ACTOR’S EXPRESS. THE LOOKINGGLASS and Alliance theaters. Brand-spanking-new work.
Keep this in mind as you navigate metro Atlanta’s joyfully jammed fall (and late summer) theater season.
We’ve looked at the lineups and brochures, the directors and available casting and come up with a list of don’t-miss productions. They’ll take you from the court of King Henry VIII to a small-town high school prom, from a New York City bodega to the aerial feats of an untethered Moby Dick, from the mind of a Pulitzer Prize finalist to the larger-than-life story of a female boxer who’s also an abused wife.
This list is arranged in chronological order, because we don’t play favorites. And it features 13-ish titles, not the usual Top 10 (more work for us, more fun for you) — because there’s at least that much good stuff to see. Also, it does not include shows done annually — the Christmas Carols, for example. Theatergoers, prepare your calendars …
PREVIEWS AUG. 18, OPENS SEPT. 10 | Alliance Theatre. We’re not sure what to expect of this world premiere directed and choreographed by Broadway’s Casey Nicholaw. On one hand, he’s the man involved in such successes as Spamalot, The Drowsy Chaperone, The Book of Mormon, Aladdin and Something Rotten! On the other, he directed and choreographed Tuck Everlasting, which also premiered at the Alliance but tanked on Broadway. He’s a Tony Award winner, but he’s also been nominated for many Tonys he did not win. Still, The Prom intrigues. It tells the story of a high-school prom canceled when officials find out one student intends to attend with her girlfriend. A band of aging celebrities catches wind of this and invades the girl’s small Indiana town, hoping to stir up a little positive press. The cast is led by Tony winner Beth Leavel (The Drowsy Chaperone). We love her. The Prom runs through Sept. 25 and is almost certainly Broadway-bound.
In the Heights
THROUGH AUG. 28 | Aurora Theatre AND SEPT. 8-18 | Theatrical Outfit. You’ve heard of Lin-Manuel Miranda? Before he wrote Hamilton, he brought In the Heights to Broadway, winning the 2007 Tony Award for best musical and collecting a medallion for best score. The rhymes are a bit less mature than in Hamilton, but the show definitely hints at the mastery to come. In the Heights reunites the Aurora Theatre / Theatrical Outfit team behind last season’s Memphis, telling the story of New York City’s vibrant, family-oriented Washington Heights neighborhood, where the corner bodega serves coffee light and sweet, the windows are always open and the breeze hints at change. Aurora’s associate artistic director Justin Anderson directs a 25-member cast that includes Diany Rodriguez, Maria Rodriguez Sager, Julissa Sabino and India Tyree. Miami native Diego Klock-Perez plays Usnavi (Miranda’s role), the Heights’ unofficial goodwill ambassador.
SEPT. 8-11 | Intimate Indoors by Serenbe Playhouse. Location, location, location. The venue makes the case for seeing this 1998 Tony Award-winning three-hander by Yasmina Reza. Art and friendship duke it out when one among a trio of pals purchases an all-white canvas. Serenbe, which normally performs outdoors in Chattahoochee Hills, tucks this second show of its indoor series into the Atlanta Contemporary art center in West Midtown. Serenbe artistic associate Ryan Oliveti directs. The cast: Adam Fristoe, Daniel Parvis and Daviorr Snipes.
THROUGH SEPT. 11 | Actor’s Express. The Express did great box office last season with Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, so it makes sense that the master is back. This time it’s his 1970 musical about a single man living in New York City and about to turn 35. He confronts perpetual bachelorhood in a series of funny-sad-awkward vignettes with his meddling meddling friends. The cast (Dan Ford, Jill Hames, Steve Hudson, Jessica Miesel and Libby Whittemore, among others) and the score (“The Ladies Who Lunch,” “Another Hundred People” and “Being Alive,” among others) put this on our list. The original won six Tony awards. Ashley directs.
SEPT. 15-17 | Ferst Center for the Arts. This drama from Stein/Holum Projects combines live performance and larger-than-life video to tell the story of a world champion boxer taken down by her husband and determined to find redemption. “There’s a certain narrative arc that often accompanies stories about female victims of domestic violence,” said WGBH Radio in Boston, “but there’s nothing typical about the storytelling in The Wholehearted.” Stein/Holum is Deborah Stein, a New York-born playwright, director and producer living and working in San Diego, and Suli Holum, a Brooklyn-based performer, playwright, director and choreographer.
SEPT. 23-OCT. 16 | Synchronicity Theatre. Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII, lasted barely three years as queen but has been the subject of plays, movies and books for almost 500 years. This imaginative 2010 script by British playwright Howard Brenton takes a revisionist look at Tudor history, telling Anne’s story from her point of view, with all the romance, betrayal and political intrigue you’d expect, plus a few surprises. Richard Garner, co-founder of the late, great Georgia Shakespeare, directs a cast led by Brooke Owens as Anne, Brian Hatch (Actor’s Express’ Rocky Horror Show) as Henry/James I, Kerwin Thompson (Essential Theatre’s When Things Are Lost) as Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and Allan Edwards (Horizon Theatre’s City of Conversation) as Thomas Cromwell. The London Telegraph called Anne Boleyn “… shrewd, funny, drop-dead inventive” and said that “it takes the tame conventions of historical drama and hurls them in the privy.”
SEPT. 23-OCT. 30 | Horizon Theatre. A world premiere comedy by Atlanta playwright Daryl Lisa Fazio (look, also, for her comic drama Split in Three at Aurora in May). A brainy outcast named Susan gives tours at Atlanta’s historic Oakland Cemetery, hoping that its vibrant past might make her own present feel less stuck. She wanders the brick walkways quite alone until the day a freak tornado barrels through, churning up a buried mystery and a cadre of urban misfits. Producing director Lisa Adler directs. Cast not confirmed at press time.
OCT. 12-30 | Alliance Theatre. Comes on the wings and silks of Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre. How to describe Lookingglass? The circus-infused company believes in ensemble-based work that is spectacular, physical and inventive, sort of a Cirque du Soleil that tells real theater stories. Melville’s classic fish tale comes to life, according to the Chicago Tribune, “as a triumph of grand theatrical imagination, deep thought, superb acting and eye-popping, ingeniously deployed physical daring.” The Tribune puts it on the short list of great Lookingglass productions in the past two decades. The Alliance run is staged in association with Lookingglass and the Actors Gymnasium in Chicago and is a co-production with Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., and South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, Calif.
OCT. 29-NOV. 20 | Actor’s Express. Is the title a verb, pronounced uh–PROH-pree-eyt, as in “ Branden Jacobs-Jenkins likes the wordplay. “I was interested in the double meaning of the word,” he told Vogue. “And people keep asking which it is. All my plays have these titles that are oddly tricky. I like that something can look like one thing, but mean two different things. Language is really unstable in that way.” With either pronunciation, Jacobs-Jenkins gives us a darkly comic domestic drama about the adult children of a deceased Southern patriarch who may have been part of the KKK. The playwright, a 2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist for his play Gloria, “evokes issues of racism without creating a single black character … appropriating, making his own, a story of white America” (The Washington Post). The Southern Gothic sizzler won off-Broadway’s 2014 Obie Award for best new American play. Artistic director Freddie Ashley leads a cast that includes Cynthia Barrett (Theatrical Outfit’s Silent Sky), Bryan Brendle (Aurora Theatre’s Dracula), Alexandra Ficken (The Alliance’s In Love and Warcraft), Devon Hales (the Outfit’s Light in the Piazza) and Kevin Stillwell (Synchronicity’s Lasso of Truth).
On the Verge or the Geography of Yearning
NOV. 3-20 | Georgia Ensemble Theatre. The year is 1888, and three female explorers begin a journey to a place called Terra Incognita, in what becomes a witty and whimsical safari through place and time. (Think part “Twilight Zone” and part Back to the Future.) The New York Times described Eric Overmyer’s 1985 comedy as “blending Tom Stoppard’s limber linguistics with the historic overview of a Thornton Wilder.” Atlanta actor Carolyn Cook directs a cast featuring Keena Redding Hunt, Park Krausen, Michelle Maria Pokopac and Topher Payne. (Synchronicity Theatre staged this fanciful piece in 2001, in its days as Synchronicity Performance Group.)
FALL TBA | 7 Stages. Like new plays? Like beer? Then Home Brew is for you. This developmental reading series gives select metro artists a weeklong residency to shape their scripts for a Saturday afternoon audience, where, often, adult beverages are served gratis. No titles were confirmed at press time, but Home Brew is one to watch. I saw two of the most knock-you-back-in-your-seat pieces of theater there in 2015/16: Theroun d’Arcy Patterson’s fact-based Red Summer and Tara Ochs’ one-woman White Woman in Progress. Red Summer begins in 1919, when a young black teenager steps onto only a whites’-only beach, igniting race riots in the Midwest and affecting his ancestors for generations. White Woman comes from Ochs’ experiences in and around the feature film Selma, in which she played civil rights activist/martyr Viola Liuzzo. (White Woman gets a fully staged production at 7 Stages in March 2017.)
Threshold New Play Festival
DEC. 2-4 | Actor’s Express. Four Georgia-bred productions get an early look in the second year of AE’s new-play festival. What’s Past, a musical by Jessica De Maria (The Last Time We Were Here) and Chase Peacock, follows two extraordinary siblings on a journey through time and memory to unravel the mystery of their parents’ death and their own identities. It was seen for the first time in the recent Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival. Coyote Hour by Margaret Baldwin is about one Atlanta woman determined to get to the truth of reports of coyotes in her neighborhood. Southern Haunt, a Southern Gothic thriller by Kathryn Walat, details the secrets (and ghosts) unearthed when a Savannah dive-bar bartender and an out-of-towner have a one-night stand. And The Flower Room by Daryl Lisa Fazio follows an uptight academic who loses her job teaching primitive sexual behavior and then explores a new career writing erotica.
Libby at the Express
DEC. 10-11, 16-18 | Actor’s Express. Singer/actor Libby Whittemore, back at AE for an eighth season, is an Atlanta treasure. If you’ve seen her, you know this. If not, what are you waiting for?! We highly recommend Ho, Ho, Home for the Holidays and a Connie Sue Day Christmas (yes, the title is as long as her Dynel wig is tall). Whittemore sings holiday and fan favorites in Act 1 (“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “Santa Baby,” a White Christmas medley, if we’re lucky), and returns in Act 2 as the loose-lipped, tiara-topped Connie Sue Day, the 31st Lady of Country Music and the composer/lyricist behind “The 12 Days of a White Trash Christmas.” (Whittemore returns to AE for shows in February and June 2017, as well.)