for the Misbegotten (Feb. 15 –March 5), Last Train to Nibroc (April 26-May 14); and concludes with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) – Revised Edition, June 28-July 30. For subscriptions or information contact playhouseonpark.org or call 860-523-5900 ext. 10. Tickets for individual productions go on sale Aug. 1.

Midsummer (a play with songs) in Hartford: TheaterWorks is presenting an aptly titled play, Thursday, July 14 to Sunday, Aug. 21. According to the press materials, “It’s a midsummer weekend in Edinburgh and it’s raining. Bob’s a failing car salesman on the fringes of the city’s underworld. Helena’s a high-powered divorce lawyer with a taste for other people’s husbands. She’s totally out of his league; he’s not her type at all. They absolutely should not sleep together. Which is, of course, why they do. Midsummer is the story of a great-lost weekend of bridge-burning, car chases, wedding bust-ups, bondage miscalculations, midnight trysts and self-loathing hangovers.” It was written by Scottish articsts indie rocker Gordon McIntyre and playwright David Gried. For tickets, call 860-527-7838 or visit theaterworkshartford.org.

One Musical, Two Productions: West Side Story will be at opposite ends of the state this summer. The Connecticut Repertory Theater at UConn in Storrs production runs through Sunday, July 17. Several Broadway performers are starring in the production directed and choreographed by Cassie Abate: Yurel Echezarreta (whose credits include Broadway’s Matilda, Aladdin, La Cage aux Folles and the 2009 West Side Story revival) plays Bernardo.  Jose Lucas of (A Christmas Story) plays Indio; Luke Hamilton plays Tony and Julia Estrada is Maria. For tickets call 860-486-2113 or visit crt.uconn.edu.

The second production, at Summer Theater of New Canaan, runs through Sunday, July 31. Casting was not available at press time; STONC performs at Waverly Park under an all-weather, open-air tent theater. Seating is provided. For tickets or information call 203-966-4634 or visit stonc.org.

New Artistic Director: With the departure to the University of Michigan of Vincent J. Cardinal who has served as artistic director for many years, The Connecticut Repertory Theater which is part of the UConn’s theater program has named Michael Bradford as its new artistic director. Bradford has been at UConn since 2001 and is an accomplished playwright. Congratulations; I look forward to seeing in what direction he will take CRT in the coming years.

New York Notes: Tickets are now on sale for the Broadway run of Dear Evan Hansen, the off-Broadway musical that garnered many awards this past year. It opens Oct. 3 at the Belasco Theater with Ben Platt of Pitch Perfect starring as the teen struggling for identity amidst chaos. Tickets are available at telecharge.com. Telecharge is also now selling tickets for the revival of Les Liasions Dangereuses starring Janet Mcteer and Liev Shreiber. It begins previews on Oct. 8 and runs through Jan. 22. The all-star revival of the antic comedy Front Page begins previews Sept. 20 with a cast that includes Nathan Lane, John Goodman, Jefferson Mays, Rosemary Harris, Sherie Rene Scott and Robert Morse. Tickets are at Telecharge.

Did you know that CBS censored the signing in the performance of Spring Awakening broadcast on the Tonys? Some of the American Sign Language was changed; the last time the show was on the Tonys for the original production, CBS had them change some lyrics; this time the lyrics were OK but the signing wasn’t!

 What Will Be Open? If you are planning Broadway theater-going in August or early September, it may easier to figure what IS playing rather than what has closed. Lots of theaters will be available for fall productions.  Already closed are shows that won Tony awards for acting:  Eclipsed, The Father, Long Day’s Journey into Night; all were limited runs. Also closed are the long-running revival of The King and I as well as the new musical Bright Star.  In July the revivals of She Loves Me, The Crucible and Fully Committed will close. In a surprise, the producers of the new musical Shuffle Along, or… will close when Audra MacDonald goes on maternity leave. Late August and early September mark the closings of Finding Neverland, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Les Miserables, Fun Home and An Act of God. Plus, earlier closings included American Psycho, Disaster, Tuck Everlasting, and the limited run of Blackbird. The only shows opening during the summer are the revival of Cats and the limited run return of Motown: the Musical.

 

Theater Lovers Love the Berkshires

By Karen Isaacs

 Theater lovers who want a getaway – that combines beautiful scenery, outdoor recreational activities, terrific restaurants, shopping and theater have been going to the Berkshires in western Massachusetts for years.

Everything is there: opportunities for hiking, fishing, boating of all kinds, restaurants, antique shops, hotels, motels and B and Bs are all nearby.  Plus there is outstanding theater, dance, music (classical, jazz and pop) and art.  What more could anyone want?

Four major theater companies operate each summer. With their second stages, that means at least eight theaters offering a wide variety of classics and new plays.

Williamstown Theater Festival

WTC, at the far northern end of the Berkshires near the Vermont border, was founded in 1954 on the campus of Williams College, (by the way, Stephen Sondheim’s alma mater).  For many years it has attracted a variable who’s who of theatrical notables – actors, directors, technical people and more. Many, in fact, have summer homes in the area. This year is no exception.

wtf-2016-thumbs-750x400The Main Stage is presenting three productions. Tennessee Williams’ The Rose Tatto runs June 28 to July 17. It’s directed by Obie Award winner Trip Cullman and stars Oscar winner Marisa Tomei. Christopher Abbott plays opposite her. A world premiere is up next; Romance Novels for Dummies by Boo Killebrew (July 20-31). It’s directed by Tony nominee Moritz van Stulpnagel.  It’s about two very different sisters and their differing assumptions about life, love and child-rearing. The final main stage production is a revival of Wendy Wasserstein’s An American Daughter (Aug. 3-21). It’s directed by Evan Cabnet and the cast includes Kate Walsh and Grace Gummer.

The Nikos Stage (named for the former long-time artistic director) is a smaller theater that focuses more on new works, though not exclusively. It’s opening with a world premiere, Cost of Living (June 29-July 10) by Martyna Majok and directed by Jo Bonney. It’s described as a play about four different people in different circumstances, each trying to get by and who find their lives intersecting. Next up is another world premiere, The Chinese Room, (July 13 -22) by Michael West. Obie Award winner James Macdonald directs what is billed as a sci-fi comedy thriller. Next the world premiere of Poster Boy (July 27-Aug. 7). It’s a musical with music and lyrics by Craig Carnelia and book by Joe Tracz. It is inspired by the 2010 suicide of Tyler Clementi who committed suicide due to cyber-bullying.  The Nikos ends the season with And No More Shall We Part (Aug. 10-21) and American premiere by Australian playwright Tom Holloway. Alfred Molina and Jane Kaczmarek star as a couple facing a terminal illness.

Yet that is not all WTC is offering this summer. Three weekends offer the Late-Night Cabaret which often features members of the various casts performing. Then the theater is working with local residents to create and perform Orpheus in the Berkshires. In addition there are concerts and comedy, lawn talks, talkbacks, back stages tours and more. For information, schedules and tickets, visit wtfestival.org.

Berkshire Theater Group

 In 2010, the Berkshire Theater Festival which had been based in Stockbridge since 1928 joined forces with Pittsfield’s Colonial Theater to create this new group. Now productions are staged at the Colonial as well as two venues in Stockbridge: the smaller Unicorn Theater and the Fitzpatrick main stage.

So let’s look what they are presenting.  At the Unicorn Theater in Stockbridge, the season opens with the Pulitzer-Prize winning musical Fiorello! through July 23.  From Aug. 3 to 27, Gregg Edelman will direct Kate Baldwin and Graham Rowat in Constellations.

 A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof opens the season at the Fitzpartick Theater in Stockbridge. It runs June 22 to July 10. It’s directed by Pultizer-Prize winning author David Auburn and stars Rebecca Brooksher as Maggie, Jim Beaver as Big Daddy and Michael Raymond-James as Brick.

The_Stone_Witch-MPS berkshire theaterJudd Hirsch will star in the world premiere of The Stone Witch, July 20-Aug. 20. The press materials says, “reality and fantasy collide when a struggling, young writer is chosen by a powerful book editor for a special assignment—to help a reclusive children’s book author and illustrator complete his first manuscript in over a decade.”

At the Colonial Theater in Pittsfield, two musicals are being offered. Little Shop of Horrors runs July 6 to 23, followed by Beauty and the Beast, Aug. 11 to 19.

During foliage season the Unicorn Theater is presenting the American premiere of The Bakelike Masterpiece, Sept. 29 to Oct. 23. This Canadian play is about an artist arrested at the end of WWII in Holland for selling a Dutch masterpiece to Hermann Goering. He claims it wasn’t the original but a forgery he painted.

In addition, there are various concerts, even opera and other events.  For tickets, schedule or information, visit berkshiretheatregroup.org.

Barrington Stage Company

 The newest of the theaters is the Barrington Stage Company founded in 1995, in Barrington, but now it performs exclusively in Pittsfield on its Boyd-Quinson Mainstage and the St. Germain Stage as well as at Mr. Finn’s Cabaret.

The mainstage season opens the world premiere of An American Son through July 9. It’s about an estranged multi-racial couple.

For a change of pace, it is Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance directed by John Rando from July 14 to Aug. 13. Rando directed the recent Broadway revival of On the Town which began at BSC.  Jenn Thompson directs a production of Tribes, Aug. 18-Sept. 3, the 2012 Drama Desk winner for best new play. The play is about a young man born deaf into an unconventional hearing family and the young woman he meets. The season ends with playwright Mark St. Germain’s Camping with Henry and Tom, Oct. 5-23. The play is about a fictional camping trip with President Warren G. Harding, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison.

On the St. Germain Stage. Rob Ruggiero (producing director of TheaterWorks in Hartford), directs BTC favorite Debra Jo Rubb  in Kimberly Akimbo. The play by David Lindsay-Abaire runs through July 16.  Following is peerless which premiered at Yale Rep this past season. It is about two sisters who are “gaming” the college admissions process in a very MacBeth-like way. It runs July 21 to Aug. 6. From Aug. 12 to Sept. 4 is the world premiere of Broadway Bounty Hunter.  The musical is said to be inspired by 1970s films like Shaft about an unemployed actress who is hired as a bounty hunter to capture a South American drug lord.

For information, schedules or tickets, visit barringtonstageco.org.

Shakespeare & Co.

 In 1978, director Tina Packer founded Shakespeare & Co in Lenox, originally at The Mount, the home of Edith Wharton.  Now the company produces plays – both Shakespeare and others – at three theaters nearby: the mainstage – the Tina Packard Theater, a second stage – Elayne P. Bernstein Theater, and outdoors under a tent – the Rose Footprint.

The main stage this year is presenting two Shakespeare plays plus one other.  The Merchant of Venice begins July 1 and runs through Aug. 21.  Two Gentleman of Verona starts Aug. 4 and runs through Sept. 4.  Or, a comedy about Aphra Behn, who is often called the first English woman writer. It is “about one chaotic night in the life of the poet, spy, and first female playwright Aphra Behn. Determined to leave the spy trade behind and launch her new career, Ms. Behn must deliver a play by morning.” This runs July 23 to Sept. 4.

On the Bernstein stage, four productions are scheduled. The Taming runs through July 30. Inspired by The Taming of the Shrew, it is a comedy about the red state-blue state battle mixed with a battle of the sexes.  Also running through the end of July is Ugly Lies the Bone, about a female combat veteran who finds an experimental video game helps her deal with her emotional and physical scars.  Following those is a one man show, Cry “Havoc” from Aug. 3-13. “Stephan Wolfert recounts his own experience pre- and post-military service. Through the lines of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches and his own personal insights, Wolfert explores our societal neurosis of war.”  Sotto Voce by Pultizer-Prize winner Nilo Cruz (Anna in the Tropics) runs from Aug. 18 to Sept. 11. A Jewish-Cuban young man “seeks out a famous, reclusive novelist who, decades earlier was separated from her lover when he boarded the MS St. Louis, an ill-fated ship of Jewish refugees during World War II.”

The outdoor theater is presenting a new adaptation of Aphra Behn’s Emperor of the Moon from July 15 to Aug. 20. It’s billed as a farce based on Italian commedia dell’arte.

For information, schedule or tickets, visit Shakespeare.org.

So enjoy the summer, the scenery AND the theater.

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