The Stage is Set

An All-Encompassing Preview of a New Season of Local Theater

Every theatrical taste can find something suitable, on some Coastal Virginia stage, this theater season.

Among our presenting venues—those who import existing shows—Christopher Newport University’s Ferguson Center for the Arts theatrical 2014–15 offerings seem the most varied.

An artist of humor and apostle of humanitarianism, author and auteur, actor, director and all around entertainer pays the Ferguson a personal visit mid-month. An Evening with Jerry Lewis offers up a retrospective of a most remarkable career. (Oct. 18)

Age has not withered nor familiarity dimmed the multi-generational appeal of indoor, animal-free circuses. The National Acrobats of the People’s Republic of China call their newest mélange of acrobatics, dance, juggling, martial arts and all-round eye-popping stunts Cirque Peking, but this troupe is actually 33 years older than Cirque de Soleil! (Nov. 3)

An Evening of Storytelling with Garrison Keillor brings in a writer, humorist, and acute, subtle commentator on the foibles of society who needs little introduction beyond the name “Lake Wobegon.” (Nov. 13)

Jekyll & Hyde, Broadway’s musical Gothic romance loosely based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous novella about the human potential for good and evil —or maybe about drug use or multiple personality syndrome or Victorian society—has become a much produced, oft-toured hit since its 1990 premiere. (Nov. 14–15)

Eight Medal of Honor winners—including the late Daniel Inoue, U.S. senator and president pro tem of the Senate—tell their own heroic stories in Beyond Glory, a one-man show written and performed by film and Broadway actor Stephen Lang (Colonel Miles Quaritch in Avatar). (Nov. 16)

The New Hampshire-based Palace Theater Production’s musical version of A Christmas Carol more than lives up to Dickens’ title, incorporating “traditional carols of the season” into its lush, big cast, song- and dance-rich production. (Nov. 30)

Tony-nominated and Grammy-winning Smokey Joe’s Café featuring The Coasters! stands out among retro genre revues. This “longest running musical revue in Broadway history” features loads of well-remembered, infectious numbers. (Jan. 15–17)

In The Mood: A 1940s Musical Revue enters its 21st year touring the world with the unforgettable songs, dances and instrumentals from the Era of Swing, “the sound that moved a nation’s spirit and helped win a war.” (Feb. 8)

The title of The Jersey Boys: The Story of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons pretty much says it all. Remember “Walk Like A Man,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” and a bunch more? (The very authentic dialogue does include rough language and some adult-oriented stuff.) (Feb 17–22)

The spirit and the songs of, perhaps, the greatest contralto of the 20th century come back to life in Over the Rainbow: A Musical Tribute to the Artistry of Judy Garland Featuring Hilary Kole and Big Band. (Mar. 7)

New York’s jaw droppingly superb, Juilliard-born group, The Acting Company, balances Shakespeare’s Macbeth with a stage adaptation of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Neither should be missed. (April 16 & 17)

As unlike Shakespeare’s dark Scottish play as imaginable, Menopause The Musical has become an international brand unto itself. This pioneer of parodic “re-lyricising” popular tunes—“Puff! My God I’m Draggin’,” “My Husband Sleeps Tonight,” etc.—is genuinely clever, and funny for guys as well as ladies. (April 24 & 25)

Broadway at the Center, the Virginia Musical Theatre’s resident series of shows at Virginia Beach’s Sandler Center for the Performing Arts, begins with an entirely new version of the ever fresh Peter Pan – A Musical Adventure. (Oct. 10–12)

VMT founder, long-time artistic director and all-around talent Jeff Meredith turns lyricist, joining composer Chip Gallagher, to create and premiere “a big, bold musical” version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. (Dec. 5–7)

The world’s most famous stage mother hits the Sandler stage in Gypsy, where, as the VMT catchphrase notes, “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” (March 6–8)

The romantic musical fable of Legally Blonde sends an apparently flighty sorority lass to the self-proclaimed “globally preeminent institution for the study of the law,” Harvard Law School, to win back her boyfriend, right wrongs, catch a killer, and sing and dance too. Adapted from the movie by a husband and wife team of genuine Harvard grads. (April 17–19)

The national tour of STOMP, the super-rhythmical, contagiously energetic phenomenon that turns the humblest items into percussion instruments, bounds onto the Sandler stage to welcome spring. (March 21)

Chrysler Hall continues to present eagerly awaited national touring shows, starting with the multiple Tony and Olivier award-winning “ebullient satire about naïve Mormon missionaries in Uganda,” The Book of Mormon—variously described as “irreverent” and “an archetypal musical,” as “taut,” “hilarious” and “the new gold standard for Broadway.” (Oct. 28–Nov. 2)

Wicked returns, its revisionist take on Wizard of Oz, as popular as ever. (Nov. 26–Dec. 2)

The phenom of The Phantom of the Opera, this version “bigger … than ever before,” with new staging, scenery and choreography but, yes, the same chandelier—shh, don’t spoil the surprise— has become an enduring pop institution. (Jan. 8–18)

When a lounge singer seeks sanctuary from the Mob in a convent her hideout turns into the setting for Sister Act, the Whoopi Goldberg movie revamped for the stage to international acclaim. (Feb. 20–21)

Camelot. Justly described as “legendary,” this show’s take on unconsummated extra-marital love, the problems posed by celebrity, power and responsibility, and on the fearful force of jealousy, are wrapped up in some of the most beloved of Broadway tunes. (April 3–4)

For something completely different, the multi-media spectacular of “classical Chinese dance and music,” Shen Yun Performing Arts’ Reviving 5000 Years of Civilization, promises to “bring to life the inner essence of China” through “dance, song and music … grand processions … thunderous drums … gorgeously costumed dancers” against “landscapes and ancient buildings appearing on beautiful animated backdrops.” (April 11 & 12)

Partnerships with local groups are newly emphasized by The American Theatre this year. Virginia Stage Company and Norfolk’s Venue on 35th both figure in its schedule this season, with a “workshop edition”—that is, a work in progress performed for an audience – of VSC’s Taming of the Shrew kicking off the American’s series of plays. (Oct. 10–12)

That late 16th-century look at “the battle of the sexes” might be the most controversial of the Bard’s comedies, given its pre-modern attitude toward women and their “taming.” This time, audiences will get to offer their input toward a final version of the show that will play at VSC’s Wells Theatre about four months later.

 

The Lady with All the Answers is the deliberately ironic title of Nebraska Theatre Caravan’s one-woman show, subtitled “The Ann Landers Story.” The newspaper advice columnist who defined the genre did indeed find herself in the midst of the sort of marital distress about which she had counseled countless others. (Oct. 28)

Local performer and Venue on 35th stalwart D. D. Delaney brings The Concise Dickens’ Christmas Carol, his one-actor, 22-character condensation of that classic to the American. This is no novelty act; it’s quite remarkably complete and coherent. (Dec. 5–6)

The Venue and the American team up again for An Evening of Holiday Comedies: Corrupted Christmas Carols & What If? The first, by local playwright and composer Shari Graber, is a short rediscovering-romance-in-a-troubled-marriage musical. The second, by Norfolk’s P. A. Wray, sneaks an anti-bullying message into a bit of seasonal whimsy. (Dec. 13)

It’s A Wonderful Life: Live From WVL Radio Theatre is a live stage version of a (fictional) Christmas Eve 1945 radio broadcast of Capra’s beloved story, done by WVL’s skeleton crew as a blizzard howls outside. (Dec. 14)

With David Mamet’s backstage comic drama, A Life in the Theatre, the well regarded and venerable Walnut Street Theatre brings a fond look at the cross-generational interplay between a veteran actor of fading skills and an up-and-coming talent. (Feb. 5)

Freedom Bound, a historical drama with music, by Ohio-based Mad River Theatre Works, retells the true story of escaped, then captured, then rescued slave Addison White and looks at the people who made the Underground Railroad work. (Feb. 14)

Springtime sees a return of America’s quintessentially Byronic country star. Lovesick Blues: The Life and Music of Hank Williams, Sr., a self-produced one-man show by Robbie Lymon, traces Williams’ life and career in 90 minutes and 20 songs, including one Hank meant to record but never did. (April 11)

Two companies, the Virginia Opera Association and the Virginia Stage Company, dominate the local production scene.

Sweeney Todd, Stephen Sondheim’s grandly gory tale of revenge gone wild, kicked off the VOA’s 40th Anniversary Season. (Director Ron Daniels co-authored the script that turned this Victorian urban myth into a modern, character-rich play.)
(Sept. 26–30)

Todd savages Victorian hypocrisy with demonic incandescence; H.M.S. Pinafore devastates with brilliant hilarity. Class-consciousness, love-conquers-all melodramas, and a host of human follies, are no match for Gilbert and Sullivan’s satirical couplets and light-speed patter. (Norfolk, Nov. 7–11; Virginia Beach, Nov. 15 & 16)

Salome, Richard Strauss’ “steamy combination” of religion, sex and death, swings the VOA thematic pendulum back macabre way. A shocker in 1905, this Oscar Wilde-engendered opera still has the power to rivet and enthrall—and stun. (Jan. 30–Feb. 3)

La Traviata, one of the most beloved of grand operas, closes the VOA Season. Verdi’s masterpiece tearjerker about a courtesan with a golden heart and tubercular lungs gets a fresh treatment from the ever-inventive director Lillian Groag. (Norfolk, March 13–17; Virginia Beach, April 11 & 12)

At the Wells Theatre, Virginia Stage Company’s production of K2 is in full swing. Patrick Meyers’ intense look at a most extreme situation near the roof of the world also reaches for an emotional summit. (Through Oct. 12)

The Book Club Play, by prolific author and playwriting teacher Karen Zacarias, showcases six performers in a dozen or so roles. One domineering lady tries to control the members of her tightly knit bi-weekly club meeting—all closely watched by a documentary camera. (Oct. 28–Nov. 16)

It would not be the Winter Solstice Season without Dickens’ A Christmas Carol; the brilliant Patrick Mullins directs his own adaptation of this classic, refreshing it annually. (Dec. 10–24)

Playwright Sharr White earned his first Broadway production with his psychological thriller The Other Place, racking up a slew of awards and good reviews. (Jan. 20–Feb. 8)
Mullins just might have solved the problem of how to stage, in our essentially egalitarian times, The Taming of the Shrew. His take on Shakespeare’s one-sided, war-between-the sexes comedy uses its oft ignored play-within-a-play structure to delight in wholesale role reversals. (Feb. 24–March 15)

Breath and Imagination by Daniel Beaty chronicles the long life and career of Georgia-born Roland Hayes, considered to be the pioneer African-American male classical vocalist. (He was touring Europe in the 1920s.) (March 31–April 19)

There’s something happening almost every weekend at community, collegiate and youth theaters throughout the region; their shows are often as rewarding as professional stuff. There’s a good seat in the house near anyone who reads this.

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