The Rep's season is extra-musical, with a stacked Stackner and two musicals ("Ragtime," "End of the Rainbow") in the Quadracci, but don't discount a take on Superman's creator, an adapted Iliad or the Stiemke Studio's options.
Of those 13, two are acutely familiar to regular arts patrons. The Pabst will again host the Rep’s annual production of A Christmas Carol, Nov. 27 – Dec. 24; this production – their 38th – will feature the Hanreddy/Morgan adaptation used since ’98 and the return of director Aaron Posner, a Rep associate artist who roasted his first Rep Christmas chestnut this past December. And in the spring, the Rep’s intern ensemble will unite for the 4th annual Rep Lab, March 28-31, at the Stiemke Studio.
Spread before, between and after are the following 11 shows, grouped by their stage: mainstage Quadracci Powerhouse, intimate Stiemke Studio and musically minded Stackner Cabaret. The Rep’s official announcement calls the season “epic,” and at first glance it seems safe to agree.
Note that this season is substantially more musical than previous years. Two musicals will run on the mainstage along side four revues in the Stackner. That makes sense, given that artistic director Mark Clements started his tenure with Cabaret, the Quadracci’s first musical. Add in Carol and An Iliad (which will prominently feature a cellist), and musical theater of every sort claims a definitive majority. Another theme: Most plays on the Rep’s calendar involve retrospection, looking back on the past, especially our American past.
Ragtime, Sept. 27 – Oct. 27: Ragtime, quite frankly, is a stellar show, although it’s a bit disorienting to see a musical rooted so strongly in Americana in the same position as this season’s Assassins, which is about a whole different kind of Americana. Based on a same-named novel by E.L. Doctorow (widely considered one of his best), Ragtime follows three families at the turn of the 20th century: white, upper-middle class suburbanites; an African-American couple; and a Jewish father and daughter emigrating from eastern Europe. It’s a musical melting pot I’m interested to see Clements, who’s directing, dish out.
Noises Off, Nov. 19 – Dec. 22: A farcical look behind the scenes of a traveling theater company, Noises Off is a comedic play-within-a-play which the Rep looks to be offering up as alternative holiday fare for its patrons. It’s a play I’ve always been vaguely aware of, since I have a penchant for metatheater, but not one I know much about personally. After a few drama-heavy seasons at the Quadracci, though, it’s nice to see something so unabashedly comedic.
End of the Rainbow, Jan. 7 – Feb. 9: Of all the second musicals to add in at the Quadracci, this biographical tale of Judy Garland’s 1968 comeback in London is a good call, especially since End of the Rainbow has the “fresh off Broadway” vibe going for it (it went up and down in 2012, although it was first produced in 2005 in Sydney). The song list features Garland’s signature tunes, including “Get Happy” and of course “Over the Rainbow,” but it’s too gritty to be a tribute in the sense most of the Stackner shows are. Or it should be.
An Iliad, Feb. 25 – March 23: It’s the oldest and the newest show on the list: a vernacular adaptation of Homer’s Iliad by Denis O’Hare and Lisa Peterson that premiered last year in New York. It’s also a daring choice, a one-man show in a space that’ll seem larger than usual surrounding him. Luckily, the man is James DeVita, no stranger to commanding a stage solo.
The History of Invulnerability, April 8 – May 4: Out of all the shows at the Rep, this is the concept that most draws me in: A portrait of Jerry Siegel, the Jewish writer responsible for creating Superman. The play both tracks his efforts to defend the rights to his creation from DC Comics and sets his creative works in the context of America pre-World War II. From a quick survey, it seems spiritually and structurally similar to the setup of Lombardi, at the Rep two years ago. Clements will direct this as well.
Venus in Fur, Sept. 25 – Nov. 3: David Ives’ Venus in Furs is an excellent show for the Rep’s Stiemke Studio; the play pits a writer seeking the perfect actress and an actress almost too perfect for the role in a (to use the cliche) battle of the sexes. On a personal note, I walked past the Lyceum Theatre (one of the play’s homes) every single day I was in NYC on vacation this summer and only actually found out what the show was about after I was on the plane back home. Now I can finally be done kicking myself for missing it.
The Whipping Man, Feb. 5 – March 16: I’d noticed The Whipping Man on a few other regional theaters’ slates. So I’m glad to see a production of this intriguing play, by Matthew Lopez, about a Jewish Confederate soldier who returns home to find only two freed slaves, who were raised by his family as Jews. Again, this is just the production for the Studio space, especially if the Rep sets up its seating to promote a more intimate arrangement.
I Left My Heart: A Salute to the Music of Tony Bennett, Aug. 23 – Oct. 20: Tony Bennett’s been successfully making music for almost three times as long as I’ve been alive, so the three male leads in this anthology production, developed by David Grapes and Todd Olson, have quite the repertoire to pull from. (Grapes and Olson are also responsible for a Sinatra revue called My Way staged at the Rep way back in 2001.) The Bennett show offers 40 selections from more than six decades, and looks to be a big opening to the season.
Forever Plaid, Oct. 25 – Dec. 29: A tribute to the close-harmony groups of the ’50s, Forever Plaid focuses on a fictional quartet called The Plaids, killed in a car crash on the way to their first show. The show’s conceit brings them back to life for one show, where they perform a collection of songs in the genre of “Love is a Many Splendored Thing” and “Sixteen Tons.” If the story sounds familiar, you might be remembering Plaid Tidings, the holiday sequel, which made it into the Skylight’s 2009-10 season.
Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie, Jan. 3 – March 9: The Stackner has been featuring at least one life-story revue each season for the past few years. This year’s is Woody Sez, a concert-style musical which uses the words and music of folk legend Woody Guthrie to tell the story of one of the greatest American songwriters.
Ain’t Misbehavin’, March 14 – May 18: The final Stackner revue of the year is one of the most famous: Ain’t Misbehavin’, a five-person romp through the works of Fats Waller that explores the history and sound of the ’20s and ’30s Harlem Renaissance. Of note: It’s this revue which won Richard Maltby, Jr., currently directing Ring of Fire at the Stackner, his first Tony back in 1978.