Center Stage keeps things on the move


A premiere, a finale and an auction all the same night


February 20, 2003|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

As Fats Waller might have put it, the joint will be jumpin' at Center Stage Sunday.

That afternoon, the Waller musical Ain't Misbehavin' will play the final performance of what has been a record-setting run. That night, in the upstairs Head Theater, the world premiere of Lynn Nottage's Intimate Apparel will play its third preview. And from 8 a.m. to midnight in the fifth-floor rehearsal hall, a bevy of Center Stage staffers and volunteers will be manning the phones for the 26th annual radio auction.

First, the news about Ain't Misbehavin'. The production has broken Center Stage's box office record for single ticket sales. As of 10 a.m. yesterday, the show had sold $323,599 in single, non-subscription tickets. (Cancellations due to this week's storm will decrease the final sales figure a bit but will not threaten the record, according to Center Stage.) The previous single-ticket record was $301,909.27, set by August Wilson's Jitney in 1999. And, with four performances left to go, the Ain't Misbehavin' figures are still climbing.

Commenting on the popularity of the production, which moves to Washington's Arena Stage next month, Barbara Geeson Watson, Center Stage's director of audience development, said, "It appeals to so many different kinds of people. There are so many different ways into the musical, whether it be historical, whether it be African-American artists or whether it be that you just love great jazz music."

Interestingly, both Ain't Misbehavin' and Jitney were presented at the same time of year - midwinter, a period that typically results in a downturn in business on Broadway. New Yorkers may stay home when it's cold; Baltimoreans apparently go to the theater.

Washington's Shakespeare Theatre will restage its 2001 production of The Oedipus Plays, a single-night adaptation of Sophocles' Oedipus trilogy, at the 2003 Athens Festival in Greece Sept. 10 and 11.

Under Michael Kahn's direction, Avery Brooks will again head the cast in this African-flavored interpretation, to be staged in the 5,000-seat Roman Odeon of Herod Atticus, on the south slope of the Acropolis.

Calling the timing "poignant," Kahn commented in a statement that "this is the same play we were performing two years ago on Sept. 11 - a play of tremendous human tragedy and the redemptive power of love."

Kahn has also announced the Shakespeare Theatre's 2003-2004 season. In contrast to the type of abridging the theater has mastered in past condensations of not only The Oedipus Plays, but also the work of Shakespeare, Ibsen and O'Neill, the new season will include full-length stagings of both parts of Shakespeare's Henry IV. (Kahn himself directed a compressed Henry IV in 1994.)

The new productions will be directed by Bill Alexander and star Ted van Griethuysen as Falstaff. After back-to-back runs Jan. 20-March 14, 2004, and March 16-May 2, 2004, respectively, the two parts will run in rotating repertory May 4-16.

Here's the rest of the lineup: Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The Rivals, directed by Keith Baxter (Aug. 26-Oct. 19); Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, directed by Mark Lamos (Nov. 4-Jan. 4); and Edmund Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac, directed by Kahn (June 1-July 18).

For more information, call the box office at 202-547-1122 or 877-487-8849 or visit www.shakespearethea

Also at the Shakespeare Theatre, this season's Rediscovery Series continues at 7:30 p.m. Monday with a reading of Ibsen's 1866 play, Brand, directed by Mark Schneider. Translated by David MacDonald, the verse drama focuses on an idealistic priest. Brand is the third and final reading in this series of plays under consideration for subsequent full productions. Admission is free, but theatergoers are advised to call the box office and press extension 4 to reserve a ticket. The Shakespeare Theatre is at 450 Seventh St. N.W., Washington.

More on Center Stage

Meanwhile, among the more than 700 items up for bid in this year's Center Stage radio auction are two that appear to provide an especially telling reflection of Charm City - a ride-along with a police officer from the Northern District, and a backstage tour and pair of tickets to the Broadway production of Hairspray.

Other distinctive items include a daylong Chesapeake Bay fishing trip for 49 people, complete with everything from bait to fish cleaning; a deluxe seven-day Mediterranean cruise valued at $13,800; a fine wine tasting for 12 people (including a bottle of 1995 Chateau Lafite Rothschild); and lunch with "Nana," the giant pooch from Center Stage's season-opening production of Peter Pan, accompanied by Nana's handler, the theater's managing director, Michael Ross.

The 16-hour auction will be broadcast on WBAL radio (1090 AM). A complete list of items will be published in The Sun on Sunday and is also available online at For more information, call 410-685-3200, Ext. 438.

Nor is that all the news from Center Stage. The regional theater is celebrating its 40th anniversary, but it's not the only local theatrical institution boasting a milestone. Arena Players, billed as the nation's oldest continuously operating African-American theater, is in its 50th season. That anniversary will be celebrated before tonight's performance of Ain't Misbehavin' at Center Stage.

In addition, Center Stage has dedicated its production of Intimate Apparel to Arena Players, and the two theaters are planning a community conversation on African-American theater in Baltimore, to take place in March (date and time to be announced).

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