- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 14, 2002

Last year marked the days of wine and togas, as area theaters explored, and in some cases, reconfigured the classics. This season, theatergoers seem to have a song in their hearts, as evidenced in the proliferation of musicals.
Musical theater is bustin' out all over, and with the emphasis on show tunes and dance, it might as well be spring. Yet, we're singing a September song, this being the fall arts preview. So it is time to face the music and dance; brush up your Shakespeare; ease on down the road; be sorry/grateful; make plans for some enchanted evening; resign ourselves to another openin', another show; reaffirm that there's no business like show business; and become the kind of theatergoer who cain't say no. Because art ain't easy but sitting in a District-area theater, taking in a fabulous production, is.
So let's get cracking.
The heart and music stuff gets started with the pre-Broadway run of "Man of La Mancha" at the National, Oct. 8 through Nov. 10. Brian Stokes-Mitchell, who made audiences shiver with his sinister and sexy turn as the lead in "Sweeney Todd" this summer, will play Quixote to Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio's Aldonza. Ernie Sabella, a Broadway veteran who originated the role of Pumbaa in the stage and screen versions of "The Lion King," takes on the role of Sancho Panza.
Meanwhile, over at the Studio Theatre, artistic director Joy Zinoman directs the Olivier Award-winning "Privates on Parade" (now through Oct. 20), Peter Nichols' play about being a member of a British military song and dance troupe in Malaysia in 1948. This coming of age story stars two of Washington's finest clowns, Floyd King and J. Fred Shiffman.
The Studio continues in this musical vein with "Bat Boy: The Musical" (as opposed to Bat Boy, the salad dressing), running Oct. 17 through Nov. 10. The off-Broadway musical is in the tradition of "Side Show" and other works dealing with society's oddballs and outcasts. "Bat Boy" spins a tabloid story about a half-bat, half-baby found in a cave into a smart, oddly touching musical about tolerance.
The demonically tapping Savion Glover buck-and-wings into the Warner Theatre on Nov. 12 through 17 with "Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk," George C. Wolfe's history of black culture told through rhythm and rap. Also rhythm-inflected is MetroStage's "Three Sistahs," a retelling of Chekov's classic "Three Sisters" set to an R&B; beat (through Oct. 13). Vanessa Williams will cast off her witch costume from "Into the Woods" for something more conventionally alluring in the Kennedy Center's concert version of "Carmen Jones" (Nov. 15 through 17), Oscar Hammerstein's Broadway treatment of Bizet's opera. Miss Williams will be joined by the Harlem Boys Choir, and Placido Domingo will conduct the National Symphony Orchestra.
Olney Theatre Center gets into the musical act with a fully staged costumes, sets production of the tender, searching "The Secret Garden" (Nov. 19 through Dec. 29), with music by Lucy Simon (Carly's sister) and book and lyrics by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Marsha Norman. The show is based on the beloved novel about childhood and leaving it behind by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
Arena Stage audiences will get their first taste of artistic director Molly Smith's talent for directing musicals with "South Pacific" (Dec. 6 through Feb. 2). Rodgers and Hammerstein's collaboration is known as a masterwork for two reasons: for such songs as "Bali Ha'i," "Younger Than Springtime," "There Ain't Nothing Like a Dame," "Some Enchanted Evening," "A Wonderful Guy," and "Gonna Wash That Man Right Out-a My Hair"; and for its bold treatment of racial tensions, war's inhumanity, and interracial relationships.
On a somewhat lighter note (the main character is, in essence, a musical doormat) is the Kennedy Center's revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Tell Me on a Sunday" (Dec. 17 through Jan. 12). The show, about a young Englishwoman's ups (and mostly) downs with men after she moves to New York, will star Alice Ripley, who endeared audiences at this summer's Sondheim festival with her electrically frazzled rendition of "Getting Married Today" from "Company."
If that's not enough whoops-a-daisy for you, in 2003 Signature Theatre has "What the Butler Saw," Joe Orton's comic masterpiece from '60s London (through Oct. 13); followed by "110 in the Shade" (the musical version of "The Rainmaker") by the creators of "The Fantasticks," in January and February; and Stephen Sondheim's luscious "Follies" in March and April.
Arena Stage is co-producing a revival of "Ain't Misbehavin'," featuring the music of Fats Waller, March 21 through May 25; Studio is getting into "A Class Act" May 14 through June 22; and in July the Kennedy Center will host the national tour of the zippy revival of "Oklahoma!" starring Susan Stroman's magnificent new choreography.
By the way, there are nonmusical events this fall, too.
The Folger Theatre once again welcomes the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express (SSE) to its Elizabethan-inspired space with "Love's Labour Lost," Nov. 16 through Dec. 1. The season moves into the new year with "Twelfth Night" Jan. 3 through Feb. 9 and Maxwell Anderson's "Elizabeth the Queen" (March 22 through May 4), which charts in verse the stormy relationship between Elizabeth I and the Earl of Essex.
The Shakespeare Theatre currently is featuring an affecting production of "The Winter's Tale" through Oct. 20 and continues this Bard bent with "Much Ado About Nothing" (Nov. 5 through Jan. 5), directed by Tony Award nominee Mark Lamos and featuring Broadway baby Karen Ziemba as the zinger-flinging Beatrice. The Shakespeare's season also includes Ben Jonson's "The Silent Woman" (Jan. 21 through March 9), the area premiere of this wicked and elaborate farce; and "Richard III" (March 25 through May 18) with Wallace Acton in the title role.
Another theatrical giant, Fiona Shaw, takes on the mighty "Medea," Euripedes' classical tragedy, in a not-to-be missed short run at the Kennedy Center Nov. 7 through 9. "Medea" will be given a modern adaptation by the Ireland's Abbey Theatre. Speaking of Ireland, the isle will also be represented by Marie Jones' wily play, "Stones in His Pockets" (Feb. 4 through March 2), which is about how to cope with celebrity and the invasion of Hollywood in a small Irish community.
Round House Theatre in Bethesda looks to Canada for its season opener, "Love and Anger" by George Walker (Sept. 18 through Oct. 13). The Round House is one of the leading producers of Mr. Walker's plays in the United States, and "Love and Anger" centers on Petie Maxwell, a former high-powered attorney and Quixote-like figure who has taken the defense of the poor and disenfranchised in hope of overthrowing a corrupt legal system. Next up is Anton Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard" (Nov. 6 through Dec. 1), a tragicomedy that "plays on the edge between laughter and tears" in its story about a family about to lose their old world and old ways and facing a future that has no place for them.
Over at Studio, Neil LaBute's "The Shape of Things" (Nov. 6 through Feb. 16) takes shape, starring Washington favorite Holly Twyford in a not-so-classic tale of girl meets boy. (Miss Twyford is currently contributing a powerhouse performance to Woolly Mammoth's "Recent Tragic Events.") Mr. LaBute may be familiar to readers for his creepy movies "In the Company of Men" and "Your Friends and Neighbors."
Studio's season continues into winter with another work by August Wilson protege Javon Johnson, who wowed theater patrons with last season's "Hambone." Mr. Johnson returns with "Runaway Home," the true story of a single black mother in South Carolina who must choose between her family and a life of her own. Other offerings include Edward Albee's "A Play About the Baby" (March 26 through May 4) and Ruben Santiago-Hudson's "Lackawanna Blues" (June 6 through 22).
Nontuneful productions at Arena Stage abound, starting with "The Misanthrope" (Sept. 27 through Nov. 3), Moliere's classic about a competition for a favored love that may not have show tunes but is lavish with winsome poetry. August Wilson's protege may be at Studio, but Arena has the man itself with "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" (Nov. 1 through Dec. 22), directed by Tazewell Thompson. This is Mr. Wilson's '20s play (he plans to have a work for every decade of the 20th century), set in a Chicago recording studio as a group of jazz musicians wait around for the diva Ma Rainey, in the meantime trading riffs and tales of rage and joy.
Thornton Wilder may be best known for "Our Town," but he wrote more than that, collecting three Pulitzer Prizes for his work. In the world premiere of "Theophilus North" (Jan. 17 through March 2), Mr. Wilder's final novel, we experience the world view of a young man itching to see the world but who only gets as far as the glittery society of Newport, R.I. Two more American writers dominate the rest of the season "Lanford Wilson" in "Book of Days" (Feb. 21 through March 30) and Wendy Wasserstein with the vastly underrated "An American Daughter" (April 25 through June 1).
Woolly Mammoth remains sensitive to contemporary issues and zeitgeist, as seen in its season's opener, "Recent Tragic Events" (through Sept. 29), which chronicles a blind date on Sept. 12, 2001.
Another play speaking to contemporary conundrums is Don DeLillo's "The Day Room" (Dec. 16 through Jan. 12), which was a big hit for Woolly in 1989. In this farce, two unsuspecting hospital patients are visited by an array of nurses and doctors, each one even more disturbed and unsettling than the last. The world premiere of "Jump/Cut" (Feb. 24 through March 30) by Neena Berber follows, a drama about an ambitious couple who decide to make the ultimate reality film about their manic-depressive friend, Dave. The season ends with Sandra Tsing Loh's one woman show, "I Worry" (March 27 through April 20), and "Patience" (June 16 through July 20) by Jason Sherman, the bad boy of Toronto theater, according to Time magazine.


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