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Simple Gifts

Arthur Miller returns to Michigan to find giving as good as getting. And Twin Cities theatres continue to share.


During the same weekend that Arthur Miller received his Tony Award for lifetime achievement he stopped by his alma mater, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, to hand out a prize of his own. Miller bestowed the university's newly established Arthur Miller Award for Dramatic Writing, and its $3,000 honorarium, on Willy Holtzman for his play Heart.

Heart was the featured drama at the university's first annual Festival of New Works, which presented staged readings and sit-down readings over three weekends (May 21-June 20), at two campus theatres. The festival began with a staged reading of a screenplay, Beth Winsten's Rock Garden, and concluded with a staged reading of Summer of '42, a musical by Hunter Foster and David Kirshenbaum, based on the movie of the same title.

Three plays received sit-down readings: Tim Pollock's Dead and Kicking, Wendy Hammond's Road Rage, and OyamO's War Is.... Hammond and OyamO both teach playwriting at the University of Michigan. Playwright Frank Gagliano is the festival's artistic director; he previously presided over a similar event at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa. Dramatist and screenwriter Michael Weller delivered the keynote address.

A pair of area theatres is ending the season with new plays. For the fourth consecutive year, the Detroit Repertory Theatre concludes its season with a little-known Canadian play. This year's offering is the American premiere of Angelique, by Vancouver playwright Lorena Gale, inspired by the true story of a slave accused of setting a fire that burned down Montreal in 1734. Hamtramck's Planet Ant Theatre winds up its season with Lib, by Detroit playwright Kim Carney. Lib, set in 1972, follows two young women from rural Michigan through their turbulent freshman year at an urban university.

Martin Guerre, the musical by Schonberg and Boublil (Les Mis rables, Miss Saigon) will make Detroit the second stop on its pre-Broadway tour, following its American premiere at Minneapolis' Guthrie Theater. Martin Guerre will play Detroit's Fisher Theatre in December. Also on the Fisher's 1999-2000 season are the national tours of Footloose, Fosse, Cabaret, and Art.

Martin F. Kohn

Twin Cities

If anyone can be called "the grand old man of Twin Cities Theatre," it's Don Stolz, who founded the Old Log Theater 60 years ago and has been its artistic director ever since. Stolz is convinced that theatre in Minneapolis-St. Paul derives its strength from the fact that companies here don't compete with one another, but cooperate instead.

Witness the fact that the Old Log is presently hosting Axel and His Dog, a play written by Stolz and directed by Ron Peluso, artistic director of the Great American History Theater in St. Paul, where it enjoyed a successful run last season.

Premiering at the Great American History Theater next year will be The Gangster Musical, with music and lyrics by Drew Jansen, who wrote the music for How to Talk Minnesotan, now in its third year at the Plymouth Playhouse.

Sweeney Todd seemed to many observers a surprising selection for the Guthrie Lab's May 29-June 27 presentation this summer. But what turned out to be even more surprising is the mixed ages of audience members who've turned Stephen Sondheim's award-winning musical tale of the cannibalistic "Demon Barber" of Fleet Street into popular family fare. And why not?

Twin Cities youngsters, like those elsewhere in the country, need only glance at the closest TV screen to witness far more barbaric action any day of the week. So this SRO production, directed by John Miller-Stephany, with musical direction by Andrew Cooke, continues to draw 300 or so patrons each night to the Guthrie Lab, which offers Spartan seating in deeply raked rows of chairs that extend from street level down to a small playing area.

It soon becomes apparent, though, that the action in this production will not be confined to the postage-stamp-sized stage. As playgoers cross the auditorium floor in search of their seats, they find themselves mingling with shabbily dressed 19th-century men, women, and children who seem unaware of their presence. Throughout the evening, the show's action will extend to other areas of the playhouse as well, so that the audience is literally surrounded by the theatrical goings-on. These are accomplished by a stellar company of 21 actors and nine musicians.

There is never a dull moment throughout this remarkable presentation. Remember the names Dan Sharkey (Sweeney Todd), Nancy Lillis (Beggar Woman/Lucy), and Mimi Wyche (Mrs. Lovett). They're supremely gifted artists.


Guild Hall offers two of theatre's more amusing monologists in its program-packed July. Spalding Gray, on July 17 and 18, brings his personal and droll insights to Morning, Noon and Night, a new piece evoking a day in the life of Gray and his Hamptons-based family. And nonpareil raconteuse Sandra Bernhard, on July 30, delivers her unique and irreverent takes on celebrity, sex, and other meanings of life, in a special benefit performance for Guild Hall.

The Guild's ever-popular American Musical Theatre series kicks off this summer's session, July 25, with a salute to Frank Loesser, featuring the composer-lyricist's widow, Jo Sullivan, and two soon-to-be-announced Broadway stars in an evening of reminiscences and selections from Loesser classics like Guys and Dolls. The Hall again goes "Off-Broadway" with Monday-evening play readings showcasing New York theatre companies and focusing on the craft of acting. LAB Theatre Company-a creation of Manhattan's defunct Circle Repertory Company-arrives July 5, with an evening of 10-minute plays by such LAB playwrights as Barbara Goldman (Tightrope) and Dawson Moore (The Tie). On July 11 LAB will present a reading of playwright Glenn Alterman's Windows.

Sag Harbor's renowned Bay Street Theatre serves up its annual Summer Gala Benefit Bash, on July 10, with Rosie O'Donnell stepping lively as host and auctioneer. Taking place harborside on Long Wharf, this traditional Hamptons summer party, which benefits Bay Street, will feature plenty of food, drink-and equally tasty one-liners from O'Donnell, who presides over the "fantasy" auction and silent auction.

The Bay Street, renowned for nurturing important new works, can take pride in the recent Manhattan opening of Off-Broadway's delightful If Love Were All, starring Twiggy and Harry Groener in a musical tribute to Gertrude Lawrence and NoÁl Coward. Bay Street produced the song-and-anecdote-filled revue last July. Also last July, at Robert Wilson's Water Mill Center, Wilson and colleagues developed this July 7th's Lincoln Center Festival World Premiere opener The Days Before: death destruction & detroit III.

Further east, in Montauk at the MTP Studio, July 14-17, Montauk Theatre Productions showcases author-lyricist Mimi Scott's new Off-Broadway-bound musical Dressing Room, described as a backstage A Chorus Line.


Arizona Theatre Company has pulled off a minor coup in becoming one of only a few regional theatres to secure the rights to the Tony Award-winning play and current Broadway hit Side Man, for the 1999-2000 season. Warren Leight's critically acclaimed play will be directed by ATC's artistic director, David Ira Goldstein, and will run at The Temple of Music and Art in Tucson, Jan. 8-29, continuing at the Herberger Theatre Center in Phoenix, Feb. 3-19.

Side Man is a bluesy memory play of the unsung jazz musicians of the big-band era. The play charts the personal and professional rise and fall of a stereotypical side man, from jazz's heyday through the rise of rock and roll. As his artistic desires crumble, so does his marriage to a devoted fan of his music.

"We are so pleased to have the opportunity to be one of the first theatres in the country to bring Warren Leight's rich and moving play to the stage," said Goldstein, "ATC audiences are always so responsive to exciting new plays. Side Man is a wonderful addition to our season and a great way to start a new millennium."

This play will be included in a season that also features a world-premiere production from an ATC-based writer and actor. Geoff Hoyle's comedy The First Hundred Years, originally workshopped as part of ATC's GENESIS: New Play Series, will be co-produced with California's Berkeley Repertory Theatre at the end of the season.

Meanwhile, a theatre-based court case ended in a mistrial on June 10. Jared Sakren, former ASU theatre professor, was suing the ASU Department of Theatre. In the case, Sakren claimed that he had been hired to teach the classics, but his Euro-centric syllabus was attacked as being too dominated by male playwrights. Sakren reported that he was forced out of his position by a feminist contingent in the department after he refused to change his focus. No indication has been given as to whether Sakren will attempt to remount the case.


The New Jersey Shakespeare Festival's 37th season in Madison includes the American premiere of the musical Enter the Guardsman, starring Dana Reeve, and Tennessee Williams' infrequently produced Camino Real. But it began its season June 8, with Scott Wentworth's pale, static, and confusing staging of As You Like It.

Wentworth has dazzled audiences here before, with a Henry V staged on a football field, and last season's creative The School for Scandal. The only thing that saves his As You Like It is the superb cast, which includes Jennifer Van Dyck as Rosalind, whose chemistry with Amanda Ronconi as Celia and Ryan Artzberger as Orlando gives the play its spark.

Wentworth will direct Guardsman, Sept. 27-Oct. 3, for which he also wrote the book. Marion Adler penned the lyrics and Craig Bohmler wrote the music. The balance of the season includes Measure for Measure, Romeo and Juliet, and A Child's Christmas in Wales. The world premiere of Brian B. Crowe's Wonderland (and what was found there) is on the Other Stage.

The Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn ends its season with a spectacularly colorful and energetic production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, directed by Dallett Norris. It closes July 25 and then tours with cast members Deborah Gibson as the Narrator and Patrick Cassidy as Joseph. Although billed as featured performers, The Osmonds Second Generation (Jon, Michael, Nathan, and Scott Osmond) are indistinguishable from Joseph's other siblings. McCarter Theatre, Princeton, opens its 1999-2000 season in September with Sam Shepard's Fool for Love, directed by McCarter Artistic Director Emily Mann. She said Shepard will "continue his work on the script." Also being revived is David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross. Rounding out the schedule is the world premiere of Cormac McCarthy's The Stone Mason, about four generations of a black family living in Louisville, Ky., in the 1970s; and Polly Pen's new musical Night Governess, based on Louisa May Alcott's 19th-century thriller Behind the Mask, about a young governess who manipulates her employers for mysterious reasons. A fifth play is TBA.


Tourists traveling to Wisconsin this summer will see a wide variety of theatre offered at traditional vacation destinations.

Chicago actor Bob Thompson will be returning to Wisconsin's Door County for his 61st season with the 65-year-old Peninsula Players. A few miles down the road, in Fish Creek, the American Folklore Theatre is collaborating for the first time with legendary Second City founder Paul Sills on the creation of a new musical. The American Players Theatre is celebrating its 20th season in Spring Green with state favorite Lee Ernst playing the title character in King Lear.

Thompson will be appearing in the Peninsula Players production of It Runs in the Family, scheduled for Aug. 17 to Sept. 5. The Players begins its season with Blithe Spirit, which will run from June 22 to July 11. Other shows are The Lion in Winter, July 13-Aug. 1; Communicating Doors, Aug. 3-15; and Always...Patsy Cline, Sept. 9-Oct. 10.

Paul Sills collaborated with American Folklore Theatre Artistic Director Jeffrey Herbst in creating Fool Me Once, a musical about some of the world's funniest fools. The music and lyrics were written by James Kaplan and Fred Alley. Kaplan and Alley also teamed up to write another new musical comedy for AFT, Fishing for the Moon. Belgians in Heaven, an AFT hit from past years, has been revived to round out the season. The three shows are playing in repertory through Aug. 28.

In addition to mounting Lear, the American Players Theatre will tackle George Bernard Shaw for the first time with a production of You Never Can Tell, and will mount its second Ibsen play, The Master Builder. Much Ado About Nothing and Pericles complete the season, which runs through Oct. 2. The plays are staged in rotating repertory. West Coast director Julian Lopez-Morillas is taking a "story theatre" approach to Pericles. The APT has historically mounted traditional productions of Shakespeare.

Joan Lounsbery, managing director of Milwaukee's Skylight Opera Theatre since 1992, has resigned to become executive director of the Santa Rosa (Calif.) Symphony Orchestra. The Skylight produces musical theatre and operas. Christopher Libby, 32, the general manager of the Court Theatre in Chicago, will replace Lounsbery. Libby was artistic administrator at the Skylight from 1995 to 1998.


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