Friday, August 3, 2007

New theater season should be smashing

Published in The News Tribune, August 3, 2007

The theatrical season drawing to a close has offered the best community theater I’ve seen since I began writing this column. Will the upcoming 2007-2008 season be even better? There are definite signs that it’s possible.

The biggest news is that Steven Taylor is returning to Harlequin Productions to play Frank’n’furter in “The Rocky Horror Show.” This will be a homecoming for Taylor, a longtime favorite at Harlequin who is now playing in “The Lion King” on Broadway.

“Horror” is an “amazing piece of work,” said Harlequin founder Scot Whitney, “but most productions are a lame attempt to ‘do the movie.’ We want to rethink the music, the characters to really get at the core of the story – which we think usually gets shortchanged, even in major productions. And, for a good start in that direction, we are certainly not going to get a cheap Tim Curry impersonation out of Steven Taylor!”

Other productions coming up at Harlequin that should be outstanding include the Northwest premiere of Conor MacPherson’s (“The Weir”) new play, “Shining City,” John Patrick Shanley’s comedy “Psychopathia Sexualis” and the great Mari Nelson as Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra.”

Centerstage will bring to the Knutzen Family Theater plays the likes of which have not been seen this side of the Atlantic, including an original play penned by Centerstage director Alan Bryce. First comes “Cinderella” – not the Disney musical, but a riotous English Christmas pantomime. Not to be confused with American or French pantomimes, the old English pantomime is a rowdy musical hall tradition that tells well-known stories with stock characters. Last year, Centerstage produced a pantomime called “4 Christmases,” which was hilarious.

“Nightmare of a Married Man” is Bryce’s original play. It was inspired by the play “Murderer” by Anthony Shaffer, which Bryce produced in London. “It’s a suburban romp full of magic tricks, séances, Scrabble and as surprising – and hopefully funny – a coup de theatre at the end as I could imagine,” Bryce said, adding: “It ran in repertoire with the English premiere of Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play ‘Seascape,’ and dare I say, it got much better reviews and did much better business!”

The big-ticket items at Olympia’s Capital Playhouse next season will be “Man of La Mancha” and “Sweeney Todd” – a pair of musicals that never lose their edge. “Todd” is a great horror musical in the Grand Guignol tradition. “We have the unique pleasure of presenting Tony-award winner Jarrod Emick in the title role – this demon barber of Fleet Street promises to appease the audience’s appetite!” said artistic director Jeff Kingsbury. And Kingsbury, always a great favorite with Olympia theatergoers, will revise his role as Don Quixote in “La Mancha.”

Also in Olympia, the theater at South Puget Sound Community College will perform John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “Doubt.”

“A superb new drama written with an uncanny blend of compassion and detachment, it is an inspired study in moral uncertainty with the compellingly certain structure of an old-fashioned detective drama. Even as ‘Doubt’ holds your conscious attention as an intelligently measured debate play, it sends off stealth charges that go deeper emotionally,” said director Don Welch.

Lakewood Playhouse begins its season with the Agatha Christie murder mystery “The Hollow,” followed by Louis Sacher’s “Holes,” which is based on his Newbery Medal- and National Book Award-winning children’s book of the same name.

After “Holes” comes what may well be the most popular musical of all time, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music.” Expect tickets to sell out early.

New Tacoma Little Theater artistic director David Duval said the group’s 89th season will offer “a dynamic and diverse collection of theatrical works. The five main stage productions carry on the TLT tradition of strong family fare theater – three classic plays as comedic as they are touching, and two timeless musicals, all somehow celebrating ‘family.’”

Everything on the schedule is a tried and true, including: “Auntie Mame,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Blithe Spirit,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “The Pajama Game.”

Tacoma Musical Playhouse will open its season in its remodeled theater with the great big musical extravaganza “Damn Yankees.” Most of the remodeling will have taken place in the lobby and backstage areas. The lobby of the Narrows Theatre has been notoriously small. This theater packs ’em in, and it gets awfully crowded in the lobby. Finally, there will be breathing room.

Back to the Capital City, Olympia Little Theater will put on the classic “Miracle on 34th Street” and a couple of comedies about love and moonlight: “Moon Over Buffalo” and “Moonlight and Magnolias.” And Theater Artists Olympia will bring us a typically irreverent horror/comedy, “Night of the Singing Dead.”

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