Stages come alive with sounds of music

September 13, 2001|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Area theaters will resound with music in the 2001-2002 season. There'll be singing about a garment-workers strike at Center Stage, fiddling on the roof at the Mechanic Theatre and warbling about the "oldest established permanently floating crap game in New York" at the Lyric Opera House.

But it's the music of Stephen Sondheim that promises to make the longest and strongest impact. Beginning in May, Washington's Kennedy Center will produce six Sondheim musicals - Sweeney Todd, Company, Sunday in the Park With George, Merrily We Roll Along, Passion and A Little Night Music - in rotating repertory. And that's not all. Also in May, the center will mount an abridged version of Into the Woods featuring Washington children, and it will import a Japanese production of Pacific Overtures a year from now.

Still haven't had enough Sondheim? One of the composer-lyricist's lesser-known works, Assassins, will have productions large and small. Originally staged off-Broadway in 1991, the show will make its much-awaited Broadway debut in November. Not to be outdone, our own Theatre Hopkins will close its season with Assassins.

If you're not a Sondheim fan, there's still plenty to sing about. Center Stage opens its season next month with The Pajama Game. The 1954 musical about a strike at a pajama factory is only the second time the regional theater has produced a major Broadway musical. Irene Lewis directs.

Musicals, of course, are a mainstay of road houses, and this season will be no exception. Highlights at the Mechanic include the dance-based 2000 Tony Award winner Contact; Michael Nouri in South Pacific; and Theodore Bikel reprising his star turn in Fiddler on the Roof.

At the Lyric, Maurice Hines headlines the fun-filled production of Guys and Dolls that originated at Washington's Arena Stage in 1999 and features the aforementioned floating crap game; Ann-Margret rules the roost as Miss Mona in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas; disco is born again in the stage adaptation of the Bee Gees' Saturday Night Fever; and brass bands blare in the drum and bugle corps extravaganza Blast!

Hankering for a respite from all the singing and dancing? Prominent among the wide variety of plays is the 2001 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner Proof, David Auburn's drama about father-and-daughter mathematicians, which comes to the Mechanic in February.

In November, Baltimore native Trazana Beverley will star in Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun at Center Stage, under the direction of Marion McClinton. Later in the winter, appropriately enough, the theater will produce Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale, directed by Irene Lewis.

Meanwhile, Everyman Theatre opened its season last week with Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine, in which Tana Hicken plays the mother of the character she portrayed at Center Stage in 1980. Everyman's lineup also includes the mid-Atlantic premieres of two recent off-Broadway plays, Kenneth Lonergan's The Waverly Gallery, about a gallery owner stricken with Alzheimer's disease, and Martin Sherman's Rose, a one-woman show about an elderly Jewish immigrant; both will star Vivienne Shub.

Theatre Project's offerings include several one-person shows, including two by children of Holocaust survivors, Deb Filler's FillerUp and Claudia Stevens' In the Puppeteer's Wake.

Finally, there seems to be a sudden craze for condensed classics. Washington's Shakespeare Theatre started things off with Nicholas Rudall's truncated translation of Sophocles' Oedipus cycle, starring Avery Brooks. Just down the road, Washington's Arena Stage has mounted Kenneth Cavander's abridged compilation of four plays by Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles, jointly titled Agamemnon and His Daughters.

And, proving that little theaters can also cut culture down to size, the Vagabond Players launches its season tomorrow, with Das Barbecu, the 90-minute, five-person country-western send-up of Wagner's Ring cycle that had audiences a-hootin' and a-hollerin' at Center Stage in the mid-'90s.

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