Theater: Ten picks for the upcoming season
Gathering information about the upcoming season is like experiencing Christmas morning again and again. As each theater’s new season info is revealed, it’s like unwrapping a pile of gifts—some expected, some exactly what you wanted, and some incredible surprises. In the upcoming season, here—in chronological order—are ten that I will not be missing. (Disclaimer: Not all theater season information was available at press time and these picks are based on my personal tastes and interests; your mileage may vary.)
Buyer and Cellar, by Jonathan Tolins
Buffalo United Artists, September 18–October 4
In April 2013, in the midst of planning a spring weekend of theater in New York, I got an offer of comps to previews of Buyer and Cellar at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. Honestly, we took the tickets because theater is expensive, and “free” reduced the week’s damage; who would have thought a piece about the mini-mall in the basement of Barbra Streisand’s Malibu complex would be the best of seven shows we saw that weekend? With its original one-man cast—Michael Urie—Buyer and Cellar ran at Rattlestick until July, when it moved to Barrow Street and ran for a year, ultimately with a new actor (Alex Moore) when Urie took the show on the road. Now, finally, the rights are available and Buffalo has a chance to see this hilarious and heartwarming comedy in the hands of one of Buffalo’s most hilarious and heartwarming actors, Kurt Erb. You do not want to miss.
The Real Thing, by Tom Stoppard
New Phoenix Theatre on the Park, September 18–October 10
A play about a playwright, art imitating life, and what’s real/what’s not, all topped off with a 1984 Tony and Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play. These are things I can’t resist.
Doubt, by John Patrick Shanley
Buffalo Laboratory Theatre, September 11–26
I wasn’t as immersed in the Buffalo theater scene in 2008 as I am now, so I sadly missed Buffalo United Artists’s production Doubt: A Parable—the story of a priest accused by a strict nun of making improper advances toward a preteen student. I’m therefore thrilled to have another opportunity to see John Patrick Shanley at his Tony and Pulitzer-prizewinning best, and starring no less than Ellen Horst, who never disappoints. (You can catch Shanley’s latest, the lighter Outside Mullingar, at Irish Classical Theatre Company later in the season.)
Newsies, book by Harvey Fierstein, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman
Shea’s, September 29–October 4
Based on the 1992 musical film of the same name, which was inspired by the real-life newspaper strike of 1899, Newsies surprised everyone with its popularity when it went from a limited Broadway engagement to an open-ended run. I saw its appeal first-hand: since her aunt took my daughter and her sister to Newsies on Broadway in 2013, nary a month has gone by where I haven’t heard about the show, heard her singing lyrics or praising the dancing, got sent a gift-hint link for some Newsies merchandise, or fielded queries about when she might get to see it again. The time has come. And after hearing how it’s risen up the ranks of her favorite musicals, there’s no way I can miss it.
All My Sons, by Arthur Miller
Irish Classical Theatre Company, January 15–February 7, 2016
After seeing A View from the Bridge, The Crucible, and Death of a Salesman all in a year’s time, I have rediscovered and fallen hopelessly in love with Arthur Miller. Miller wrote All My Sons—a story of war profiteering told through a family lens—after his first play, The Man Who Had All the Luck, failed on Broadway. He vowed if it wasn’t commercially successful, he would find another line of work. All My Sons beat out Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh for the 1947 Drama Critics’ Circle Award, and fortunately for us, Miller didn’t stop writing plays. On the heels of ICTC’s success with Death of a Salesman and with another all-star cast, All My Sons should be a highlight of the ICTC season.
The House of Blue Leaves, by John Guare
American Repertory Theater of Western New York, January 28–February 20, 2016
Though American Repertory Theater’s history with musicals (Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson and Floyd Collins both took home Artie awards) means that Carrie: The Musical is a likely bet, I’m giving the nod to The House of Blue Leaves because I missed it on Broadway in 2011, and because it’s the play that put John Guare (Six Degrees of Separation) on the playwriting map. A dark comedy about a zookeeper’s dreams of songwriting stardom, the play won both the Obie and the Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best American Play in 1971, and picked up a slew of Tonys for its 1986 revival. I need to see this.
Bad Jews, by Joshua Harmon
Jewish Repertory Theatre, February 4–28, 2016
I’ve only read Joshua Harmon’s Bad Jews, but the characters he created were fairly leaping off the page and begging for life. Outwardly a story about a two cousins fighting over the chai (“to life”) necklace left behind by their late grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, the play ultimately asks big questions about identity, faith, and legacy—all with a fresh voice laced with savage humor. This was Harmon’s breakout play: the author says it was the first of his plays to be performed more than three times, and now, as of this past March, it was the third-most performed modern play in the country (and that’s on top of its many international productions). I love new work, and this is one of the most contemporary offerings on this season’s slate.
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, book by Abe Burrows/Jack Weinstock/Willie Gilbert and music/lyrics by Frank Loesser
MusicalFare, April 13–May 15, 2016
MusicalFare has several exciting offerings this season (Pageant!) but the irresistible combination of Chris Kelly direction and Bobby Cooke choreography gives How To Succeed the edge. I loved the show with Darren Criss on Broadway, and the promise of seeing it in a smaller venue with our amazing local musical theater talent means there’s no way it can miss. Unlike many older musicals—this one won the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for drama—this satire of big business holds up, and so does the humor.
Farragut North, by Beau Willimon
Road Less Traveled Productions, April 29– May 22, 2016
I know I’m not the only one who has devoured each season of House of Cards the minute it’s released from Netflix. And I can’t be the only one who is way curious about HOC creator Beau Willimon’s preseries life as a playwright. Following the story of press secretary Stephen Bellamy, Farragut North promises all the election season political intrigue, secrets, and dirty dealing of politics that House of Cards delivers—on stage. What could be better than that?
Playwright Donna Hoke writes about theater for Spree and Forever Young.