All Things Entertaining and Cultural
Ambition is most certainly on the hoof.
Interesting things are cooking at some of the Philadelphia area’s smaller theaters, rarely done Schiller and O’Neill classics for example. Meanwhile, plans are afoot for the summer and for next season. Before 2014 reaches its midpoint, you can plan for what you may want to see in well into 2015. “Kinky Boots,” “Mary Poppins,” “Newsies,” and a new piece, “To the Moon” featuring Scott Greer as a Ralph Kramden-type character are all on the visible horizon. Here is some of what is planned for the present and immediate future, the summer of 2014, and the 2014-15 theater season.
SMALL FRIES, GREAT EXPECTATIONS
As the recent production of Jean Giraudoux’s “Ondine” by Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium and stagings of both Peter Morgan’s “Frost/Nixon” and Ginger Dayle’s current “Hinckley” for New City Stage prove, companies with small marketing budgets but lots of creativity and talent can make a significant impact on the theater scene and regional culture in general. Add Luna’s “Clockwork Orange” and “The Pillowman,” Azuka’s “Dutch Masters” and “Skin & Bone,” and Exile’s “Cock” to the list, and you see how relative Davids can compete against established Goliaths and come away with equal or greater laurels.
Potential continues with a half-dozen productions that are either underway or about to open from smaller ensembles. Pay close attention. Some will be gone within the bat of a well-mascaraed eye, i.e. before this coming Tuesday dawns, while others enjoy healthy runs that give theatergoers a chance to sample the fare of some evolving companies.
Really exciting, even though lasting for a mere three days, is the 11th Hour Theatre Company’s mounting of Henry Krieger and Bill Russell’s 1998 musical, “Side Show,” about two sisters, Daisy and Violet Hilton, who are inoperably conjoined at the hip and make a success as a singing duo. The show has become a cult classic and is due for a major production at D.C.’s Kennedy Center in June ( following a November 2013 run at California’s La Jolla Playhouse).
11th Hour gives Philadelphia its first look at the show that delves in the personal and professional life of the Siamese twins. One of their songs asks, “Who’s Going to Love Me as I Am?”
Alex Keiper, seen recently in Arden’s “A Little Night Music” and “Parade,” and Rachel Camp play the Hilton sisters. Jeff Coon is also in the 11th Hour cast. Michael Philip O’Brien directs.
“Side Show” plays at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 15, 3 p.m. Sunday, March 16, and 7 p.m. Monday, March 17 at the Caplan Studio Theatre on the 16th floor of the University of the Arts’s Terra Center, 211 S. Broad Street (just past Walnut), in Philadelphia. The Sunday matinee is listed as being sold out. Call 267-987-9865 about tickets.
Already in progress are two shows that deserve second and third looks. For Rupert Holmes’s “Accomplice,” the staging by Isis Productions on the 5th floor of the Walnut Street Theatre marks the mystery’s local debut. Neill Hartley directs a cast of Rob Hargraves, Renee Richman-Weisband, Mark Knight, and Kirsten Quinn. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday through March 30. For tickets, visit www.isisperforms.com.
Lanford Wilson’s “Book of Days” has had some local viewings, but the piece is so intelligent and so timely, perhaps universally and eternally timely, it is good to see the Players Club of Swarthmore, an estimable community troupe, is reviving it through March 22 as part of their Second Stage program at their theater, 614 Fairview Avenue, in Swarthmore, Pa. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. In its final week, “Book of Days” coincides with PCS’s production of another play, Douglas Post’s “Earth and Sky,” a murder mystery, which is being done on its mainstage. Call 610-328-4271 or 866-811-4111 about tickets.
Even before Theatre Horizon secured a place for Norristown on the theatrical map, its neighbor, Centre Stage, was playing host to various companies, in particular the Iron Age Theatre, the next offering from which in Sam Shepard’s funny but eerie, “Buried Child,” a 1977 piece that sees daylight every now and then, but not recently. The family depicted in “Buried Child” is pure Shepard, so you can expect an eccentricity or six, especially when one member who hasn’t seen the family in a while comes visiting. Randall Wise and John Doyle direct and design.
Iron Age’s “Buried Child,” with Ray Saraceni, Dave Fiebert, Michelle Pauls, Chuck Beishl, Eric Wunsch, Luke Moyer, and Gina Martino, runs from March 21 to April 13 at the Centre Stage, 208 DeKalb Street, in Norristown. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. For tickets, call 610-279-1013 or visit www.ironagetheatre.org.
One of the great historical and theatrical clashes of wills between two titans, Elizabeth I of England and Mary, Queen of Scots, is played out in Friedrich Schiller’s masterpiece of a dramatic work, “Mary Stuart.” The Philadelphia Artists Collective ups the ante by casting Krista Apple-Hodge and Charlotte Northeast in the roles of the warring queens, Apple as Elizabeth and Northeast as Mary. Schiller is so kind as to treat us and all theatergoers for centuries to a confrontation that never occurred in real life, a meeting between Mary and Elizabeth. Fireworks!
PAC mounts its production, directed by Dan Hodge, from April 2 to 19 at Broad Street Ministry, 315 S. Broad Street, in Philadelphia. The cast includes Nathan Foley, Brian McCann, John Lopes, Adam Altman, Ross Beschler, Jessica Johnson, Joshua Kachnycz, Kate McLenigan-Altman, Brendan Moser, and Reuben Wade. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. An 8 p.m. show has been scheduled for Monday, April 14. No show is scheduled for Wednesday, April 16.
Another great theatrical battle, this time mythical, is the relationship between Agamemnon, the great Greek general who sacrifices his daughter, Iphigenia, to appease the wind that then agrees to propel his battleships towards Troy, and Clytemnestra, his wife who never forgives him from killing their child and in turn affects the lives of her remaining children, Orestes and Electra, not to mention her own fate and Agamemnon’s.
Eugene O’Neill undertook a powerful American telling of Euripides’s “Oresteia.” His “Mourning Becomes Electra” depicts Christine Mannon waiting to welcome her husband returned from the Civil War. Quintessence Theatre produces O’Neill’s engrossing work from April 2 to April 27 at its theatre, the renovated Segdwick, at 7137 Germantown Avenue, in Philadelphia’s Mt. Airy. Starring as Christine Mannon is the magnificent Janis Dardaris, too infrequently seen on local stages in recent years. Dardaris is joined by Quintessence stalwart Josh Carpenter, a recent Hamlet for the company, as Orin Mannon, and Mattie Hawkinson at Lavinia Mannon. Showtimes are 6:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday.
As a bonus, Quintessence is staging readings of the plays comprised by “The Oresteia” at 7 p.m. on consecutive Mondays starting April 7 when the first work Euripides wrote for the trilogy, “Agamemnon” will be heard. April 14 brings “The Choephori” (or “The Libation Bearers”) to the stage. April 21 features “The Eumenides” (“The Furies”). Call 215-987-4450 for tickets or information or visit www.quintessencetheatre.org.
McKECHNIE GOES POPS OVER HAMLISCH
Just a reminder that Donna McKechnie performs this weekend, March 14 to 16, with the Philly Pops in their tribute to the composer who wrote the music for her most famous role, Cassie in “A Chorus Line.” That would, of course, be Marvin Hamlisch, whose music and career will be feted in a Pops concert conducted by frequent Hamlisch collaborator Larry Blank and featuring Jodie Benson and Doug LaBrecque.
“The Way We Were,” with lyrics by Marilyn and Alan Bergman, and the James Bond anthem, “Nobody Does It Better,” with lyrics by Carol Bayer Sager, are included among tunes from “A Chorus Line.” Other Hamlisch shows for Broadway were “They’re Playing Our Song,” “Smile,” “The Goodbye Girl,” and “The Sweet Smell of Success.” Benson was in “Smile,” McKechnie in a Walnut Street production of “The Goodbye Girl.” Hamlisch was so prolific, it will be fun to see which directions the Pops takes.
Showtimes are 8 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Kimmel Center, Broad and Spruce Streets.
KIMMEL ANNOUNCES 2014-2015 BROADWAY SERIES
The Kimmel Center has been gracious about giving Philadelphia a chance to catch up with just-past Broadway seasons with its annual subscription series.
The 2014-2015 season includes thePhilly arrival of 2013 Tony-winning musical, “Kinky Boots,” along with two other shows from the same season, “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s ‘Cinderella'” and “Motown — The Musical,” and a catch-up from 2012, the lively and breathtakingly danced, “Newsies.” A show that was a hit in Sydney and London but never arrived on Broadway, “Dirty Dancing,” based on the steamy 1987 film in which Baby never gets backed into a corner, is on the roster. The touring production of last season’s revival of “Annie” and show that features magicians, “The Illusionists,” round out the subscription series. Returns of “The Lion King” and “Stomp” will be presented as extra shows, more of which may materialize as the season progresses.
“Newsies” is the first to arrive, from Oct. 28 to Nov. 2. “Cinderella” comes just in time for Thanksgiving, from Nov. 25 to 30. Next, just in time to keep the New Year hopping, is “Motown — The Musical,” from Jan. 6 to 18.
“The Illusionists,” which has been seen around the world, is set from Feb. 24 to March 1. Its subtitle is “Witness the Impossible.” “Annie” moves in from March 17 to 22, and if the preview clip I saw of Jamie Foxx, Quvenzhene Wallis, and Cameron Diaz in the December 2014 movie remake of the show indicates its actual quality, March 17, 2015 will not come soon enough! “Annie” and all shows listed so far will play at the Academy of Music.
“Kinky Boot” is the last of subscription series to reach town. It plays from April 28 to May 10 at the Forrest Theatre, the best large venue in Philadelphia to see a play.
“Stomp” sets its pretty much annual visit for Dec. 26 to 30. “The Lion King” roars from May 20 to June 14.
Subscriptions are available now. Call 215-893-1955 for more information.
McCARTER OPENS WITH SHAKESPEARE
Nicole Ari Parker plays one of the most famous women of all time, Cleopatra, as Emily Mann opens McCarter Theatre’s 2014-2015 season by directing Shakespeare’s historical tragic romance, “Antony and Cleopatra.” Parker recently starred in Mann’s Broadway production of “A Streetcar Named Desire.” She also appears opposite Taye Diggs in the TNT series, “Murder in the First.”
Next on the Princeton landmark’s agenda is Theresa Rebeck’s “The Understudy.” It is followed by Athol Fugard’s “Sizwe Banzi is Dead,” the production of which will be directed by its original Tony-winning star, John Kani (1975) and feature Kani’s son, Atandwa Kani, is the lead role. (Kani was also brilliant when originating the role of the teacher in Fugard’s “My Children! My Africa!,” to which I conferred my annual award for Best Production in world theater twice, once for its off-Broadway run, the second time for a regional production at People’s Light & Theatre Company.)
The season continues with a new play by the always welcome Ken Ludwig, “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery.” In his version of a story that links Conan Doyle’s great detective with one of his first triumphs Ludwig employs five actors playing 30 parts.
Emily Mann returns to the helm to direct the last play on McCarter’s subscription season, “Five Mile Lake,” a piece by Rachel Bonds about a group of young people who think about the choices they’ve made and have yet to make as they embark on their thirties.
Subscriptions are available now. Call 609-258-5050 for more information or go online to www.mccarter.org.