Now On Stage

The Curtain Is Rising To Reveal A Theater Season Filled With Top Performances

Hampton Roads is awash in theater.

We have an overflowing cornucopia of producing theaters—those who cast, rehearse and (usually) build the plays they perform. Fully professional endeavors such as the Virginia Stage Company, the Virginia Opera Association, the Lyric Opera of Virginia and the Virginia Musical Theatre, and the host of semi-pro, avocational, community and academic groups all fall in this category.

Their efforts often overlap and intersect the work of presenters like The Sandler and Ferguson centers in Virginia Beach and Newport News, Hampton’s American Theatre, and the City of Norfolk’s venue, Chrysler Hall, who bring in pre-packaged shows.

For example, Virginia Musical Theatre (producing) makes its home at the Sandler (presenting). VMT’s 2013–14 “Broadway at the Center” series of musicals begins with Nunsense, the pun-filled spoof that spawned a franchise of convent-centric comedies (Oct. 4–6).

Little Women: The Broadway Musical (Dec. 6–8) is next on the VMT schedule, after which Children of Eden, a look at generation gaps in the days of Adam and Eve and Noah, continues the familial theme (Feb. 28–March 2). Since Happy Days! A New Musical, the beloved TV show turned musical comedy, wraps up the VMT season, it’s adolescent/offspring-oriented to the very end (April 25–27).

VMT slots its shows around a varied series of Sandler presentations, including a trio aimed at young and family audiences:

Aladdin & Other Enchanting Tales, with Ali Baba, Sinbad, the Sultan and such, will bring to its multi-generational audience a fantastic look at the magic that comes from within the human heart. (Oct. 17, morning and afternoon).

What’s not to love about shows for youngsters such as X Out Bullying (Virginia Stage Company, Feb. 3–5) and Dinosaur Train Live! (Feb. 20), an audience interactive musical, live actor and “hybrid puppeteer” version of the PBS series?

My Heart In A Suitcase, aimed grades 4–8 especially, relates a poignant and unforgettable story of Holocaust survival (April 7).

Sandler Center will also host a new series of Virginia Opera performances. The VOA still calls Downtown Norfolk’s Harrison Opera House home, as it has since its first show at what was then the Norfolk Center Theater, and all but their first production will play both houses.
 

 

Romance—comic, tragic, vengeful and fiery—fuels the Opera’s Season 39, beginning with Verdi’s Falstaff, a rollicking and convoluted comedy of disguises and practical jokes (Norfolk, Sept. 27–Oct. 1).

The Beach won’t get a VOA Verdi this year, but it will get some Mozart, of whom there can be no excess. The Magic Flute, a literally fantastic whirl of magic and parallel parings, inaugurates the new VOA Sandler series (Norfolk, Nov. 8–12; Virginia Beach, Nov. 15 and 16).

Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos, which turns 101 this month, packs threatened tragedy inside a farcical collision between the broad and the high toned, a burlesque and a short opera within another opera (Norfolk, Feb. 7–11, Virginia Beach, Feb. 9 and 11).

Surely every theater goer has heard of Carmen, Bizet’s psychologically modern tragedy of obsessive love and stalking, of a passion whose ending is as deadly and foregone as a bull fight (Norfolk, March 21–25; Virginia Beach, March 28 and 29).

Even Carmen’s bloody ending pales beside the grinding grand guignol of Stephen Sondheim’s tonsorial demonic, Victorian London’s ultimate anti-hero, Sweeney Todd (Norfolk, May 9–11; Virginia Beach, May 16 and 17).

Along with the Opera House, Norfolk 23510 is home to the Virginia Stage Company and Chrysler Hall. Those two are neighbors, but approach theater from (figuratively) opposite directions.

VSC staff can sound politely, patiently frustrated when folks don’t realize that the fully professional non-profit Stage Company shows are locally created, but that the neighboring and wholly commercial “Broadway in Norfolk series” are imports.

The “Locally Grown, Nationally Known” VSC shows tend to be more adventurous, even when the company is playing things relatively safe.

At Chrysler Hall, the most important play leads off:

That’s Bernstein and Sondheim’s immortal West Side Story, which was merely contemporary in 1957, but now seems prescient for its look at Anglo-Hispanic divisions in America. (Nov. 22–23)
 

 

After Bernstein, ABBA fans get Mamma Mia!—again. (Dec. 20–21). Then The Addams Family, based on Charles Addams’ brilliant cartoons, turns conventional romance on its head (Jan. 17–18) leading to … Chicago, with its surreptitious humanitarian content slyly packaged in (cynical?) musical comedy (Feb. 14–16).

Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins really did jam together—once. Million Dollar Quartet (March 28–29) recreates that session for the musical stage. One must ask, “Merely ONE million?”

At their home in the Wells Theatre, Virginia Stage Company ambitiously begins its 35th Season, and marks the 100th year of the Wells, with a stage adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, (one of) The Great American Novel(s) (Sept. 20–Oct. 6).

Hard on Gatsby’s heels comes The Woman in Black, which VSC touts as a “total immersion experience” in terror (Oct. 25–Nov. 10). (Online plot summaries are larded with phrases like “dreadful secret” and “terrible cost;” dense fog and an isolated mansion figure heavily.)

We all know how A Christmas Carol ends, but each annual VSC staging varies enough from the previous year to make it fresh (Dec. 6–22).

Honky Tonk Angels, a three-character, country western, live band concert musical, swings VSC back to the USA, romping through 30 classic C&W tunes, (Jan. 24–Feb. 9).

A different view of the American South informs The Mountaintop, an imagined conversation in Martin Luther King’s Memphis motel room in the final hours of April 3, 1968 (Feb. 28–March 6).

The VSC Season closes with Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune, an eroto-romantic comedy, a soul and body-baring look at the progression that transforms lust into love— maybe (April 4–20).

Barely 2 years old, Lyric Opera Virginia has a peripatetic season. Hampton’s American Theatre, the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art near the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, the Kimball Terrace Theatre in Williamsburg and the University of Richmond’s Modlin Center for the Arts all play host to LOV’s varied programs of “World Class Artists in Intimate Spaces.”
 

 

Broadway and Beyond is a one-act recital of operatic arias and duets and show tunes, showcasing professionals like Christina Nassif, whose memorable Virginia Opera performances in Traviata and Don Juan impressed audiences and critics (Oct. 18, Hampton; Oct. 19, Richmond; Oct. 20, Virginia Beach).

La Vie de Bohème, condensing highlights from Puccini’s opera into an hour and a half, incorporates LOV’s Children’s Chorus into another cast of promising and accomplished young opera professionals. (March 14, Williamsburg; March 15, Richmond; March 16, Virginia Beach).

Master Class, Terrence McNally’s play based on the life of opera legend Maria Callas and her 1970s master classes at Juilliard, is LOV’s first foray into non-operatic production (May 2, Virginia Beach; May 3, Williamsburg; May 4, Richmond).

One of the most prolific of Hampton Roads’ presenting venues is just across the water from Norfolk. That is the century old, refurbished American Theatre in the Phoebus section of Hampton.

The Aquila Theatre Company is first on the American Theatre’s list of visitors, with Shakespeare’s  multi-plot Twelfth Night, forever puzzlingly and perhaps punningly sub-titled “What You Will” (Oct. 3).

A “not-so-traditional musical version of The Three Little Pigs,” featuring a big and clumsy, but not at all bad wolf, is the first of three daytime Saturday shows from Theatre IV, Richmond’s top-notch professional theater for young audiences (Oct. 12). Theatre IV shows are SOL linked; Q&A sessions after each one.

L.A. Theatre Works, whose live radio-style theatrical readings are unique, take on every thwarted lover’s classic wish-fulfillment film, The Graduate (Nov. 2).

The ghosts in Theatre IV’s Christmas Carol won’t be too scary for youngsters, the troupe promises (Dec. 7).

The innovative Aquila troupe, whose strong suit is staging works that did not start out as plays, returns with their adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s fearfully cautionary, classic 1953 novel, Fahrenheit 451 (Jan. 18).

Buffalo Soldier, an award-winning drama with music from Theatre IV, brings to life America’s post-1865 African-American troops (Jan. 25).

The Walnut Street Theatre’s Driving Miss Daisy (Feb. 8), and Mad River Theatre Works’ The Story of Jackie Robinson (Feb. 9), provide more takes on race relations in America.

Hamlet, plus Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead, Tom Stoppard’s modern look at two of Hamlet’s courtiers, (March 8 and 9, 8 p.m.) make a perfect double bill for the world-class Acting Company.
 

 

Farther up the Peninsula, Christopher Newport  University’s Ferguson Center for the Arts is another spot to see a varied selection of professional touring shows.

Forbidden Broadway: Alive & Kicking! is the latest iteration of a perennial favorite at the Ferguson. Revised frequently to reflect what’s current on Broadway, Forbidden Broadway productions skewer everything that makes hit shows fun and often easy targets. (Oct. 4 and 5)

A second helping of singing, stinging and scathing satire, this time targeting national and international politics and politicians, arrives with The Capitol Steps’ annual stop at the Ferguson. Their bipartisan, nothing’s sacred approach can be a curative for headline-induced ailments (Nov. 2).

Hello, Sally! Ms. Struthers brings star power and name recognition to that stellar classic, Hello Dolly (Nov. 15 and 16).

Bearing four each Tonys, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards, Memphis relates an interracial romance in Tennessee in the Jim Crow 1950s, sang and danced to old time “rock ‘n roll” (Jan. 17–18).

Zoom one generation forward and half a continent away, to LA’s Sunset Strip, and you get the 1980s rock-style comedy and love story, Rock of Ages (Feb. 28–March 1).

A distaff distillation of what’s hot on New York’s street of shows, The Broadway Dolls song and dance revue (March 15) promises to be multi-faceted and muchly energetic.

Circus plus magic plus theater plus dance plus comedy plus special effects, MOMIX is 21st Century, high tech vaudeville, and the season closer at the Ferguson (April 24).

Then there are the hundreds, literally, of shows put on every year, throughout the region, by eager volunteers, at-liberty, retired and rising professionals, educators and students. There’s good theater, true art and fine entertainment to be found at every level of the local theater scene, and more than a few of the professional shows staged here, or which tour to our presenting theaters, rely on actors who cut their thespian teeth here in Hampton Roads.

 

Virginia Musical Theatre
www.broadwayat
thecenter.com
757-340-5446

Sandler Center for the Performing Arts
201 Market St.,
Virginia Beach
www.sandlercenter.org
757-385-2782

Virginia Opera Association
Harrison Opera House

160 E. Virginia Beach Blvd., Norfolk
www.vaopera.org
757-623-1223
1-866-673-7282 (1-866-OPERAVA)

Broadway in Norfolk
Chrysler Hall

215 St. Pauls Blvd.,
Norfolk
757-664-6464
www.sevenvenues.com/calendar
www.broadwaynorfolk.com/subscribe/

Virginia Stage Company
110 E. Tazewell St.,
Norfolk
www.vastage.com
627-1234

Lyric Opera of Virginia
www.lyricopera
virginia.org
757-466-6666

The American Theatre
125 E. Mellen St.,
Hampton
www.hamptonarts.net
757-722-2787

Ferguson Center 
for the Arts
1 University Place
Newport News
www.fergusoncenter.org
757-594-8752

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