It's going to be a song-in-your-heart theater season in Baltimore, and chances are, the shows that don't leave you humming will leave you laughing.
With five musical presentations, the Baltimore Center for the Performing Arts is host to one of its most song-laden seasons, highlighted by the Tony Award-winning "The Will Rogers Follies" (May 4-23, Lyric Opera House). Keith Carradine is expected to re-create his Broadway role.
The Houston Grand Opera's revival of "Annie Get Your Gun" (March 9-April 4, Mechanic Theatre) is another promising offering. Starring Cathy Rigby, the production will probably move to Broadway sometime after its Baltimore run.
The other musical shows are "Jesus Christ Superstar" (Dec. 15-Jan. 10, Mechanic) and two revues: "Forever Plaid" (Oct. 13-Nov. 8, Mechanic), a salute to the male pop groups of the '50s and '60s, and "The World Goes 'Round" (Jan. 12 to Feb. 7, Mechanic), a celebration of songwriters John Kander and Fred Ebb. (In addition, Baltimoreans will have their fourth chance to acquire feline memories when "Cats" plays a one-week non-subscription run at the Lyric in early 1993.)
One more show has yet to be announced, but so far the subscription line-up includes only one non-musical -- the off-Broadway comedy "Breaking Legs" (Nov. 10-Dec. 6, Mechanic), with original stars Vincent Gardenia and Larry Storch. However, as another special one-week attraction, B.C.P.A. will also present "Catskills on Broadway," the Borscht Belt comedy revue, at the Lyric in March.
Center Stage, which has been experimenting with musical theater in various forms in recent seasons, will introduce a musical cabaret in its flexible Head Theater this spring. "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill" (March 26-May 9), a concert biography of Baltimore's own Billie Holiday, inaugurates the program; the one-woman show will probably be presented in repertory with another small-scale musical.
And, a local presenter called Performing Arts Productions is bringing five musical favorites to the Lyric for one week each: "Annie" (Oct. 27-Nov. 1), "Evita" (Dec. 1-6), "Fiddler on the Roof" (Dec. 29 to Jan. 3), "42nd Street" (Jan. 26-31) and "The Wiz" (March 16-21.)
In terms of humor, the lighter tone of Center Stage's 30th anniversary season will be set by the celebration scheduled for Sept. 20 and including such family-oriented events as a demonstration of clowning techniques. These will figure prominently in the season opener, "The Servant of Two Masters" Oct. 9-Nov. 8, Pearlstone Theater), Center Stage's first foray into the 18th century slapstick world of Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni.
This will be followed by the just-announced "T-Bone N Weasel" (Nov. 19-Dec. 20, Pearlstone Theater). A comic account of the misadventures of two ex-cons by Jon Klein, "T-Bone" replaces the previously scheduled "The Good Times Are Killing Me," by cartoonist Lynda Barry. (The atergoers set on seeing the latter will have to travel to Ford's Theatre in Washington, where the show will be staged Jan. 30-March 21).
Meanwhile, continuing its practice of introducing important contemporary playwrights to Baltimore audiences, Center Stage will mount the first major U.S. production of Canadian playwright George F. Walker's comedy about an offbeat family, "Escape From Happiness" (Feb. 12-March 14, Pearlstone).
Rounding out the season will be "Arms and the Man" (May 7-June 6, Pearlstone), by George Bernard Shaw, one of Center Stage's most frequently produced playwrights, and "A Moon for the Misbegotten" (Jan. 1-Feb. 14, Head), by Eugene O'Neill, who hasn't been produced there in more than two decades.
The Theatre Project's season has two main components. Splitting Image Theatre's "Family Masks" (Oct. 28-Nov. 8) initiates a program of residencies for three local alternative theater companies, which will stage two works each. Other shows set thus far are Edward Albee's "The American Dream" (Dec. 2-13) by Impossible Industrial Action and "The Yellow Wallpaper" (Feb. 3-14) by New Century Theater.
The season's second major component consists of importing three Dutch troupes, which will return annually for the next three years. The series includes: "Amy and Ana" and "Man in a Hurry" (Jan. 13-17), an evening of dance-theater by Onafhankelijk Toneel; "Black Blossom" (Jan. 27-31), by Amsterdam choreographer Truus Bronkhorst; and "Manipulator" and "Underdog" (April 7-11), a double bill by Amsterdam's Stuffed Puppet Theatre. (And, not to be outdone when it comes to laughs, beginning Wednesday the Theatre Project acts as host to the return of "Funny Gay Males," in a revamped show continuing through Sept. 20).
Topping the news on the community theater scene is Arena Players' 40th anniversary. The highlight of the weeklong festivities is Friday's gala opening of James Weldon Johnson's gospel musical, "God's Trombones," which continues through Oct. 4.