In an effort to stand out among similar organizations, more and more regional theaters are turning the announcement of their seasons into special events. I first encountered this with the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford, CT, which held an event for subscribers, donors, volunteers and, of course, the media that included several live musical numbers performed by the current Broadway cast of the upcoming touring show.
Regional theaters that are in the early planning and casting stages of their productions don’t have that luxury, but I was pleased to be invited to Pittsfield’s Barrington Stage Company for their version of an “event” to announce their season. They held a special gathering for area reviewers and writers, complete with an informal lunch on the Boyd-Quinson Mainstage, to not only announce the upcoming season, but to provide Artistic Director Julianne Boyd with an opportunity to share some of thinking behind the programming and what decisions have yet to be made. Equally important, Boyd made herself available following her presentation to answer all questions and even toaccept some suggestions from those in attendance.
Now in her 20th season as Artistic Director of the theater she co-founded in 1995, Boyd certainly expressed her continuing enthusiasm about planning a season but was quite frank in revealing the complexities involved in bringing the works to fruition. For example, the Mainstage musical production, “Kiss Me Kate” has been in Boyd’s vision for quite some time, but as of the press gathering, she had yet to finalize a director. Several other members of the creative team are in place including choreographer Joshua Bergasse, who was hailed for his dances in last summer’s hit “On the Town,” along with Music Director Darren R. Cohen and production manager Renee Lutz.
Audiences traditionally look forward to the BSC’s musical revival, generally making the production one of the most popular of the season. It is anticipated that this year’s revival of the Cole Porter classic will be no exception, what with its familiar score (“Wunderbar,” “Too Darn Hot,” “Always True To You in My Fashion,” “Another Opening, Another Show,” and “So in Love”) and its Berkshire connection since Porter and his wife Linda owned a home in Williamstown. The show will run from June 11 to July 12.
Perhaps an actor who Boyd wishes to work with again has a suggestion for a potential work. That was the case with actor Mark H. Dold, a BSC associate artist well-known for his role as C. S. Lewis in “Freud’s Last Session” several seasons ago. He recommended that Boyd consider Hugh Whitemore’s “Breaking The Code” about computer pioneer Alan Turing whose work in World War II helped break the infamous Nazi Enigma code, but whose homosexuality resulted in his conviction for gross indecency by British authorities. He was finally awarded a posthumous pardon just this past December 60 years after his death. Dold will star in the production which will run from July 17 to August 2, under the direction of Joe Calarco, a director who Boyd also wished to work with.
Calarco’s name also comes up in association with another work later in the season. Boyd was aware that William Finn, the Artistic Producer of BSC’s Musical Theater Lab, has been reworking an early musical of his, “Romance in Hard Times,” which premiered off Broadway in 1989. With librettist Rachel Sheinkin, who collaborated with Finn on the hit “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” they have come up with a new book which will featured in a workshop presentation of the revised show from August 14-31 at BSC’s St. Germain Stage, directed by Calarco.
The Musical Theater Lab will also produce a production of a world premiere musical, about which Boyd is very excited, called “The Golem of Havana,’ with music by Salomon Lerner, lyrics by Len Schiff and book and direction by Michael Hausmann. Running from July 17 to August 9, the musical tells the story of a Hungarian-Jewish family living in Cuba on the brink of the Castro revolution.
For a number of years now, Boyd has had her eyes on a production between New York's The Play Company and the Mexico City-based Por Piedad Teatro called “Working on A Special Day,” which she caught in New York several years ago. Because of the international touring schedule of the Teatro, Boyd was only able to schedule the company for the summer of 2014. Presented in English, the play is based on the popular 1977 Italian film “A Special Day” which starred Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. It tells the story of an encounter between a harried housewife and a quiet, isolated bachelor neighbor on the day in 1938 when Hitler was scheduled to visit Rome. The tale unfolds, according to Boyd, in a remarkably theatrical fashion within the background of rising fascism and changing political attitudes. It will run from June 18-July 6.
Another show that Boyd has wanted to produce is a world premiere by BSC regular Mark St. Germain (“Dr. Ruth—All The Way,” “Freud’s Last Session,” “Hem and Fitz in the Garden of Allah”) called “Dancing Lessons,” which focuses on the relationship between a young man with high functioning autism (Asperger’s Syndrome) and a Broadway dancer sidelined with injuries. John Cariani, who played Dogberry in last summer’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” and wrote the play “Almost, Maine,” will star under Boyd’s direction.
Boyd was fascinated several years ago by a play first off-Broadway which then moved to Broadway called “The Other Place,” by an exciting new playwright, Sharr White. The play focuses on a successful neurologist whose life seems to becoming suddenly and inexplicably unhinged and filled with mysterious contradictions. BSC associate artist Christopher Innvar, who recently appeared in the world premiere of White’s “The Snow Geese” on Broadway, will direct, opening the season from May 21 to June 14 on the St. Germain stage.
Boyd will subsequently take on the challenge of her third Arthur Miller play, from October 2- 19 with the Pulitzer-winner’s adaptation of Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People,” a savage indictment of corrupt business interests attempting to triumph over the community’s interest.
In explaining what appears to be an ambitious season especially for a summer theater in the Berkshires, Boyd said that “we want to continue to challenge ourselves and our audience.” Citing the positive response to such diverse offerings as last year’s “On the Town,” “Southern Comfort” and “The Chosen,” Boyd added, “our audiences are willing to respond to a wide range of programming and we want to build on that for our 20th anniversary season."
Season passes in a variety of combinations (8 play, 7 play, Mainstage or St. Germain stage) go on sale on February 17. Single tickets go on sale on Monday, March 3, at 10 a.m. Reservations for group sales are now being taken through Janie LaBraca at 413.997.6118. For further information, contact the Box Office at 413.2346.8888 or visit the Barrington Stage website at www.barringtonstageco.org.
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