While Denver Center Theatre Company took the summer off, Denver Center Attractions, which usually is a presenter of touring shows, took advantage of the vacant theatres to produce its own work.
The first to open was I Love a Piano, a revue of Irving Berlin music conceived 10 years ago by Ray Roderick and Michael Berkeley. Although the two had previously staged it at Tri-Arts and the Ordway, the Denver production, which closes Sept. 1, represents the most finished version and one intended for a possible tour and/or New York production.
Despite a phenomenal cast and beautiful staging, Roderick and Berkeley still have some work to do on the book. I Love a Piano uses three couples and Berlin's music to career through five decades of American history. The result is frequently dizzying and unsatisfying, as World War I disappears from the stage and classic songs are aired for only a few bars. Because of their brevity, the ditties are the most delightful, raising spirits throughout the house.
As director, Roderick has found six performers who can play any era. Jeffry Denman, late of The Producers ensemble, reveals his comic gifts, and Shonn Wiley proves a nimble presence as he vaults his way through a silent-movie homage. Michael E. Gold makes a gentle, dignified older presence. The women—Alex Ryer, Stephanie J. Block, and Ellie Mooney—complement one another with differing physical and vocal styles.
Across the complex, Mark Lundholm's one-man show is a far less successful outing. Addicted: A Comedy of Substance is Lundholm's reworking of his stand-up material. A formerly homeless drug addict and criminal (he spent seven months in prison for forgery), Lundholm has created a work that is more therapy than theatre at this point.
He's a far better performer than writer, tossing off charisma along with lesser jokes. But much of the show, which closed Aug. 25, feels as if Lundholm is giving his story at an AA meeting, littered with recovery axioms even as he pretends to mock the self-satisfaction of many in the movement. The show would be funnier and more meaningful were he to use more specifics and fewer throwaways that feel like bad sitcom patter.
Columbus is raising its profile by hosting two national theatre festivals with distinct focuses.
The International Senior Theatre Festival, held Aug. 18-22 at Ohio State University (OSU) with performances by a dozen companies from North America and Europe, was spearheaded by Senior Repertory of Ohio Theatre Company, OSU professor Joy Reilly, and the newly organized Senior Theatre League of America, a division of the Educational Theatre Association.
The Columbus National Gay & Lesbian Theater Festival, hosted by Frank Barnhart's Act Out Productions, will present plays, revues, and one-person shows by more than 25 U.S. and Canadian troupes in rotating repertory Sept. 12-21 at OSU and half a dozen other performance spaces. Among the participants: Philadelphia's Jeffrey Solomon, New York's Jade Estaban Estrada and David Sisco, St. Louis' CJ Productions and Ragged Blade Productions, Wisconsin's TAPIT, Chicago's Theatre Entropy, New Orlean's DRAMA!, Montreal's Village Scene Productions, and Toronto's Sky Gilbert and The Cabaret Company.
Coincidentally, Columbus' leading Contemporary American Theatre Company will launch its themed season of "identity" and "tolerance'' with The Laramie Project (Sept. 17-Oct. 20).
Pittsburgh Public Theatre follows its popular summer production of Fully Committed with Inventing Van Gogh (Sept. 19-Oct. 20), Steven Dietz' fantasy-mystery about Van Gogh interacting with a contemporary painter.
City Theatre's growth toward a year-round schedule is forcing Pittsburgh's smaller troupes to search for new homes. Beginning in 2003-04, City will no longer rent to outside groups, such as Open Stage, Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre, Unseam'd Shakespeare Company, Pittsburgh New Works, and Mary Miller Dance Company. Open Stage moved its 2002 season to Oakland; three other troupes will use City Theatre's space through their summer 2003 seasons, but aren't sure where they will perform afterwards.
Meanwhile, Unseam'd scored with director Rick Kemp's 90-minute South American update (closed Aug. 17) of Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors.
Pittsburgh Musical Theater has restructured, allowing founding director Ken Gargaro to step back from daily operations to focus on strategic planning, fundraising, and educational outreach.
Finally, Pittsburgh audiences eagerly anticipate The Producers, which launches its national tour Sept. 10-29 at the Benedum Center.
The biggest search in the Seattle arts scene in the last few months has been for a new artistic director for ACT Theatre, since the departure earlier this year of the late, lamented Gordon Edelstein for Connecticut's Long Wharf Theatre. But while word has it that the board has at least got down to some select finalists, there's no evidence that the final decision will come down before the end of summer.
In the meantime, another theatre organization has announced the successful conclusion of its search for a new executive director. The new head of the Seattle Fringe Festival (SFF) will be Andrew Haines, a local director and arts administrator who, like many of Seattle's freelance artistic community, has been dividing his career between theatre pursuits and working in the dot.com and corporate worlds.
Haines comes in to the position at a time when the SFF is enjoying a stability and steady growth that's the envy of most other local arts organizations. And that's in large part due to the inspired and tremendously unflappable leadership of outgoing director Kibby MacKinnon.
MacKinnon's five-year reign as the head of North America's oldest fringe festival has been a thoughtful and measured one. She's engineered an increase in the amount that artists receive from their tickets (this year they set their own price), started such innovative programs as the FringeACT New Play Festival, and increased the number of participants to this year's record levels (93 companies performing 96 shows). But most significantly, she's managed to move the SFF dates to this September from the traditional March slot, thus tying it to the North American fringe circuit that runs through the U.S. and Canada.
MacKinnon's calm and progressive leadership has been well suited to weathering the storms of Seattle's recent economic and artistic woes, and she leaves the SFF not only stable, but at a high-water point in terms of numbers of participants. Despite his extensive local experience, Haines may well find himself challenged to do better than his predecessor in running what has become the single largest live theatre event in the Pacific Northwest.
It's summertime and the pickings are slim in the blazing hot sun of Florida. So what better time than now to look at some highlights of the upcoming season?
In Coral Gables, Actors' Playhouse opens its season with Alan Ayckbourn's Comic Potential (Oct. 4-27). The Florida premiere offers an android-human love story, tempered with a heady mix of black comedy, in a tale about an idealistic young writer and how his attempt at love overcomes seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
The Coconut Grove Playhouse has announced a lineup peppered with stars and a world premiere musical. Based on the 1980 movie about a mechanical bull and love in a Texas bar, Urban Cowboy, by Aaron Latham and the late Philip Oesterman, runs from Nov. 5-Dec. 1. Also on the docket, Leslie Uggams heads the cast of Charles Randolph Wright's Blue (Dec. 11-29) and Rue McClanahan is featured in Richard Alfiero's Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks (March 18-April 13).
Palm Beach's Florida Stage continues its dedication to new works by opening the season with the world premiere of Deborah Zoe Laufer's The Last Schwartz (Oct. 25-Dec. 1), a comedy in which a traditional family gathering, meant to express unity, self-destructs into a launching pad of innuendo and secrets revealed.
The Off-Broadway on Center Series at Amaturo Theatre of the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale launches its season of comedies with Zombie Prom (Oct. 24-Nov. 3), which features the music of Dana P. Rowe and book and lyrics by John Dempsey (they went on to write The Witches of Eastwick for London impresario Cameron Mackintosh). The Broward Center will also once again play host to South Florida's version of the Tony Awards, the 28th Annual Carbonell's, on Nov. 18.
Celebrating its 30th season, Gainesville's Hippodrome State Theatre is offering an eclectic mix, including Edward Albee's The Play About the Baby (Jan. 10-Feb. 2); Off-Broadway's recent musical horror-farce, Bat Boy: The Musical (Oct. 18-Nov. 10); as well as Australian playwright Andrew Bell's Speaking in Tongues (April 18-May 1), which later was made into the award-winning film, Lantana.
Cherry Red Productions, the new bad boys and girls of Washington theatre, are bringing a touch of the Bard crossed with the evil mind of writer-director Anton Dudley to the boards from now until Sept. 22 as they present Spamlet. As they tell it, Mom, the Spam Queen, gets her skinhead, domineering boyfriend to help her do in her husband so she can pursue her dreams of becoming a rock star. Needless to say, avenging son Hamlet comes home and falls into the too-familiar plot that includes an enticing foreign exchange student with the incestuous stepbrother. And it's a musical!
American Century Theatre has scored a coup. The award-winning Danny and Sylvia, which received its workshop and full production at its Arlington, Va. venue, has been chosen as one of three mainstage productions at the Chip Deffaa Invitational: The New New York Theatre Festival. "The musical follows the rise of Danny Kaye from an undisciplined improvisational comic to an international star under the guidance of Sylvia Fine, his mentor, lover, manager, and wife," according to David Siegel of the theatre. In addition to many of the songs that Kaye introduced and made standards, book and lyric writer Bob McElwaine (Kaye's publicist for over 10 years) has joined with composer Bob Bain to create over 12 new songs for the show. Brian Childers, who won the Helen Hayes Award for his performance as Kaye, will reprise the role, as will Perry Fine as Sylvia. The production will run at the Chashama Theatre from Sept. 5-23.
Finally, citing the tremendous loss of audience following Sept. 11, Joe Banno, artistic director of the Source Theatre Company, has announced they will hold off their new season until after the first of the year. They will attempt to recoup some of their losses by renting their space to some of the "homeless" theatres in the area. In addition, Source will present some packaged shows, including Making Porn, which opens in September.
St. Louis/Kansas City
The Kansas City-based Unicorn Theatre gets a jump on other Missouri theatres when it opens its 29th season with Dirty Blonde on Aug. 30. Several others follow two weeks later as the traditional indoor season begins to roll out.
Cynthia Levin, the Unicorn's producing artistic director, directs Claudia Shear's play, which Shear created with help from James Lapine. The sort-of tribute to Mae West will star Teri Adams, Phil Fiorini, and Jim Korinke and will run through Sept. 22 as the opener of a seven-play season, some of which also will appear in St. Louis.
Unicorn's season continues with Neil LaBute's The Shape of Things, scheduled to open the Rep Studio season in November, and will include Bee-Luther-Hatchee on the Rep Main Stage in late winter. Bat Boy: The Musical will run Dec. 6-29 at the Unicorn, and in St. Louis at the New Line Theater next March.
The Missouri Repertory Theatre, on the campus of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, opens with a new one-man play, Incognito, by Michael Sidney Fosberg (Sept. 13-29). The season also includes Saint Joan; Guys and Dolls; The Triumph of Love; Tom Stoppard's India Ink; Two Pianos, Four Hands; and its traditional A Christmas Carol.
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis also begins Sept. 13, with the Feydeau farce, A Flea in Her Ear, a comedy it did in 1973 (through Oct. 11). Flea is the first of two adaptations from the French on the 2002-03 schedule, with The Gamester, by Freyda Thomas, adapted from Le Joeur, by Jean-Francois Regnard.
The Fox Theatre, whose year-round season has had a successful run of Mamma Mia!, continues with The Tale of the Allergist's Wife (Sept. 17-29), and Stages St. Louis' summer-long season ends with Annie Get Your Gun (Sept. 6-Oct. 6).
Historyonics, the theatre of the Missouri Historical Society, will begin a four-play season on Sept. 14 with The Bully Pulpit (through Sept. 29), based on the life and times of President Theodore Roosevelt.