There will be more area premieres than in any recent season, as well as four world premieres of completely original dramas. Expect a flush of Tony and Pulitzer winners, including Other Desert Cities and Clybourne Park, previously unseen musicals like The Book of Mormon, Young Frankenstein, A Man of No Importance and The Color Purple and two new plays on the life of Mary Todd Lincoln. All these plus The Vibrator Play.
Top of the Heap
Entering his seventh season at Syracuse Stage (820 E. Genesee St.; 433-3275), producing artistic director Timothy Bond has chosen six of the most contemporary shows in the company’s history, with nary a single moldy fig in the lot. Starting the season with a guffaw is Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (Sept. 24-Oct. 12), Christopher Durang’s spoof of the sense of loss and longing found in the plays of Anton Chekhov. Marcela Lorca (of Caroline, or Change, 2012) will direct this 2013 Tony Award winner. Bond also returns to his commitment to the August Wilson decalogue with the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Piano Lesson (Oct. 22-Nov. 9), co-produced with Seattle Repertory. Willie Boy can’t sell the piano when the ghost of its original owner appears.
Rock’n’roll and racial integration are the themes of this year’s holiday show. Hairspray (Nov. 28-Jan. 4) will be the biggest production of the year, uniting the forces of Syracuse Stage and the Syracuse University Drama Department. David Wanstreet (White Christmas, 2012) will choreograph, and youthful Bill Fennelly (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 2013) will return from Ashland to direct.
Electricity was all the rage in the 1880s and just the element to address female, um, hysteria. Sarah Ruhl, one of our hottest playwrights, addresses a hot topic with In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play (Jan. 28-Feb. 15), albeit with Victorian discretion. May Adrales (Chinglish) directs. The oldest play of the season is Athol Fugard’s Sizwe Banzi is Dead (Feb. 25-March 15), which brought South African theater to the world and won the Tony in 1975. Completing the season is a 2012 Pulitzer Prize winner: Jon Robin Baitz’s Other Desert Cities (April 8-26), co-produced with Portland Center Stage. Timothy Bond will direct this wicked comedy of a daughter forcing her family to face what it prefers to forget.
Ithaca’s Kitchen Theatre Company (417 W. State St.; (607) 272-0403) is about an hour’s drive from Syracuse, but the company’s edginess and superlative artistic standards keep pulling audiences back, even in snowy weather. The Kitchen has eight programs this season, from off-Broadway, London and original works, including a trio of solo performances. All but two are area premieres.
Brian Parks’ The House (Sept. 10-28) is an irreverent British comedy about selling and buying couples exchanging real estate. The need for retaining human communication during the fearful early days of the AIDS crisis provides the heartfelt theme for Steven Dietz’s Lonely Planet (Oct. 15-Nov. 2). Dominique Morisseau’s Sunset Baby (Dec. 3-21) portrays the family struggles of a former black revolutionary.
Some of the most successful original works at the Kitchen have come from the pen of artistic director Rachel Lampert, many of which are autobiographical. Count Me In (Jan. 14-Feb. 1) is her latest offering. Admired American playwright Lee Blessing’s A Body of Water (Feb. 18-March 8) portrays the befuddlement and conflicting memories of a middle-aged couple who wake up one morning to find their house surrounded with water.
Canadian-born Adam Bock premiered his Swimming in the Shallows (April 29-May 17) at the Kitchen in 2003, and will be reprised after having been produced around the world. It’s a Christopher Durang-like comedy in which one character is a shark. Alice Eve Cohen, whose one-woman What I Thought I Knew was a huge hit a year ago, returns with Thin Walls (June 10-28), about the characters in a formerly elegant, now rundown New York City hotel.
Also at the Kitchen will be the Solo Play Festival during March and April, featuring Hispanic and black voices often marginalized in American theater. Lorraine Rodriguez-Reyes’ Miami Confessions (March 25-29) finds universality in stories of that city. Darian Dauchan’s Black Sheep (April 1-5) vigorously upends stereotypes; Dauchan has been an acclaimed featured player in several Kitchen productions. In the third week, two local voices are heard on the same bill. Michelle Courtney Berry’s Mother Land (April 8-12) speaks of a visit to Africa and the disruption of an interracial marriage. And Ryan Hope Travis, of Syracuse’s Paul Robeson Performing Arts Company, deals with fathers who abandon their sons in A Shout in Salty Water.
We rely on Famous Artists/NAC Enterprises (424-8210), the company the late Murray Bernthal left us, for the best of professional touring companies. Four productions of reliable favorites will appear at the Mulroy Civic Center’s Crouse-Hinds Concert Theater, 411 Montgomery St.: Sister Act (Nov. 18-20), Flashdance: The Musical (Feb. 16-18), Chicago (March 17-19) and Anything Goes (April 28-30). But the season’s kickoff, The Book of Mormon (Oct. 21-26), is currently the hottest ticket in Manhattan and it’s sure to sell out its run at the Landmark Theatre, 362 S. Salina St.
After a lean but rewarding season, Syracuse Opera (476-7372) celebrates its 40th anniversary season with a return to what grand opera really is: high visuals and splashy staging and scenery. Producing artistic director Douglas Kinney Frost emphasizes a light, but by no means frivolous tone. Johann Strauss Jr.’s Die Fledermaus (Oct. 24 and 26) is presented at the Crouse-Hinds Concert Theater. They’ll be sending in the clowns with Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music (Feb. 6, 8, 13 and 15), based on Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night, in the Mulroy Civic Center’s Carrier Theater. Then it’s back to the Crouse-Hinds for the most popular of all comic operas, Gioacchino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville (April 17 and 19).
The big news at The Redhouse (201 S. West St.; 425-0405) is the move. Laura Austin and Stephen Svoboda, famed multi-taskers, will keep the Armory Square main stage at the corner of West and Fayette streets jumping all year, as they prepare to become Redhouse at City Center in the former Sibley’s department store space on South Salina Street.
The season opens with The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Sept. 11-27), with kids facing occasional ecstasy and frequent agony in competition. Stephen Svoboda’s original work, The Penguin Tango (Oct. 23-Nov. 1), follows, with no other details available at press time. The family musical for the holidays will be Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray’s adaptation of director Steven Spielberg’s film The Color Purple (Dec. 4-20). The cast will include children from the Hillside Family of Agencies.
Come winter Svoboda will juggle three balls in the air at once, all dealing with the incomparable wit, Oscar Wilde. One is Wilde’s masterpiece farce, The Importance of Being Earnest. Second is Moises Kaufman’s Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, based on actual court transcripts. Third is Terrence McNally’s musical adaptation of an Irish film about a bus driver obsessed with Oscar Wilde, A Man of No Importance, with music and lyrics by William Finn and Lynn Ahrens. All will be packed into the days between Jan. 21 and Feb. 8.
Then it’s on to Neil Simon’s Broadway Bound (March 19-28), the second of the playwright’s semi-autobiographical trilogy. The last production before the move will be Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s Carousel (April 30-May 9), one of the darkest of all golden-age musicals. Soprano Caitlyn Oenbrink will be featured as millworker Julie Jordan.
Garrett Heater and Susan Blumer’s Covey Theatre Company (420-3729) performs at the BeVard Room of the Mulroy Civic Center. Their opener, Lincoln’s Blood (Oct. 31-Nov. 8), stars Kate Huddleston as Mary Todd Lincoln in Heater’s fourth original stage work, charting the fallout from the president’s assassination. The show features Darian Sundberg and Maya Dwyer as the Rathbones, who shared Lincoln’s box at Ford’s Theater. Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage (April-May), a Tony Award winner from the author of Art, stars Moe Harrington, Aubry Ludington Panek, Wil Szczech and Louis Balestra as the people who tear each other apart for the good of their children. And the Age of Aquarius returns with Galt MacDermot’s ultimate 1960s musical Hair! (July-August).
Artistic director C.J. Young at Appleseed Productions (performances at the Atonement Lutheran Church’s Fellowship Hall, 116 W. Glen Ave.; 492-9766) continues the company policy of allowing directors to strike out in new areas each time. Young directs Laura Eason’s musical adaptation of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Sept. 5-20), a spirited yet faithful adaptation of the Mark Twain classic. Expect choreography by Jimmy Curtin, with performances from Eian Prinsen in the title role and Hunter Siegel-Cook as his pal Huck. Lois Haas directs Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett’s original adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank (Oct. 17-Nov. 1), one of the 20th century’s most enduring stories of martyrdom.
Winter months will bring two historical dramas in repertory, in collaboration with the Onondaga Historical Association. Thomas Cullinan’s Mrs. Lincoln (Feb. 15-March 1) depicts the president’s widow 10 years after the assassination when she is declared insane and confined to an Illinois sanitarium. Sharee Lemos directs. Justin Polly will appear in the one-man show RFK (Feb. 15-March 1), directed by C.J. Young on the life of Robert Kennedy. And Paula Kelley will direct Ken Ludwig’s 1930s-style screwball comedy, Moon Over Buffalo (May 1-16), about backstage shenanigans during a touring production of Cyrano de Bergerac.
Dustin Czarny’s company Central New York Playhouse (Shoppingtown mall; 885-8960) has a 4,500-square-foot theater with plenty of room to try anything, large or small. The season begins with the area premiere of The Guys (Friday, Aug. 29-Sept. 11), a two-person drama starring Nathan Faudree and JoAnne Rougeux, about a New City York fireman and an editor dealing with the trauma of the 9/11 attacks. Then Justin Polly will direct The Laramie Project (Sept. 12-27), about the effects on a small city of the execution of gay student Matthew Shepherd.
A second area premiere will be Evil Dead: The Musical (Oct. 17-Nov. 1), based on the 1980s movies by Sam Raimi. Dan Rowlands directs, with music handled by Abel Searor. In conjunction with Salt City Center for the Performing Arts, Czarny’s troupe will present John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt (Nov. 7-15), about moral ambiguity in a parochial school; Dan Stevens directs his wife Nora O’Dea as the mother superior. Next comes Joleene DesRosiers Moody’s Visiting Bammy Lewis (Dec. 12-20), with Kathy Egloff in the title role. Korrie Taylor directs this world premiere written by Moody, a local actress, author and motivational speaker.
The new year begins with laughter as Czarny will direct Ken Ludwig’s 1930s-style comedy Lend Me a Tenor (Jan. 9-24). Yet another Syracuse premiere is Bruce Norris’ Pulitzer Prize-winning Clybourne Park (Feb. 13-25), a racially charged drama that revisits the story of A Raisin in the Sun a generation later. Dan Stevens directs. Then it’s comedy in unlikely places, when Heather Roach directs Neil Simon’s God’s Favorite (March 13-28), a retelling of the Book of Job in modern dress. We learn how brutal the real estate racket can be in David Mamet’s sulfurous Glengarry Glen Ross (April 17-May 2), with Kasey McHale directing.
The season closes with two classics: Romeo and Juliet (May 15-23), guided by Dan Rowlands, and Roy Van Norstrand’s staging of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (June 12-27), which many now feel may be Tennessee Williams’ finest work.
Now in its 10th season, artistic director Dan Tursi’s Rarely Done Productions (performances at Jazz Central, 441 E. Washington St.; 546-3224) hews to its stated mission of presenting “alternative, original and seldom-seen works.” Indeed, all but one of next season’s six productions are regional premieres. The season opener is Die, Mommie, Die! (Oct. 3-18), by dark farceur Charles Busch. It’s a spoof of grande guignol 1960s-era horror movies starring over-the-hill performers like Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. Next is Be Our Guest: A Disney Through the Ages Review (Nov. 7-22). For a highly untraditional holiday we’ll see Jeff Goode’s Christmas II: It’s a Wonderful Nativity (Dec. 5-20). Goode, who also wrote company favorite Reindeer Monologues, speculates on what happened to the key supporting players, like the Orient King and the Angel, after the Nativity when the principals had moved on.
Ted Swindley’s Honky Tonk Angels (Feb. 6-21) offers a loving tribute to the women of Nashville. Swindley is best remembered as the author of Always . . . Patsy Cline. British playwright Duncan MacMillan’s Monster (March 6-21), in contrast, can be expected to be bracing. MacMillan is one of the highly fashionable, severely minimalist writers known as the “apathists.” Lastly is the hilarious and thrilling upending of clichés about parenting known as Motherhood Out Loud (April 10-25). The show derives from a unique collaboration of 14 writers, female and male, famous and little-known: Leslie Ayvazian, Brooke Berman, David Cole, Jessica Goldberg, Beth Henley, Lemeece Issaq, Claire LaZebnik, Lisa Loomer, Michele Lowe, Marco Pennette, Theresa Rebeck, Luanne Rice, Annie Wiseman and Cheryl L. West.
The venerable Baldwinsville Theatre Guild (performances at the Presbyterian Educational Center, 64 Oswego Road, Baldwinsville), now in its 72nd year, has gained new esteem in recent years with the influx of young talent. The booking of a recent Broadway hit, Mel Brooks’ musical Young Frankenstein (Oct. 23-Nov. 2), blends company favorites like Henry Wilson as “Fronkensteen” and Derek Potoki as the Monster who puts on the Ritz. Heather Jensen directs. A version of Jekyll & Hyde (March) will follow, with Korrie Taylor directing and Abel Searor handling the music. The spring comedy is the little-known Always a Bridesmaid (May) by Jamie Wooten, Jessie Jones and Nicholas Hope. Jon Barden will direct this confection in which three Southern belles try to follow through on their pledge to be in each other’s weddings.
There are also a few shows left in the summer-stock pipeline from Auburn’s Merry-Go-Round Playhouse (Emerson Park, 6877 East Lake Road (Route 38A); 255-1785, (800) 457-8897). The season continues with the musical review Will Rogers Follies (Sept. 3-24), then moves comedy with Church Basement Ladies: The Last Potluck Supper (Oct. 1-18).
Young at Heart
Musicals will dominate the season at the Syracuse University Drama Department (820 E. Genesee St.; 443-3275). There will be four, along with one Shakespeare and one recent Broadway comedy, but still with a wide variety of tastes and themes.
Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy) revisits Jewish life in the South with Parade (Oct. 10-19), about an innocent businessman confronted by a lynch mob, with music by John Robert Brown, choreography by Andrea Leigh-Smith and direction by Marie Kemp. Set in grimy north London, Richard Harris’ Stepping Out (Nov. 14-23), about friendship among 10 dance students, has been called a working-class version of A Chorus Line. Timothy Davis-Reed directs. The aforementioned Hairspray (Nov. 28-Jan. 4) is the holiday co-production with Syracuse Stage.
Director Gerardine Clark, often associated with darker emotions and tragedy, steers a lighter course with Terrence McNally’s 1991 off-Broadway hit, Lips Together, Teeth Apart (Feb. 20-March 1), about two couples trying to celebrate Independence Day at a beach house. Once neglected, Shakespeare’s dark comedy Measure for Measure (March 27-April 12), directed by Celia Madeoy, is now one of his most esteemed. The Bard knew the dangers of self-professed puritans. The season closes with a naughty musical with puppets and humans, Avenue Q (April 24-May 9), which became an unlikely Tony Award winner. It’s a riff on Sesame Street: What happens to all that upbeat energy when the kids grow up and face uglier challenges?
The state-of-the-art technology at the W. Carroll Coyne Performing Arts Center always gets a workout during the ambitious production slate of Le Moyne College’s Boot and Buskin Drama Club (1419 Salt Springs Road; 445-4523). Assistant professor Matt Chiorini has consistently presented some of the best work in town, with this season’s offerings including a neglected American classic and a musical that pushes the limits. The Southern gothic fable Ballad of the Sad Café (Oct. 17-25), is Edward Albee’s adaptation of the Carson McCullers novella. William Finn’s Tony Award-winning The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Feb. 20-28) portrays the glory and agony of childhood. Fusing Benito Mussolini and Al Capone, Bertolt Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (April 10-18) portrays the rise of 1930s fascism in the guise of a Warner Brothers gangster movie.
Life’s a Niche
Along with the popular free summer performances in Thornden Park, Ronnie Bell’s Syracuse Shakespeare Festival (443-8781, 476-1836) keeps busy in the winter at different venues. The new year will bring a non-Shakespeare production, Neil Labute’s The Mercy Seat (Jan. 9 and 10), to the Cantor Warehouse Theater, 350 W. Fayette St. A married man and his mistress/boss contemplate their lives following the destruction of the World Trade Center. The Bard’s Hamlet (Feb. 6-22) takes place at the New York State Fairgrounds’ Empire Theater. The season ends with Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Australian play Our Country’s Good (April 10-19) at the Cantor Warehouse. Convicts in exile find themselves by staging a comedy.
Now in its 55th year, Jack Skillman’s Onondaga Hillplayers (673-2255) soldiers on at the Golf Course at Sunset Ridge, 2814 W. Seneca Turnpike, Marcellus. Company favorites William Van Zandt and Jane Milmore return with the madcap comedy Suitehearts (Nov. 1-9), directed by Tank Steingraber. Through careless overbooking, naïve newlyweds from Pennsylvania find themselves in the same hotel room with an experienced older couple from New Jersey. Both want their honeymoons in the same place at the same time.
Five years after the death of Salt City Center for the Performing Arts founder Joseph N. Lotito, his widow, composer and pianist Pat Lotito, is still showing the colors, reviving some favorites at various venues (call 446-6798 for details). First off is Fiddler on the Roof (Sept. 26-Oct. 11) at the State Fairgrounds’ Empire Theater, starring Bob Brown, now finally old enough to be Tevye. Cathleen O’Brien Brown directs the show. Then in conjunction with Central New York Playhouse will be the aforementioned co-production of John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt (Nov. 7-15) in Shoppingtown.
ACME Mystery Theater (at Spaghetti Warehouse, 689 N. Clinton St.; reservations, 475-1807) brings a special blend of interactive comedy and mystery to new venues throughout New York. This fall’s dinner-theater entry is Murder Most Faire (Thursdays only, Sept. 18-Nov. 13), a spoof of Renaissance festivals.
Also appearing at the Spaghetti Warehouse, but on Saturdays at 12:30 p.m., is the Magic Circle Children’s Theatre (449-3823). Now in its 18th year, the company run by the mother-daughter team of Hope and Meredith Mancini specializes in interactive re-tellings of classic fairy tales that invite participation from youthful audiences. At $5 a head, it’s the best bargain in Central New York theater.