It's going to be an all-singing, all-dancing season for Performing Arts Productions at the Lyric Opera House in 1998-1999.
"At the Lyric, musicals are very much the most popular format," said Nicholas A. Litrenta, president of Performing Arts, in announcing the four-show subscription season. On the schedule are "Jolson -- The Musical," "Steel City," "Fame -- The Musical" and "Lord of the Dance."
The lineup has one less show than the Lyric's recent subscription seasons. Litrenta cited several reasons for the decrease, including a desire to make the subscription more affordable.
In addition, he said, he is planning to bring in a number of nonsubscription shows. These will include "Stomp," returning to the Lyric (Sept. 15-20) for the third time, as well as a pair of family musicals, which are under negotiation, and a return engagement of a well-known magic show. "I can't say more, otherwise I'll be made to disappear," he joked.
Here's a closer look at the subscription offerings:
* "Jolson -- The Musical," Nov. 24-29. Winner of the 1995 Olivier Award (the British Tony) for Best Musical, this London import is a musical biography of Al Jolson, the legendary entertainer who promised his audiences, "You ain't heard nothing yet."
* "Steel City," Feb. 2-7. The latest work by Dein Perry, Australian creator of "Tap Dogs," "Steel City" features a cast of female as well as male dancers; an original score by Tim Finn of the Australian pop band Crowded House; and design by Brian Thompson, winner of the 1996 Tony Award for his set for "The King and I."
* "Fame -- The Musical," March 23-28. An earlier version of this musicalization of the 1980 movie and subsequent TV series played the Mechanic Theatre a decade ago. Redesigned and featuring new direction and choreography, this show about New York's High School of Performing Arts has subsequently been produced in 16 countries.
* "Lord of the Dance," May 4-9. Created by "Riverdance's" Michael Flatley (who appeared in a two-day engagement of "Lord of the Dance" at the Baltimore Arena last September), this production showcases a cast of 40 headed by 20-year-old John Carey, a championship dancer who started out as Flatley's understudy.
Subscriptions to the four-play Lyric season range from $80 to $206.50. Call 410-494-2712.
Willy Russell's musical "Blood Brothers" may be maudlin and melodramatic, but it is receiving an admirable -- and even enjoyable -- production at Cockpit in Court, in part because Cockpit's intimate Upstairs Cabaret Theatre reduces the show's overblown, tear-jerker qualities to a more human scale.
Set in Liverpool, the musical tells of a struggling 25-year-old mother of seven. Pregnant with twins, she is coerced into secretly handing one of the twins over to the rich, childless woman whose house she cleans. Unaware of their consanguinity, twins Eddie and Mickey become best friends, a situation that sends the wealthy adoptive mother into such severe hysterics, she quickly becomes the villain of the piece.
Nor is that the only threat hanging over privileged Eddie and working-class Mickey. An ominous Narrator haunts the action, playing on the mothers' superstitious fears and warning that the devil will have his due. Chip Meister delivers an impressively even-tempered performance in this portentous role, which calls for him to appear in guises ranging from a milkman to a British bobby (the cleverest element of this otherwise formulaic musical).
But then, almost all of director Eric J. Potter's fine cast -- headed by Liz Boyer as the twins' birth mother and Jason Ayestas and Tom Burns as Mickey and Eddie -- brings a welcome note of restraint to "Blood Brothers," a show that manipulates the audience's emotions so relentlessly, you'd think it was created by the makers of Kleenex.
Cockpit in Court performs at Essex Community College, 7201 Rossville Blvd. Show times for "Blood Brothers" are 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. (Saturday's performance will be signed.) Tickets are $12. Call 410-780-6369.
How theater can help
This summer's Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, W. Va., will be remembered not only for the four plays it produced, but also for the Town Hall Meeting on the Performing Arts and Race it sponsored July 19.
The event was keyed to the world premiere of Cherylene Lee's play, "Carry the Tiger to the Mountain," about the 1982 fatal beating of a Chinese-American man by two Detroit autoworkers. Among the eight panelists at the meeting were Garth Fagan, Tony Award-winning choreographer of "The Lion King"; Molly Smith, newly appointed artistic director of Washington's Arena Stage; and actor George Takei, best known as "Star Trek's" Mr. Sulu.