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Come from Away will be presented at The Bushnell. (Photo by Matthew Murphy )
Tony Award-winning Kenny Leon will direct Good Faith–Four Chats about Race and the New Haven Fire Department at Yale Repertory Theatre. (Photo courtesy of Yale Repertory Theatre )
The cast of TheaterWorks A Doll’s House, Part 2 will include Amelia White (Anne Marie), Sam Gregory (Torvald), Kira Player (Emmy), and Tasha Lawrence (Nora). (Photo courtesy of TheaterWorks )
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Connecticut might be a small state, yet it is blessed with numerous fine professional theaters. This coming season there will be plenty to pick from along the Connecticut shoreline, in the Connecticut River valley, and in other parts of the state for those who are willing to travel a bit.
Here are some of my picks for the upcoming season. They include compelling dramas and entertaining musicals. This season’s line up includes established, well-loved hits and some new works as well. The topics and themes they tackle are wide ranging, including the seemingly endless lust for war as portrayed in an adaptation of the Iliad, the politics of sexual consent, the civil rights of firefighters passed over for promotion, and the goofy British humor of P.G. Wodehouse.
All About Musicals
One of the things that makes a theater fan enjoy January is the annual Goodspeed Festival of New Musicals.
This year’s 14th annual festival will include three days of getting inside information about the hows, whys, and history of musical theater, plus a chance to get a first look at three new musicals early in their development stage.
One of the best known shows that was performed at the festival was the Broadway hit, Come from Away, in 2013.
The festival begins on Friday, Jan. 18 with a performance of The Peculiar Tale of the Prince of Bohemia and the Society of Desperate Victorians. The composing team won the Best New Musical award at the 2014 New York Musicals Festival for Academic Nuts. This show involves a prince and a British club called The Suicide Club. It’s described as hilarious.
Saturday, Jan. 19 offers a variety of seminars including veteran Broadway press agent Susan L. Schulman sharing stories of her career; a discussion of equity, diversity and inclusion in theater; and panels discussing how you become a Broadway producer, making the career move from actor to director.
In the afternoon, a panel discusses the pitfalls of adapting material from history, memoir, and fiction into musical theater. A second symposium will be announced.
That evening, The Proxy Marriage will be presented about two teens who often were proxies (stood in for) distant couples wanting to get married.
Both Friday and Saturday evenings following the shows, cabaret performances will be offered at the nearby Gelston House.
The final day of the festival features the third musical, Devotion, billed as a story “about addictions (not just to drugs) and belief (not just in religion).”
The weekend concludes with the writers’ reception at which attendees can meet the creative people behind the shows.
Also this year, the Goodspeed’s Terris Theatre in Chester will be offering a staged production of Passing Through, which was the hit of the Festival of New Musicals in 2018. With music and lyrics by Brett Ryback and book by Eric Ulloa, it will run from Friday, July 26 through Sunday, Aug. 18. The musical tells the story of a young man who walks from Pennsylvania to California, and the stories he collects on the way. He draws upon what he has learned during his journey when his family confronts a crisis.
What Happens to Nora?
Despite the small size of our state, sometimes two theaters schedule the same work in a season; some audience members don’t 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 happens to Nora after she slams the front door and leaves her husband, her marriage, and her children. Twenty years later she returns.
This work is among the most produced plays in the country in the last year, so it isn’t surprising that 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 judgment of the work.
So what else is on my list of must-see shows through June? My choices are often 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.
Here are some of the musicals of interest:
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 from 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 that 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 1984 film of the same name. The musical will run from May 9 to June 2, and the question is this: Will 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, featuring a tight-knit community of people in the Hispanic-American Washington Heights’ neighborhood in New York City, to open their season. This will run from April 23 to 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). Imaginative and heart-warming without being sentimental, it focuses on what happens after the 9/11 attacks force 38 planes to land in a small town in a remote part of Canada.
The Music Man will open the Goodspeed season, running from April 12 to June 16. While this show is frequently done, I still love the Meredith Willson music and lyrics. Plus, Goodspeed always produces high quality productions.
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, running from June 26 to Aug. 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 composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb take it 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.
Turning to the dramas and comedies, there are many interesting options this season.
Civil Rights in the Spotlight
The Connecticut Rep on the UConn campus is producing an adaptation that combines Shakespeare’s Henry IV parts one and two, from April 25 through May 5. These show has the heir apparent to his father, Henry IV, the young Prince Hal, learn how to be a ruler.
TheaterWorks is presenting a play that seems ripped from recent headlines about sexual consent. Actually is about two young college students and what really happened in their encounter at a freshman year party at Princeton. It runs May 23 to June 23, and also incorporates themes of gender and race, and campus politics.
Yale Repertory Theatre 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 Hartford Stage, Thursday, March 21 to Sunday, April 14. Jeeves is the valet who continually saves day for the Bertie Wooster, whose fabrications get him into multiple jams.
While these shows are high my list, many others sound very interesting. Long Wharf is presenting a 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.
Karen Isaacs of East Haven is a member of both the Connecticut Critics Circle and New York’s Outer Critics Circle.
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