The Lyric gears up for new season

Schedule: Four musicals are in store, beginning with 'Guys and Dolls.'

March 08, 2001|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Four musicals, ranging from the revival of a Broadway classic to a show that opens on Broadway next month, will highlight the 2001-2002 season at the Lyric Opera House.

The lineup includes: "Guys and Dolls"; "Saturday Night Fever"; "Blast!"; and "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," starring Ann-Margret in her theatrical debut.

Although the number of subscription shows is down from six this season, Performing Arts Productions, which books the series, is also bringing in return engagements of five other attractions, which will be available to subscribers at a discount.

"There are fewer first-class selections available ... so I felt it was better to just go with four," Performing Arts president Nicholas A. Litrenta said of the abbreviated main season. "These are all very, very strong."

Here's a closer look at the subscription offerings:

"Guys and Dolls" (Nov. 20-25): Director Charles Randolph-Wright's revival of Frank Loesser's Damon Runyon-inspired musical originated last season at Washington's Arena Stage, where it was the biggest hit in the theater's history.

Maurice Hines plays Nathan Detroit, proprietor of the "oldest established permanently floating crap game in New York."

"Saturday Night Fever" (Dec. 25-30): John Badham's movie about a young man from Brooklyn who's gotta dance was adapted for the stage by Baltimore native Nan Knighton. The disco musical, which recently closed on Broadway, features such Bee Gees hits as "How Deep is Your Love?" and "Stayin' Alive." Direction and choreography is by "Starlight Express" choreographer Arlene Phillips.

"Blast!" (Feb. 19-24): Created by James Mason, co-founder of a drum and bugle corps called Star of Indiana, this tour-de-force display of musicianship and precision movement played Washington's Kennedy Center earlier this winter and opens a 10-week Broadway engagement in April.

"The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" (May 7-12): Heading the cast as madam Mona Stangley is Ann-Margret in her first stage role. The 1978 musical is based on the true story of the closing of Texas' Chicken Ranch brothel in 1973.

Two repeat shows being offered as subscriber options will feature new material - Penn & Teller (Jan. 29-Feb. 3) and Mandy Patinkin in Concert (Feb. 9 and 10). Other return engagements include: "Riverdance" (Oct. 30-Nov. 4), "Cats" (April 9-14) and "Cabaret" (June 4-9).

Subscriptions to the main four-show series range from $92-$242.25 and are currently available to renewing subscribers; the series goes on sale to new subscribers April 1. For more information, call 410-494-2712.

Batter up

Joan Ackerman's baseball-themed play, "The Batting Cage," is the theatrical equivalent of a swing and a miss.

Set in a Florida hotel room - re-created at the Vagabond Players with wonderfully tacky verisimilitude by set designer Tony Colavito - the play focuses on a pair of adult sisters.

Julianna (Laura Gifford), a recent divorcee, and her younger sister Wilson (Carol Oles) have traveled to St. Augustine to fulfill a last wish of Wilson's twin, who died two years earlier.

Much is made of the surviving sisters' differences and basic incompatibility. Julianna, who arrives with a pile of luggage, is a Type A chatterbox with a lust for sightseeing. Wilson, who arrives with only one suitcase - packed with 10 identical shirts - is taciturn and nearly immobile; she spends much of the first act plopped motionless on her bed.

Inevitably, the sisters switch roles. In act two Julianna gets severely sunburned and becomes stuck in bed. Meanwhile, Wilson's sudden obsession with and prowess at baseball makes her a local celebrity.

Even more artificial than the role switching is the arrival of a deus ex machina - the sisters' mother (Babs Dentz), who restores peace and supplies a gratifying, if not exactly happy, ending.

As Wilson, Oles comes across as both sympathetic and misunderstood. As Julianna, however, Gifford's delivery at times seems forced - a problem due more to Ackerman's stilted prose than to the requirement that Gifford carry the first act almost single-handedly. Making us care about this selfish woman may be too much to ask.

Carlos del Valle lends a much-needed bit of comic relief to the supporting role of a friendly room- service waiter. But Miriam Bazensky's direction does little to enliven a play that seems to drag into extra innings.

Show times at the Vagabonds, 806 S. Broadway, are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. March 18, and 2 p.m. Sundays, through March 25. Tickets cost $12. Call 410-563-9135.

Coppin lecture

A few weeks ago, we mentioned that Arena Players was trying to raise funds to bring a descendant of one of the families of former slaves who founded Nicodemus, Kan., to Baltimore in connection with the theater's production of Pearl Cleage's "Flyin' West," which is set in the all-black pioneer town.

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