Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Connecticut Theater Season Preview

The Illusionists will play at The Bushnell.
Here’s the Scoop on What Shows Not to Miss this Fall on Connecticut Stages
By Lauren YargerSummer is on its way out, but Connecticut theaters are heating up with some exciting offerings this fall.
Theater lovers have the best of both worlds here in the Nutmeg State: Broadway is just down the road, but we never even have to leave home to see exceptional theater thanks to the bevy of professional theaters that call Connecticut home too. This season looks particularly exciting and I’ll share with you what I am most looking forward to reviewing this fall. There are other great shows scheduled this fall as well as through the 2016 season, but in the interest of space, I will concentrate on top picks for this fall.
HARTFORD STAGE
Can you say Kevin Bacon? Within hours of the announcement that the Emmy and Golden Globe Award winner (A Few Good Men, Apollo 13, Footloose) would star in the stage adaptation of Rear Window at Hartford Stage, tickets for the run Oct. 22-Nov. 15 were selling out. Artistic Director Darko Tresnjak will direct Keith Reddin’s adaptation of the classic story by Cornell Woolrich about a man confined to his apartment who thinks he has witnessed a murder (you probably saw Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 film starring Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly). This version promises to be a little different:
“Keith Reddin's taut adaptation takes place inside of a sweltering, claustrophobic apartment, very much like the addled brain of the leading character, who will be played by Kevin Bacon. I can't imagine finer collaborators than Kevin and Keith in exploring the terrifying psychological landscape of this timeless thriller.”
More info: 860-527-5151; hartfordstage.org. Special note: Due to renovations at the theatre, there are no walk-up, in-person sales. All sales are by phone and internet only with the website being the quickest way to get tickets.

YALE REPERTORY
Always a favorite, Yale Rep offers a world premiere of Paula Vogel’s play Indecent Oct. 2-24 in a co-production with California’s LaJolla Playhouse.
Indecent will be directed by Rebecca Taichman, who co-created the piece with Pulitzer-Prize winner Vogel (and kudos to Yale for being one of the few theaters to have women writers and directors featured regularly on its stage – in the case, it will be the  stage at University Theatre at 222 York St., not at the Rep. theater.)
This new play with music is inspired by the true events surrounding the controversial 1923 Broadway debut of Sholem Asch’s The God of Vengeance—a play seen by some as a seminal work of Jewish culture, and by others as an act of traitorous libel. Indecent charts the history of an incendiary drama and the path of the artists who risked their careers and lives to perform it.

Indecent was commissioned by Yale Rep and American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and has received a 2015 Edgerton Foundation
New American Plays Award.
More info: 203-432-1234; yalerep.org.
THEATERWORKS
Hartford’s gem of Off-Broadway shows also offers the work of a woman playwright with Third, by Wendy Wasserstein. It tells the story of how a college professor’s well-ordered life is thrown into disarray when she accuses a student of plagiarism. In the wake of her accusation, she is forced to question her aggressively feminist ideology and family relations.
Director Rob Ruggiero says, “Ms. Wasserstein has a gift for dissecting the emotional and intellectual struggles of women. Funny and biting, this is Wendy's last, and perhaps best, play."
Third runs Oct. 1-Nov. 8. A repeat of the fun TheaterWorks production Christmas on the Rocks, an off-beat collection of twisted holiday tales by multiple playwrights featuring children from holiday classics, will be offered Nov. 27-Dec. 23.  
More info: 860- 527-7838; theaterworkshartford.org. 



LONG WHARF
Director Gordon Edlstein presents the 2013 Pultizer-Prize winning play Disgraced, by Ayad Akhtar Oct. 14-Nov. 8.

The play, which I enjoyed in New York, delves into religious and ethnic ties and the consequences of denying one’s identity. Amir, who identifies himself as a former Muslim and his wife Emily enjoy their charmed life in New York—he’s poised to make partner at a white-shoe law firm while her painting is being considered for a prestigious gallery exhibit. When he’s asked to help defend an imam accused of funding terrorists, a series of shattering events occurs.
Disgraced is being presented in association with Boston’s Huntington Theatre Company.
More info: 203-787-4282; longwharf.org.

GOODSPEED
The feel-good musical producer offers another holiday show this year Sept. 18-Nov. 29 at the Opera House: Grammy and Emmy Award-winner Joe Raposo and Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winner Sheldon Harnick’s  A Wonderful Life, based on the beloved 1946 holiday movie classic.

Bedford Falls will come alive as never before in this premiere of the tale of finding hope and meaning.  Book and Lyric writer Harnick wrote Fiddler on the Roof, She Loves Me and Fiorello! among others and composer Raposo is known for his work on “Sesame Street for which he wrote the theme song and classics like "Bein' Green" and "C is for Cookie."

I don’t know about you, but they had me at “It’s A Wonderful Life.” And the team of Harnick and Raposo would have been enough to get me into a theater seat regardless of the title. I am really looking forward to seeing an angel earn his wings in this one, directed by Michael Perlman and choreographed by Parker Esse. It stars Duke Lafoon as George Bailey (a role he has performed in regional theater), Kirsten Scott as Mary and Frank Vlastnik as Clarence.

More info: 860-873-8668; goodspeed.org. 

IVORYTON PLAYHOUSE 
OK, I admit it, I have seen Little Shop of Horrors tons of times, but I am still looking forward to the Alan Menkin/Howard Ashman classic when it is presented Sept. 23-Oct. 12 at Ivoryton. The story is a bit out there, but the music is great.

If I can’t interest you in giant human-eating plants, consider the next one up at Ivoryton this fall (Oct. 28-Nov. 15):  Liberace! by Brent Hazelton, a moving tribute to the performer and musician famous for his charm, glitz, and glamour. Liberace! relives the highs (and lows) of the entertainer’s life with a wide-ranging piano score spanning classical and popular music from Chopin to “Chopsticks,” and Rachmaninoff to Ragtime.

Directed by Jacqueline Hubbard, Liberace! Stars Starring Daryl Wagner, a classical pianist who was a protégé of the real Liberace and who does his own tribute show.

More info: 860-767-7318; ivorytonplayhouse.org.

CT REPERTORY
Brandy Burre of HBO’s “The Wire” and the critically acclaimed documentary film Actress, and Josh Aaron McCabe of Shakespeare & Company will lead the ensemble cast of CT Rep’s The Laramie Project Oct. 8-18 at the Nafe Katter Theatre on the Storrs campus.
Helmed by CRT Artistic Director Vincent J. Cardinal, The Laramie Project by Moisés Kaufman and the members of Tectonic Theatre Project details the reaction in the community of Laramie, WY following the 1998 murder of gay student Matthew Shepard, who was left to die, tied to a fence.  Five weeks later, members of the Tectonic Theater Project went to Laramie, and over the course of the next year, conducted more than 200 interviews with people of the town.  From these interviews they wrote The Laramie Project.
More info: 860-486-2113; crt.uconn.edu.
PLAYHOUSE ON PARK
A best-selling book by Mitch Albom comes to stage in Tuesdays with Morrie Sept. 20-Oct. 18 at Playhouse on Park.
Jeffrey Hatcher and Mitch Albom adapt the story from Albom’s book based on his visits with a former college professor who is battling Lou Gehrig’s Disease. A simple visit turns into a weekly pilgrimage and a last class in the meaning of life.

More info: 860-523-5900 ext. 10; playhouseonpark.org.

WESTPORT COUNTRY PLAYHOUSE
In celebration of longtime Connecticut resident Arthur Miller’s one-hundredth birthday, the Playhouse will present Broken Glass, a powerful account of what happens when the lines between what we believe and what is true, Oct. 6-24.
It is a psychological study hinging on the events of Kristallnacht (the Night of broken Glass) in Nazi Germany.
More info: 203-227-4177; 1-888-927-7529; westportplayhouse.org.
MUSIC THEATRE CT
I was a bit skeptical when I heard Music Theatre of Connecticut was planning to premiere the 2015-2016 season with one of my favorites: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita. Let’s just say my brain had a hard time imagining the large seeping saga playing out on floor of MTC’s small stage at their new home in Norwalk. 

But that is what  I thought a couple of seasons ago when MTC presented another favorite, Next to Normal, at the former home which was  a lot smaller. I was blown away by the quality of that show, so I can trust Artistic Director Kevin Connors – especially when the  Evita he is staging is a new, re-envisioned version with a cast of just 10, getting its premiere here in Connecticut Oct. 16-Nov. 1. 

The last Broadway revival was such a disappointment, I am looking forward to a fresh and new take on the musical that follows the rise and fall of Eva Peron and features such terrific songs as “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” “Rainbow High” and “Another Suitcase Another Hall.”

More info: 203-454-3883; musictheatreofct.com.

SEVEN ANGELS THEATRE
The Connecticut premiere of Living on Love, starring Stephanie Zimbalist by Joe DiPietro, based on the play Peccadillo by Garson Kanin. The play premiered in Williamtown and played on Broadway, starring Renee Fleming. When a demanding opera diva discovers that her larger-than-life maestro husband has become enamored with the lovely young lady hired to ghostwrite his largely fictional autobiography, she hires a handsome, young scribe of her own. As the young writers try to keep themselves out of the story while churning out chapters, the high-energy — and high-maintenance — power duet threatens to fall out of tune for good. Sparks fly, silverware is thrown and romance blossoms in the most unexpected ways.
Nov. 12-Dec. 6.
More info: 203-757-4676;sevenangelstheatre.org/

And what would the season be without some tour stops from recent Broadway hits? We have three major tour presenters here offering a wide variety of shows form the Great White Way:

THE PALACE, WATERBURYThe always pleasing, tap-dance happy 42nd Street will play for three performances, Oct. 9 and 10.
Based on a novel by Bradford Ropes and Busby Berkeley’s 1933 movie, 42nd Street tells the story of a starry-eyed young dancer named Peggy Sawyer, who leaves her Allentown home and comes to New York to audition for a new Broadway musical.  When the lead breaks her ankle, Peggy takes over and quickly becomes an instant star.  If you don’t know the show, you know its score, which includes classic tunes like “We’re In The Money,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” “Shuffle Off To Buffalo,” “I Only Have Eyes For You” and the title song.

More info: 203-346-2000; palacetheaterct.org .

THE BUSHNELL
Check out the schedule, because there are a bunch of new hits and old favorites coming to Hartford on the Bushnell Broadway Series, but the one I am looking most forward to this fall is not a typical show: The Illusionists: Witness the Impossible (Sept. 22-27). This show is one of the hottest selling tickets on Broadway, where it returns this year for a limited run during the holidays.
The show features seven of the world’s greatest magicians, each having his own title. There’s the Anti-Conjuror, the Deceptionist, the Unusualist, the DareDevil, the trickster and the Futurist.
More info: 860-987-5900; bushnell.org.

The Book of Mormon. Photo: Courtesy of The Shubert.
THE SHUBERT, NEW HAVEN
If you missed The Book of Mormon on its previous tour through Hartford, you can catch it in New Haven, where it will play Oct. 13-18. The show won nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Score (Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, Matt Stone), Best Book (Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, Matt Stone and Best Direction (Casey Nicholaw, Trey Parker).


More info: 203-562-5666; shubert.com.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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