Best on the Shoreline!
It's time to nominate your favorites for the 2021 Best on the Shoreline Awards!
Tom Sturridge in Sea Wall / A Life (Photo by Richard Hubert )
Moulin Rouge (Photo by Matthew Murphy )
Jake Gyllenhaal Sea Wall / A Life (Photo by Richard Hubert )
The lobby of TheaterWorks, under construction. The renovated home of the theater company will be ready in October. (Photo courtesy of TheaterWorks )
Moulin Rouge (Photo by Matthew Murphy )
The renovated home of TheaterWorks on Pearl Street in Hartford will feature a larger lobby, new seating, and lots of improvements backstage. Architect’s rendering courtesy of TheaterWorks )
The TheaterWorks lobby under construction (Photo courtesy of TheaterWorks )
Hello Dolly will star Tony nominee Carolee Carmello as Dolly. This is the national tour company. (Photo by Julieta Cervantes )
Taven Blanke also is one of two actors portraying Billy Elliot at the Goodspeed. (Photo courtesy of the Goodspeed )
Hello Dolly is one of the most anticipated touring shows of the season, and it will be coming to the Bushnell. (Photo by Julieta Cervantes )
Liam Vincent will be one of two actors portraying Billy Elliot at the Goodspeed. (Photo courtesy of the Goodspeed )
A scene from Hello Dolly (Photo by Julieta Cervantes )
water lanterns )
One, two, three, six, and 22.
A math puzzle?
No, it is a list of numbers that highlight what is coming up in Connecticut theaters this fall, through the start of the holiday season.
Here’s what the numbers all mean.
One: A renovated theater reopens. TheaterWorks in Hartford, which has produced three shows at the Hartford Atheneum, will show off its renovated home on Pearl Street in October. The lobby has been enlarged, the building has better and more convenient restrooms, and there is an elevator, new seating, and lots of improvements backstage that will greet theatergoers and performers.
Two: Two new artistic directors are taking the helm at two of our major regional theaters. At Hartford Stage, Melia Bernsussen helped plan this year’s season with outgoing artistic director Darko Tresnjak. Jacob G. Padrón is now at Long Wharf Theatre, though he was not involved in planning the season.
Four: Three world premieres in the New Haven area and one in Westport will tantalize devoted theatergoers.
Six: The major presenting houses (the Shubert in New Haven, the Bushnell in Hartford, and the Palace in Waterbury) will present six Broadway tours.
Twenty-two: Theatergoers will have 22 productions to choose from, between now and the beginning of December, after which most theaters either go dark or offer holiday fare.
My Must-See List
Out of all these shows—the 22 new productions plus the touring shows—some are high on my must-see list. I am always curious about world premieres, though I do admit that the quality of these can vary tremendously. What may sound great on paper, may not be realized effectively in the theater. But there are always some gems.
Here are 12 shows, listed by opening dates, that are on my must-see list. In addition to new works, I am including works that are favorites as well as works that are less frequently performed. This doesn’t mean that the other productions won’t be interesting and excellent.
• Billy Elliot opens at Goodspeed on Friday, Sept. 13, although I won’t see it until early October. I have always liked this show, based on the British film about a young boy from a coal mining town who has a talent for ballet. The Elton John music juxtaposes his story with that of the miners who went out on strike during the Thatcher era. This isn’t just a kid’s show. It runs through Sunday, Nov. 24.
• Also in September is Quixote Nuevo at Hartford Stage (Thursday, Sept. 19 to Sunday, Oct. 13). It’s a re-imagining of the Don Quixote story set in what is described as a “modern-day border town of La Plancha, Texas.” This is a production in association with Los Angeles’ Huntington Theatre Company and Houston’s Alley Theatre.
• Shear Madness is at Ivoryton Playhouse, Wednesday, Sept. 18 to Sunday, Oct. 6. This play has run more than 12,000 performances in Boston and has also been produced all over the world. I have to see what it’s all about. It’s described as a show where the audience helps solve the murder of the landlady of a beauty salon. I suspect it will be silly fun.
• MTC (Music Theater of Connecticut in Norwalk) is producing another favorite musical, Ragtime, Friday, Sept. 27 to Sunday, Oct. 13. This Tony-winning show based on E. L. Doctorow’s novel interweaves three stories at the turn of the 20th century: an upper class white Scarsdale family, a newly arrived eastern European father and young daughter, and a black American struggling for equality. The music is magnificent.
• Mlima’s Tale is billed as a theatrical fable and will be performed at Westport Country Playhouse Tuesday, Oct. 1 to Saturday, Oct. 19. Written by two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage, Mlima’s Tale is, according to press materials, “about a magnificent and beloved Kenyan elephant named Mlima hunted for his coveted ivory tusks. As traffickers maneuver the illicit ivory market, the animal’s invincible spirit follows their path of desire, greed, crime, and corruption.” Artistic Director Mark Lamos is directing this play that had a very successful run off-Broadway.
• The world premiere of Girls opens Friday, Oct 4 at Yale Rep and runs through Saturday, Oct. 26. It’s described as a modern spin of Euripides’ The Bacchae, considered one of his greatest tragedies. Press materials say that playwright Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins has given it a contemporary spin with “a killer DJ, bumping dance music, and live-streaming video.
• Long Wharf is also opening its season with a world premiere, On the Grounds of Belong by Ricardo Pérez González, Wednesday, Oct. 9 to Sunday, Nov. 3. Set in Texas in the 1950s, it is about a romance between a gay white man and a gay black man, at a time when both interracial marriage and same-sex relationships were unacceptable.
• Next on my list is A Shayna Maidel at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford, Wednesday, Oct 30 to Sunday, Nov. 17. I remember seeing this play many, many years ago at Hartford Stage. It will be interesting to see how I feel about it now. The title is Yiddish for “pretty girl” and this post-World War II story is about two sisters, one who, with the father, escaped the Nazis and the older, who was not able to make it in time.
• Westport Country Playhouse is closing its season with a Moliere play I’ve never seen, Don Juan, from Tuesday, Nov. 5 to Saturday, Nov. 23. But this is also a world premiere of a new adaptation by Brendan Pelsue about the famed lover and seducer, Don Juan.
• The most anticipated touring show arrives at the Bushnell, Tuesday, Nov. 12 to Sunday, Nov. 17. Need I say any more than that it is Hello, Dolly! The show will star Tony nominee Carolee Carmelo as Dolly and Lewis J. Stadlin as Horace vander Gelder. It is a show not to be missed.
The last two fall shows on my list will go through most of the holiday season.
• I love Jane Austen, so after reading some of the press materials for Pride and Prejudice by Kate Hamill, I’m a little nervous. Long Wharf describes the show “A feminist farce—a screwball twist on a beloved classic! Kate Hamill’s adaptation is an ingenious and saucy take on Austen’s novel.” It runs Wednesday, Nov. 27 to Sunday, Dec. 22. If you miss it here, Playhouse on Park is also presenting the show in 2020.
• The fall theater season concludes with the fourth world premiere, The Plot at Yale Rep, Friday, Nov. 29 to Saturday, Dec. 21, by Will Eno. Theatergoers may remember his play The Realistic Jones, which also premiered at Yale. The description is quite brief, “with this moving, mysterious, at times hilarious story of a tiny plot of land and some people with grand and incompatible designs on it.”
Most theaters do holiday shows between Thanksgiving and the new year, before offering us new fare beginning in January.
While I have not included every show being offered this fall, there are many others that will delight you.
Karen Isaacs is an East Haven resident and a theater critic for Shore Publishing/zip06.com. To check out her reviews for New York and Connecticut shows, visit 2ontheaisle.wordpress.com. She’s a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle, New York’s Outer Critics Circle and the American Theatre Critics Association.
Karen Isaacs is the Columnists for Zip06. Email Karen at .