Round-up of summertime theatre options
I think we can safely say that a robust July theater schedule has solidified into a Washington tradition. Sort of a solstice festival.
This time of year used to be characterized by mostly empty stages — with lovers of the art waiting for “the season” to get underway in the fall. But now, though some theater companies do take a break, those still in action present an interesting choice.
Several of the big houses, especially the Kennedy Center, schedule big musicals that will draw in area residents who may not go to many shows but are attracted to a familiar title.
The big shows are also an attractive draw for tourists braving DC’s heat and humidity. So that’s what brings The Sound of Music to the Kennedy Center and My Fair Lady to Olney Theatre Center.
Summer is a good time, too, to re-mount a previous hit for those who may have missed it the first time around. This includes The Originalist at Arena Stage, the highly-acclaimed study of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia — a man foes and fans alike found fascinating.
Interestingly, it’s juxtaposed with Thurgood at Olney, a look at the life of the high court’s first African-American member, Thurgood Marshall. These two represent polar-opposite ends of the court — so you can go either left or right. Or go see both.
But that’s only part of this year’s hot-weather offerings. Another part centers on smaller, often newer troupes, eager to showcase their abilities with smaller, newer works. They’re sometimes edgy, sometimes experimental, and often quite rewarding.
It’s a decent gamble for these companies, as they can attract theater-goers who are not as interested in the tried-and-true productions that the big houses use to pump up revenue to support themselves the rest of their year.
Now, let’s take a closer look at what’s available. First, the big shows:
The Sound of Music is raking in the “dough-re-mi” in the Kennedy Center’s Opera House through July 16, and has garnered some impressive reviews. By most accounts, it’s a by-the-books, but excellently, staged version of the tuneful escapades of the von Trapp family and their irrepressible governess as the Nazi takeover of Europe gets underway.
It’s directed by a three-time Tony Award winner, Jack O’Brien, and includes iconic show tunes including “My Favorite Things,” “Do-Re-Mi,” “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” “Edelweiss,” and, of course, the title song.
Ticket prices range from $49 to $169. The Kennedy Center offers a limited number of half-price tickets for those 65 and older, available in person at the box office on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, visit www.kennedy-center.org or call the box office at (202) 467-4600.
My Fair Lady is at Olney Theatre Center’s Mainstage through July 23, the second time in three years for this classic of all classic musicals at Olney. It remains timeless, even if it’s stuck in time in some respects. Just forget the archaic man-woman dynamics and the retro attitude toward the role of women, and concentrate on the still vibrant score.
Are there any show tunes more hauntingly romantic than “I’ve Grown Accustomed to her Face,” or “The Street Where You Live?” Or more lively than “Get Me to the Church on Time,” or “With a Little Bit of Luck” or “I Could Have Danced All Night?” And then there’s the epic earworm, “The Rain in Spain.”
Every time a major house stages a show like this, you will see the word “re-imagined” in the promotional material. They want you to know they’re trying to make it new or relevant. And that is the case here, too.
Director Alan Souza explains it this way: “This production tells the story from Eliza’s perspective, set in 1921 [about 10 years later than the original story], when women had suffrage in England. Suddenly, Eliza and Higgins are on a much more even footing from the beginning, and they are not at all ambiguously attracted to one another as a result.
“And the progressive conceit allows for the words of the play to be heard anew. These classic characters are seen differently, and therefore heard as such. This is a contemporary telling of a period piece.” Very re-imaginary.
Olney has cast Brittany Campbell — a beautiful and accomplished woman, a veteran with experience both on Broadway and in opera — as Cockney lass Eliza Doolittle. She’s African-American, which adds another resonant dynamic.
Tickets cost $38 to $75 ($5 discount for patrons 65+). For more information, visit www.OlneyTheatre.org or call the box office at (301) 924-3400.
While at Olney, you might also pick up tickets for Thurgood, described as an “uplifting, humorous and thought-provoking one-man play.” It’s playing in the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab July 19 through Aug. 20. Tickets for Thurgood cost $45 to $70 (same $5 discount available).
As mentioned, The Originalist comes back for another run at Arena Stage. Multiple Helen Hayes Award winner Edward Gero returns in the role he originated.
Well, actually, the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia originated the role; Gero vibrantly brings it to life on the stage in what is described as a brand new staging of the critically-acclaimed play. The Originalist is in the Kreger Theatre at Arena, July 7 to 30.
Tickets cost $56 to $81. Senior groups can purchase discounted tickets for $36 each. For more information, visit www.ArenaStage.org or call (202) 488-3300.
There is also a somewhat offbeat show that seems worth checking out. It’s from the lesser known Monumental Theatre Company, which performs at the Ainslie Arts Center in Alexandria. It’s Bonnie and Clyde —The Musical. Yes, Bonnie and Clyde, the Depression-era bank robbers who became folk heroes.
The musical did receive a few Tony nominations, and it’s from the talented show-creator Frank Wildhorn, But it slipped into relative obscurity fairly quickly.
The score is a mélange of styles, and the theme focuses on the random nature of life and death, combined with some frankly shown violence. It may not be for everyone.
But listen to what director Ryan Maxwell says about his approach: “There is a grand American tradition at work in the way Bonnie and Clyde embraces the violence of its title characters and sets it all to peppy beats,” he told the Beacon via email.
“American entertainment has always had space for both violence and whimsy, and frequently these two elements coexist and counterbalance. I was drawn to Bonnie and Clyde because it is honest about this particularly American dichotomy.
“The challenge in the play is to find the humanity in these figures whose names and notoriety pull them towards the realm of myth, but who started out as two regular American kids with recognizable American dreams.”
If Maxwell can manage to fulfill his vision, Bonnie and Clyde may have a shot. The show runs July 14 to 31. Tickets cost $30. For tickets and information, visit www.monumentaltheatre.org.
Happenstance Theatre, which specializes in movement-based comedies, has created something descriptively titled Bon Voyage! A Happenstance Escapade, running (and probably running around) July 14 to 30 at Round House Theatre in Bethesda. Md. It’s probably best to let the group explain what they have come up with:
Bon Voyage! A Happenstance Escapade is the story of a hilarious collection of 19th century dreamers who meet on the way to Paris, the obstacles and surprises they encounter, and their comic misadventures at the Moulin Rouge, the Metro, the Catacombs, and the Grand Universal Exposition of 1889.”
With some of the area’s most enthusiastic and capable jesters on the team, the production certainly promises to be a delightful change of pace for a hot summer afternoon or evening. Tickets cost $26. For more information, visit www.happenstancetheater.com or call (301) 949-4442.