It's going to be a theater season to sing about -- or at least a season full of singing. Either way, musicals will be springing up in all shapes and sizes.
The most lavish in Baltimore will be a visit in May from the king of Siam, when the national tour of the 1996 Tony Award-winning revival of "The King and I" arrives at the Mechanic Theatre -- one of more than a half-dozen musicals due there in 1996-1997.
At Center Stage, the big musical news is the November world premiere of "Triumph of Love," based on Marivaux's 18th-century French comedy and co-produced by the Yale Repertory Theatre.
Down the road in Washington, theatergoers will be able to see premieres by Broadway's hottest -- and most disparate -- composers. Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's Broadway-bound "Whistle Down the Wind," based on a 1961 Hayley Mills movie, debuts at the National Theatre Dec. 6. And "Wise Guys," Stephen Sondheim's new Roaring '20s musical about the colorful Mizner brothers, debuts at the Kennedy Center June 30.
Back in Baltimore, the Lyric, true to its name, will be host to a quartet of musical chestnuts including "Funny Girl" and "West Side Story."
Baltimore's smaller theaters are also breaking into song. Theatre Hopkins opens its 75th season with Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's "The Threepenny Opera" (Oct. 18-Nov. 17). Arena Players, which has trimmed its season to four shows in an effort to cut costs, will nonetheless end 1996-1997 with a bang with Vernel Bagneris' "One Mo' Time" (May 9-June 15). The Vagabonds is staging Alfred Uhry and Robert Waldman's Eudora Welty musical, "The Robber Bridegroom" (Nov. 8-Dec. 13). And AXIS Theatre will wrap up its season with the local premiere of Michael John LaChiusa's musical salute to White House wives -- "First Lady Suite" (April 29-June 1).
'The King and I'
The opportunity to see "The King and I" (May 20-June 1) in the relatively cozy confines of the Mechanic will probably be the most up-close-and-personal experience audiences anywhere will have with this deluxe production. Baltimoreans owe this treat to the proposed new theater building, which, even though it's several years off, is already enticing producers of big productions to bring their wares here.
Although casting for "The King and I" hasn't been announced, rumors are that the monarch will be played by Kevin Gray, who starred on Broadway as "The Phantom of the Opera." Casting is no secret in several of the other shows coming to the Mechanic, however. Stefanie Powers of "Hart to Hart" fame will play the lead in "Applause" (Oct. 29-Nov. 10). Nell Carter will be evil Miss Hannigan in the 20th anniversary pre-Broadway tour of "Annie" (Jan. 14-Feb. 2). And the non-subscription revival of "Grease!" that begins the season (Sept. 26-Oct. 6) will feature Sally Struthers as the English teacher, Miss Lynch.
The brightest star in the Mechanic's firmament will be in one of its two non-musicals -- Christopher Plummer in the one-man pre-Broadway show "Barrymore" (Feb. 18-March 2). The other drama is "Having Our Say" (April 8-20), the moving account of the centenarian Delany sisters.
Rounding out the offerings at the Mechanic are three more musicals with something for almost every taste -- "A Chorus Line" (Oct. 8-13) for traditional music theater buffs; "Always Patsy Cline" (Nov. 22-24) for country fans; and, for pop aficionados, "Smokey Joe's Cafe" (Dec. 10-22), which showcases the music of Mike Stoller and Baltimore native Jerry Leiber.
Musical at Center Stage
It's been a few years since a musical debuted at Center Stage, but the theater's patrons already have some familiarity with "Triumph of Love" (Nov. 21-Dec. 21), because James Magruder's non-musical adaptation was produced there in 1993. Magruder, who is Center Stage's resident dramaturg, wrote the book for this musical version, which has music by Jeffrey Stock and lyrics by Susan Birkenhead, and will be directed by Michael Mayer, who staged the national tour of "Angels in America."
"Triumph of Love" will be followed by a second Center Stage world premiere, Keith Glover's "Thunder Knocking on the Door" (Dec. 13-Jan. 26), co-produced by the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and the Dallas Theater Center. Although not a musical, the play has a strong musical underpinning, because the plot concerns a confrontation between the devil and the grown twin offspring of a deceased blues guitarist.
The blues will also figure prominently in Center Stage's production of "Seven Guitars" (April 25-June 1). August Wilson's latest Broadway play, "Seven Guitars" is the 1940s installment of his decade-by-decade chronicle of 20th-century African-American life.
Three classics complete the Center Stage season: Bertolt Brecht's "Galileo" (Sept. 27-Nov. 3), Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" (Jan. 31-March 16) and Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie" (March 14-April 27).