Tuesday, October 6, 2009

ArtsPreview 2009-10: The season in theater

Billy Crystal. (Illustration by Pat Crowley)

By Hap Erstein

Despite the still rocky economy, the region’s professional theaters appear to remain bullish on programming, with few signs of caution or budget-pinching in the season ahead.

All eyes remain on Caldwell Theatre Company, which is coming off of a critically acclaimed summer under new artistic director Clive Cholerton, who continues to shake the cobwebs off the Boca Raton institution, while digging the troupe out of substantial debt. Sure, it's opening with the century-old The Voysey Inheritance, a 1905 drama by Harley Granville Barker about a Ponzi scheme and its consequences -- sound familiar? -- but in a new adaptation by the provocative David Mamet (Nov. 8-Dec. 13).

Also on the Caldwell’s bill is an East Coast premiere of Chemical Imbalance, a broadly comic retelling of the Jekyll and Hyde tale (Jan. 3-Feb. 7). The season ends with The American Plan, a Catskills-based early work by Richard Greenberg, whose Take Me Out was an earlier Caldwell hit, but it seems likely that the characters in this nostalgic love story will be keeping their clothes on. (April 11-May 26).

Just announced is a concert version of Stephen Sondheim’s Pulitzer Prize-winning meditation on “the art of making art,” Sunday in the Park with George, about post-impressionist Georges Seurat and his fictional disciple (Oct. 8-11). According to Cholerton, this could be the start of an occasional series of concerts of shows the Caldwell does not have the resources to produce in full.

Andrea McArdle.

The Maltz Jupiter Theatre is jump-starting its season with an attention-getting world premiere of a musical revue, Love Is Love, with lyrics and direction by Martin Charnin (Annie). If that is not enough to grab your interest, featured in the cast will be two former Little Orphans of Broadway, Andrea McArdle and Shelly Burch, plus such local talent as Avery Sommers and Laura Hodos (Oct. 15-25).

The subscription season’s riskiest item is another world premiere, Fanny Brice: The Real Funny Girl, an attempt to mine the facts in the life of the Ziegfeld Follies clown, but with plenty of musical numbers (Nov. 10-22). Two big, splashy musicals separated by a half century, La Cage aux Folles (Jan. 12-31) and Anything Goes (March 9-28) are on tap -- with the emphasis on “tap” -- plus Neil Simon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning heart-tugger, Lost in Yonkers (Dec. 1-13).

Florida Stage is certainly not using the recession as an excuse to pull away from its mission of developing new work, with a season of four world premieres. Yes, its opening show, Seth Rozin’s Two Jews Walk Into a War …, sounds like a crowd-pandering ethnic joke, but it is a thought-provoking comedy between the last two surviving Jews (Avi Hoffman of the defunct New Vista Theatre Co. and Gordon McConnell) in all of Afghanistan. Make up your own punch line (Oct. 21-Nov. 29).

Then there’s the latest from Carter W. Lewis (Ordinary Nation, Women Who Steal), The Storytelling Ability of a Boy, a tale of schoolyard violence that was well-received at last spring’s 1st Stage New Works Festival (Dec. 9-Jan. 17). The prolific Israel Horovitz, a pioneer of off-Broadway, contributes a revenge drama (Sins of the Mother, Jan. 27-March 7) set, as most of his plays are, in a New England fishing village. And Florida Stage’s go-to guys for musicals, Bill Castellino and Christopher McGovern, have another new one, Dr. Radio (March 24 - May 2), about a radio repairman and the songs these broken-down receivers contain.

While compact Palm Beach Dramaworks is busy looking for a new, larger home, it unveils a solid season of “theater to think about,” a quartet of serious, somewhat neglected works by major writers for the stage. In the leadoff spot is Norway’s Henrik Ibsen and his proto-feminist classic, A Doll’s House (Oct. 16-Nov. 29), followed by Britain’s Michael Frayn with his cerebral encounter between physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, Copenhagen (Dec. 18-Jan. 31).

Then the spotlight moves to America, with Mamet’s early raw-caper scheme, American Buffalo (Feb. 19-April 4), and Edward Albee’s highly personal Pulitzer Prize character sketch, Three Tall Women (April 23-June 13).

The Kravis Center heads into its second season of producing its own Broadway series with the subscriber magnet of the Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons musical biography Jersey Boys, in a rare three-week run (March 10-28). Also much anticipated is the Lincoln Center revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific and the revival of A Chorus Line (Feb. 2-7) that spawned the documentary Every Little Step.

Not part of the subscription, but still a likely sellout, is the Billy Crystal solo show 700 Sundays, about growing up in the shadow of Yankee Stadium (Dec. 3-6). And if that doesn’t satisfy your craving for one-man shows, there is Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander on Jan. 13, playing a motivational speaker in An Evening of Music, Comedy, Personal Growth and Partial Nudity. (No, really, that’s the title, no matter how unappetizing the thought of the “partial nudity").

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