There’s something different about summer theater.
Maybe it’s the sunlight washing over us on the way to the performance. Maybe it’s the professional actors who travel here from around the country to act their hearts out. Maybe it’s the shortened season that makes each show feel that much more special.
In any case, it’s here. Summer is a busy time, however, so it’s best to plan out your days in advance. Here’s a short guide to help you mark your calendar with the season’s best shows.
Hope Summer Repertory Theatre
DeWitt Student Cultural Center
141 E. 12th St., Holland
West Side Story, June 21-August 8
Romeo and Juliet. Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim. The Jets and the Sharks. West Side Story is all about the push and pull of the world’s great duos. Love, rivalries, race and class all clash in this classic musical.
Shakespeare In Love, July 19-August 6
A young Will Shakespeare has writer’s block and nothing can shake him out of it — except for a hard-hitting crush, of course. One aspiring actress becomes his muse as she tries desperately to land a role. You’d think their goals would work together perfectly, but of course it’s never that easy, not even in this period comedy drama.
Truth: The Testimonial of Sojourner Truth, June 28-July 29
Sojourner Truth’s journey from slave to freed woman to abolitionist and beyond is incredibly powerful and won’t leave your mind anytime soon. Movement, music and drumming also take this story to another level.
The Old Man and The Old Moon, July 6-August 9
Music, magic and the moon have made this new off-Broadway play a hit across the country. The old man in charge of filling up the moon with liquid light must set off in search of his wife in this incredibly imaginative tale.
Murder For Two, June 7-15
Who says you need a huge ensemble cast to stage an amazing show? In Murder For Two, one actor investigates a crime while the other actor plays all the suspects. They both play piano too, which makes this one of the more efficient comedy musical murder mysteries ever made.
Elephant and Piggie’s “We Are In A Play,” June 12-August 7
We won’t tell you how to live your life, but you probably want to bring your kids along to this one. Elephant and Piggie love to sing and dance their way through adventure while facing deeply existential questions like, “Should you share your ice cream?” Good luck figuring that one out.
13351 West M-96, Augusta
Disaster!, June 4-9
The show so nice, they staged it twice. Whether you’re a fan of classic disaster movies, top hits from the ’70s or great jukebox musicals, Disaster! was made for you. It’s hilarious, fun and incredibly chaotic.
Love, Lies and the Doctor’s Dilemma, June 11-16
How much damage can one little white lie cause? Well, depends on how many more lies it leads to. This farce brings together a former movie star, mobster hitman, walking-accident neighbor and a gardener masquerading as a psychiatrist.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, June 18-30
Here’s all you need to know: adults playing the part of kids in a middle school spelling bee. Plus, it’s a musical.
Sweeney Todd, July 2-14
Meat ain’t cheap, but if you can turn haircut clients into pie filling, your overhead is going to be real low. The Demon Barber of Fleet Street has a sharp business acumen and a strong appetite for revenge, which all dovetails nicely in this dark, witty Victorian-era musical about love and murder.
Big the Musical, July 16-28
When we’re kids, we all want to grow up overnight. Well, in this musical based on the 1987 Tom Hanks film, one kid learns to be careful what you wish for.
Steel Magnolias, July 30-August 11
This play is universally loved for its touching blend of comedy, drama and the power of female friendship.
Mamma Mia!, August 13-25
This jukebox musical based on the songs of ABBA will never get old. It’s the ultimate summer romp.
Evil Dead: The Musical, August 27-Sept. 1
It’s always nice when horror doesn’t take itself too seriously. Evil Dead: The Musical is a cult classic sendup of scary movies, complete with zombies, dismembered limbs and demons with a sense of humor.
Mason Street Warehouse
Saugatuck Center for the Arts
400 Culver St., Saugatuck
In the Heights, June 21-July 14
Before Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda showed his talent with In the Heights, an innovative musical about life as a Hispanic American in New York City.
Unnecessary Farce, July 26-Aug. 11
I’m not sure any farce is truly necessary, but they sure are fun. Embezzling mayors, undercover cops, paid hitmen, sordid trysts and lots of misunderstandings make this comedy a nonstop ride of laughs and twists.
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Aug. 16-Sept. 1
A distant heir to a family fortune has to knock a few contenders out of the way if he’s going to get any payout. All it takes is a lot of charm and a little murder in this hilarious musical comedy.
1703 Robinson Rd. SE, Grand Rapids
Hands On a Hardbody, July 11-27
No one could’ve seen a musical with music by the lead singer of Phish coming, but it exists and it’s won multiple awards. In this show, 10 contestants compete for a truck in a contest where they have to be the last person with their hand on the truck. Of course, every contestant has a story.
Superior Donuts, Aug. 8-24
If you’re a sucker for nostalgia, you’ll relate to Arthur, who owns a failing donut shop and doesn’t want to have to change with the times. An energetic new employee, Franco, wants to help by updating the shop and keeping it alive in this sitcom-esque play.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Sept. 5-21
Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber sure know how to pen a classic and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is no exception. The biblical story of Joseph has persevered for millennia and this show seems to have the same longevity thanks to its iconic songs and colorful costumes.
Farmers Alley Theatre
221 Farmers Alley, Kalamazoo
Fun Home, June 7-23
Home isn’t always so fun, especially when you’re dealing with the loss of a loved one and issues of hidden desires and identity. This musical, based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel memoir of the same name, is sure to move you.
Avenue Q, July 19-Aug. 11
Puppets aren’t just for kids! In fact, the ones in Avenue Q are explicitly not for kids. This hilarious musical shows the difference between childlike innocence and the harsh truth of adulthood reality, directly parodying Sesame Street and The Muppets.