Next at the Mechanic


May 17, 2001|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

The 2001 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, "Proof," and the 2000 Tony Award-winning musical "Contact" will highlight the coming season at the Mechanic Theatre.

"We've got two really new things, and three great American musicals," Michael J. Brand said in announcing the season.

Although the five-show 2001-2002 subscription season has one less show than the season just ended, Brand said the reduced number isn't an indication that the Mechanic is facing financial difficulties. Instead, it's an effort to hold down subscription prices, he said. The shorter series also is a way to make room for a two-week return engagement of "Beauty and the Beast," which broke all sales records at the Mechanic when it played there in 1999.

Overall, the Mechanic "had another good year, basically duplicated the last year," said Brand, vice president of SFX Theatrical Group (formerly Jujamcyn Productions), which co-presents shows at the Mechanic with the Baltimore Center for the Performing Arts. Attendance averaged 86 percent to 89 percent capacity, with "Fosse," "Cinderella" and "Ragtime" drawing in the mid- to high-90s.

He reiterated the difficulty of attracting new, larger shows to the relatively small 1,600-seat Mechanic but added, "We're very hopeful that the Hippodrome will be on line for the 2003-2004 season, which would allow us to bring in a considerable amount of bigger, extended-run productions."

Until then, the Mechanic has assembled a season intended to introduce younger audiences to gems of American musical theater from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, while giving more sophisticated theatergoers a chance to see two of Broadway's more challenging hits.

Here's the lineup:

"The Music Man," Nov. 27-Dec. 2. Meredith Willson's 1957 musical about con artist-cum-band leader Harold Hill will be overseen by Susan Stroman, who directed and choreographed the hit 1999 Broadway revival.

"South Pacific," Feb. 12-17. This new production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1949 musical based on James Michener's "Tales of the South Pacific" may be headed for Broadway.

"Proof," Feb. 26-March 3. Winner of the Pulitzer and the favorite for this year's Tony, David Auburn's play focuses on a daughter struggling to cope with the mental deterioration of her father, a genius mathematician. Brand calls it "an awesome thing to see."

"Fiddler on the Roof," March 5-10. Theodore Bikel, who has made a "Tradition" of playing Tevye, the milkman, returns to the role once more in this revival of Joseph Stein, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick's 1964 adaptation of Sholom Aleichem's stories.

"Contact," May 7-12. The inventive work of director/choreographer Stroman (whose choreography of this show won her a Tony) will again be on display in this trio of dance-based pieces about love and longing from the 18th century to today, set to music ranging from Tchaikovsky to Robert Palmer.

"Beauty and the Beast," which comes to the Mechanic April 24-May 5, won't be part of the subscription series. In addition, Brand hopes to bring in two other non-subscription offerings.

Subscriptions to the five-show series are $120-$415 and go on sale in early June. Current subscribers will receive renewal information by mail. Call 800-343-3103 or visit

Students' work staged

Four student plays, selected from 350 statewide, will receive professional staged readings in Center Stage's annual Young Playwrights Festival Monday at 7 p.m.

"The Free Country," by Alex Beardsley, a fifth-grader at Cambridge School, focuses on a Cuban girl who regards Fidel Castro as little more than a boring annoyance, until she's forced to fend for herself.

"True Colors," by Chris Lewis, an 11th-grader at Parkville High School, centers on a troubled young person whose problems are ignored by family and friends.

"The Lost Romeo and Juliet," by Alexandra Ludka, a sixth- grader at Crofton Middle School, is a literary drama in which Shakespeare's grandson helps a young woman prove her grandmother was the inspiration for the star-crossed lovers.

"Hollow Home," by Candace Lunn, a 12th-grader at City College, is about a woman whose success cannot shield her from her family's bitterness.

The readings at Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St., are free, but reservations are required. Maryland first lady Frances Hughes Glendening will be the guest speaker at the awards ceremony, which will also honor eight other students whose scripts were deemed worthy of recognition. For information, call 410-685-3200, Ext. 374.

Two days later, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 23, Center Stage will be the site of another distinctive student event, Deaf Fest, an annual Baltimore city schools program that attracts approximately 1,000 hearing-impaired students and their teachers. Although usually held at a school, this year's Deaf Fest is at Center Stage because it has a theater focus.

Other happenings

Poetry or comedy? Local theaters will give audiences their pick this weekend. At 8 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday, the Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St., will present "WORDbodies!," a festival of poetry and language-based performance art by Denise Gantt, Ryan Dawson Mahon, Felicia Morgenstern and Lucia Treasure. Tickets cost $6. Call 410-752-8558.

Also on Saturday, TV and film actors D.L. Hughley and Bill Bellamy will perform two stand-up comedy shows, at 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m., at the Mechanic Theatre, 25 Hopkins Plaza. Tickets cost $34-$56.50. Call 410-481-7328.

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