Thursday, 29 August 2019 09:00

Performing Arts Season Preview, 2019-2020

Written by  Dana Casadei
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'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' at Broadway Grand Rapids. 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' at Broadway Grand Rapids. Courtesy Photo

Actors’ Theatre 
Grand Rapids
160 Fountain St. NE, Grand Rapids
actorstheatregrandrapids.org, (616) 234-3946

Up first, Actors’ Theatre is introducing audiences to East German rock 'n' roll performer Hedwig Schmidt in the Tony Award-winning musical, Hedwig and the Angry Inch. (You’ll learn what exactly that “angry inch” is all about pretty quickly.) Then, this fall is the Michigan premiere of MacArthur Genius grant winner Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ dark comedy Gloria, where a group of 20-something editorial assistants witness a shooting at the New York magazine where they work. Also making its Michigan premiere is Amy Herzog’s play Mary Jane, about the title woman as she cares for her sick child. Rounding out the season on the main stage are Paradise Lost in its national premiere and The Humans. During the former, Satan vents about not being in heaven and the plan for revenge after hearing about God creating humans. The latter — winner of the Tony Award for Best Play and Pulitzer Prize finalist — centers on a family reunion that goes as all go: nothing like anyone had planned. Plus, this fall, the annual Living On The Edge play festival returns for its 17th year.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Sept. 12-21
Gloria, Oct. 10-13, 17-19
L.O.T.E. 17: World in the Balance, Nov. 23
Mary Jane, Jan. 30-Feb. 8
Second Space: "Blank": Feb. 14-17, 21-23
Second Space: "Lungs": March 28-31, April 4-6
Paradise Lost, April 16-19, 23-25
The Humans, May 14-17, 21-23, 28-30
Second Space: #thewaterproject, July

Broadway Grand Rapids
122 Lyon St. NW, Grand Rapids
broadwaygrandrapids.com, (616) 235-6285

The Broadway Grand Rapids 2019-2020 season begins with Tony Award-winning director Bartlett Sher’s fresh take on Fiddler on the Roof and then Disney phenomenon The Lion King, which has been seen by more than 95 million people worldwide. Kicking off 2020 is a musical you might have heard of, all about one of the founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton. Then there’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, based on Roald Dahl’s children’s novel of the same name. The last musical of the season will take guests away to the magical Margaritaville. This musical comedy, Escape to Margaritaville, obviously features a whole lot of Jimmy Buffett music.

Fiddler on the Roof, Oct. 8-13
The Lion King, Nov. 20-Dec. 1
Hamilton, Jan. 21-Feb. 9
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, March 10-15
Escape to Margaritaville, May 26-31

Calvin Theatre Company
3201 Burton SE, Grand Rapids
calvin.edu/academic/cas/ctc, (616) 526-6282

Madeleine L'Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time is brought to the stage in November, where Meg Murray joins forces with Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which and Mrs. Whatsit to rescue her father. Calvin University students present an evening of one-acts at Laboratory Theatre “Shorts” in February. Closing the season is William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. For 12 years, Prospero has lived in isolation on a magical island with his daughter after being sent there by his brother the Duke of Milan. Seems 12 years was the breaking point for Prospero though, because he’s finally found a means to avenge himself. Best of luck!

A Wrinkle in Time, Nov. 8-18
Laboratory Theatre “Shorts,” Feb. 6-8
The Tempest, April 24-30, May 1-2

Central Park Players
421 Columbus Ave., Grand Haven
centralparkplayers.org, (616) 843-3906

If you love fairy tales, you’ll probably recognize at least one of the characters in the Central Park Players’ 2019-2020 season opener, Into the Woods. James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s award-winning masterpiece follows the cast of classic fairytale characters, all with their own personal quests. Then, adapted from the classic novel by Louisa May Alcott, Little Women opens in December. The lives of the four March sisters — Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy — are the primary focus and even though the book is more than 150 years old, we won’t spoil exactly who dies. In Joe Simonelli’s adult bawdy comedy, Old Ringers, four senior women come up with a very … let’s just call it a “creative” business plan to make money after receiving a rather obscene phone call. Last is Anne Coulter Martens’ Alice in Wonderland, adapted from the Lewis Carroll classic.

Into The Woods, Oct. 11-19
Little Women, Dec. 12-15
Old Ringers, March 6-14
Alice In Wonderland, May 8-16

Farmers Alley Theatre Kalamazoo
221 Farmers Alley, Kalamazoo
farmersalleytheatre.com, (269) 343-2727

The Farmers Alley Theatre’s 12th season begins with a reimagined version of Camelot. Pared down for a smaller cast — ideal for the theater — the musical has songs made famous more than 60 years ago, like If Ever I Would Leave You and I Loved You Once in Silence, as well as the famous Round Table that Arthur and the gang hang out at. To end 2019, Farmers Alley has taken the beloved Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life and turned it into a live 1940s radio broadcast. Starting in the new year is the Michigan premiere of The Cake, Bekah Brunstetter’s dramedy about baker Della, who must decide whether or not she can make a cake for the girl she helped raise, who is marrying a woman. The late Neil Simon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Lost in Yonkers, is up next, followed by Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, the story of the famed American jazz singer Billie Holiday. Set in the deep American South during the early part of the 20th century is Bright Star, in which literary editor Alice Murphy meets a young soldier who inspires her to confront her past. The musical was inspired by real events and has a Grammy-nominated score by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell. Closing the season, High Fidelity is a romantic comedy focused on the newly single Rob, who tries to figure out what went wrong and win his love back.

Camelot, Oct. 4-27
It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, Nov. 22-Dec. 22
The Cake, Feb. 7-23
Lost in Yonkers, March 13-29
Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, April 24-May 10
Bright Star, June 12-28
High Fidelity, July 24-Aug. 9

Festival Playhouse, Kalamazoo College
1200 Academy St., Kalamazoo
reason.kzoo.edu/theatre, (269) 337-7333

Now in its 56th season, the Festival Playhouse begins with Spitfire Grill. The musical is based on the 1996 movie of the same name, in which Percy, who has recently been released from jail, finds herself working at the titular grill in the small town of Gilead. This winter has two productions, the Senior Performance Series and Silent Sky, a play about Henrietta Leavitt — who is well worth a Google — and her fellow female astronomers at the Harvard Observatory during the turn of the 20th century. Then there’s Water by the Spoonful in the spring. Quiara Alegría Hudes’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play focuses on Odessa Ortiz, a woman who creates an online family through moderating a chatroom for recovering drug addicts.

Spitfire Grill, Fall
Silent Sky, Winter
Senior Performance Series, Winter
Water by the Spoonful, Spring

Gilmore Theatre/WMU Theatre
1903 W. Michigan Ave., Kalamazoo
wmich.edu/theatre, (269) 387-3227

Based on George Orwell’s iconic and increasingly relevant 1984, the play begins the Gilmore Theatre’s latest season as Winston Smith is physically and mentally under the eye of Big Brother. Throughout the rest of 2019 is Amadeus, in which composer Antonio Salieri is out to destroy a bratty yet highly talented young composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Urinetown: The Musical, set in a future where people have to pay to use the bathroom until one man decides to fight the system; Gem of the Ocean, August Wilson’s ninth work in his 10-play cycle recording the American Black experience; and Next Stop, Broadway, featuring Broadway’s Cady Huffman. After a brief hiatus comes the new drama Blood at the Root, all about the Jena Six; then Amy Freed’s Restoration Comedy, focused on an unfaithful husband who thinks his wife has died (surprise, she’s alive); Tribes, Nina Raine’s touching tale of Billy, the only deaf member in his family, and Sylvia, a young woman who is the only one who can hear in her own family; and lastly, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s won-all-the-awards musical, Sunday in the Park with George.

1984, Sept. 20-29
Amadeus, Oct. 4-13
Urinetown: The Musical, Oct. 25-Nov. 3
Gem of the Ocean, Nov. 15-24
Next Stop, Broadway, Dec. 5-7
Blood at the Root, Jan. 24-Feb. 9
Restoration Comedy, Feb. 7-16
Tribes, March 13-22
Sunday in the Park with George, April 3-11

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Yuka Oba-Muschiana in Possokhov’s Firebird at Grand Rapids Ballet. PHOTO BY DAMION VAN SLYKE

Grand Rapids Ballet
341 Ellsworth Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
grballet.com, (616) 454-4771

Beginning the season is Firebird — originally composed by Russian mastermind Igor Stravinsky — with San Francisco Ballet’s resident choreographer Yuri Possokhov’s transformation of the classic, alongside a few other dance pieces. Following that is a West Michigan tradition, The Nutcracker, before February’s Eternal Desire, a collection of performances filled with passion and promise. The last two productions include the new showcase, Jumpstart 2020, and the Bard’s comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Firebird, Oct. 18-20
The Nutcracker, Dec. 13-15 & 20-22
Eternal Desire, Feb. 14-16
Jumpstart 2020, March 6-8
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, April 24-26 & May 1-3

Grand Rapids Civic Theatre
30 N. Division Ave., Grand Rapids
grct.org, (616) 222-6650

Johnny Cash, Princesses Anna and Elsa, and Buddy the Elf are the focuses for the theater’s first three productions. Then A Streetcar Named Desire takes a break from the musicals. Tennessee Williams’ tragic play is all about fragile Southern belle Blanche DuBois, who moves in with her sister, Stella, and brother-in-law, Stanley. In late February, the Civic’s back to musicals, including two based on timeless children’s characters, Matilda and Junie B. Jones. The Wiz is more grown up, being a musical retelling of The Wizard of Oz set in modern African-American culture with music combining R&B, jazz, gospel and pop. In summer, as part of the summer repertory program, High School Musical will sound familiar if you watched Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens in a certain 2006 Disney channel original movie. Then, in a moment of serendipity, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream also finishes the Civic’s summer season.

Ring of Fire, Sept. 13-29
Frozen Jr., Oct. 18-27
Elf the Musical, Nov. 22-Dec. 22
A Streetcar Named Desire, Jan. 10-26
Matilda the Musical, Feb. 28-March 22
Junie B. Jones the Musical, April 24-May 3
The Wiz, May 29-June 21
High School Musical, July 24-Aug. 2
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, July 25-Aug. 1

GVSU Fall Arts
gvsu.edu/fallarts, (616) 331-2183

Every year, GVSU celebrates music, art, dance and theater. We’re just going to put it all here for convenience’s sake. There’s Art of Today: Contemporary Collections from Chicago, an exhibition with more than 40 pieces of work — spanning across 15 years — in a variety of mediums, all drawn from the GVSU’s collection and additional loans from Chicago. In September is a musical performance with Baroque violinist Ingrid Matthews at Water on the Mind: A Baroque Musical Journey. There’s an evening with Ellen Bass, a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, and Kevin Young, poetry editor at The New Yorker and director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in October. Also happening are Water: A Vision in Dance, featuring BODYART, a New Orleans–based dance theater company; and a lecture from New York Times best-selling author and Harvard University professor, Jill Lepore. Finally, Beloved Songs of the Season will put you in the holiday spirit as Fall Arts ends in December.

Art of Today: Contemporary Collections from Chicago, Aug. 23-Nov. 1
Water on the Mind: A Baroque Musical Journey, Sept. 23
An evening with Ellen Bass and Kevin Young, Oct. 3
Water: A Vision in Dance, Oct. 28
Jill Lepore: American History from Beginning to End, Nov. 5
Beloved Songs of the Season, Dec. 2

GVSU Theatre
290 Lake Superior Hall
gvsu.edu/theatre, (616) 331-2300

For the third time on this list — but in yet another form — is A Midsummer Night's Dream. Following the Bard is the Theresa Rebeck workplace dark comedy, What We're Up Against, where a group of architects are feeling the pressure to finish designing a new mall. Coming in November is Working, a musical based on the Studs Terkel book Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. John Millington Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World finishes out the season as Christy Mahon runs away from his Irish home after claiming to have killed his father.

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Sept. 27-Oct. 6
What We're Up Against, Nov. 15-24
Working, Feb. 7-16
The Playboy of the Western World, March 27-April 5

Holland Community Theatre
50 W. 9th St., Holland
hollandcivictheatre.org, (616) 396-2021

Kicking off the Holland Civic Theatre’s latest season is Out of Order. The Ray Cooney farce — and Olivier Award Winner for best comedy — is a sequel to Two Into One and takes place in a posh London hotel where Richard Willey, a government junior minister, plans to spend the evening with Jane Worthington, one of the opposition's typists. Naturally, the whole situation goes disastrously, but at least there’s a lot of humor along the way. Finishing up the year is the holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life, with A. R. Gurney’s highly comedic Sylvia being the first production of 2020. Following is a play with a much different tone, On Golden Pond by Ernest Thompson. It focuses on couple Ethel and Norman Thayer, who are off to their summer home when their daughter and her fiancé arrive with his son. Cue some highly emotional chats. Closing out the season are the children’s production of Disney’s The Aristocats Kids and The Somewhat True Story of Robin Hood, this season’s teen production by the company.

Out of Order, Oct. 3-19
It’s a Wonderful Life, Nov. 29-Dec.14
Sylvia, Jan. 30-Feb. 15
On Golden Pond, April 24-May16
Disney’s The Aristocats Kids, July 9-18
The Somewhat True Story of Robin Hood, Aug. 6-15

Jewish Theatre Grand Rapids
2727 Michigan NE, Grand Rapids
jtgr.org, (616) 234-3595

The Jewish Theatre’s trio of plays begins in December with Neil Simon’s comedy Last of the Red Hot Lovers, as middle-aged Barney Cashman tries to join the sexual revolution before it’s too late, while clearly also having some sort of mid-life crisis. The Bernard Weinraub play The Accomplices examines the sad truth of our history, as so many Jews were turned away at the American border during a mass genocide. Then, if you could know literally everything about your baby before they were born, would you want to? And if you did, would they still be here? Jonathan Tolins asks those questions and many more in his play Twilight of the Golds.

Last of the Red Hot Lovers, Dec. 4-15
The Accomplices, Feb. 27-March 8
Twilight of the Golds, June 11-21

Kalamazoo Civic Theatre
329 S. Park St., Kalamazoo
kazoocivic.com, (269) 343-1313

Between September and June, the Kalamazoo Civic is presenting 14 productions during the 91st season. Much like last season, there will be musicals, dramas, comedies and productions done through the Carver Center Studio Series, Civic Reader's Theatre, youth department, and the Penguin Project. There are three shows opening in September and October, including Matilda the Musical, based on Roald Dahl's children’s book; the no-holds-barred Ann, a play about Ann Richards, the legendary governor of Texas; and The World Goes ‘Round, which features hits by the infamous duo of Kander and Ebb. There’s a whole lot more happening this season, so just take a look.

Matilda the Musical, Sept. 20-Oct. 6
Ann, Oct. 11-20
The World Goes ‘Round, Oct. 18-27
Karen Mason Simple Broadway, Nov. 1
The Three Musketeers, Nov. 8-16
Elf the Musical, Nov. 22-Dec. 8
Tick, Tick...Boom, Jan. 10-26
Born Yesterday, Jan. 31-Feb. 15
Romance Guaranteed, Feb. 14-23
Race, Feb. 28-March 14
Frozen Jr., March 13-22
August: Osage County, April 17-26
Sunset Boulevard, May 1-17
Annie Jr., June 5-13

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Cats at Miller Auditorium. Courtesy Photo

Miller Auditorium
2200 Auditorium Dr., Kalamazoo
millerauditorium.com, (269) 387-2300

You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch. That song will be stuck in your head come November when How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical comes to town. Then, Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons get their groove — or at least their sway — on in Jersey Boys. Direct from its acclaimed Broadway return, which was presented by Cameron Mackintosh, is Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s tour-de-force musical Les Misérables in January. After that are two musicals full of love, loss and powerhouse vocals: Waitress and The Color Purple. Did you see the commercial for Cats, the new movie starring Taylor Swift and Idris Elba (and many more)? Well, you should really see the actual musical from Andrew Lloyd Webber and T.S. Eliot in May.

Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical, Nov. 15-17
Jersey Boys, Jan. 15-16
Les Misérables, Jan. 28-Feb. 2
Waitress, March 27-29
The Color Purple, April 7
Blue Man Group, May 1-3
Cats, May 15-17

Muskegon Civic Theatre
425 W. Western Ave., Muskegon
muskegoncivictheatre.org, (231) 722-3852

A parody adapted from the 1915 novel by John Buchan and the 1935 film by Alfred Hitchcock is this season’s opener, The 39 Steps. Man meets mysterious woman who claims to be a spy, man takes woman home, woman gets murdered, then man has some big problems. Next, there’s back-to-back musicals, A Christmas Carol with dear old Ebenezer Scrooge, and Fun Home, the 2014 Tony Award Best Musical winner based on Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel. One more play follows in February, Our Town, about the small town Grover’s Corners, told through three acts. Finally is ABBA-filled hit Mamma Mia.

The 39 Steps, Sept. 13-28
A Christmas Carol, Nov. 15-Dec. 1
Fun Home, Jan. 17-25
Our Town, Feb. 14-29
Mamma Mia!, April 30-May 3

Opera Grand Rapids
1320 E. Fulton St., Grand Rapids
operagr.org, (616) 451-2741

There are two big productions coming to Opera Grand Rapids this season. First up is Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, the duo’s satire on Imperial British politics and institutions. Multiple people are in love with a schoolgirl named Yum-Yum, and it all really hits the fan when the Emperor informs them that if no one is executed, the town’s status will be reduced to a — gasp! — village. In the spring is Turandot, Giacomo Puccini’s final opera in mythical China. The title princess has renounced love and will only marry if her suitor can answer her three riddles. Will anyone get past her tests?

The Mikado, Nov. 1-2
Turandot, May 1-2

Aladdin at Wharton Photo by Matthew Murphy
Aladdin at Wharton Center for Performing Arts. Photo by Matthew Murphy

Queer Theatre Kalamazoo
315 W. Michigan Ave, Kalamazoo
qtkalamazoo.com, (269) 929-6781

Evan Linder and Andrew Hobgood’s short play, 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche, begins as the world ends. Five women — the last humans on Earth — of the Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein are stuck in a shelter after an atomic explosion, but then realize they don’t have to live like widows, they can now live openly as lesbians in the campy comedy. After that, eLLe is a collaboration with Face Off Theatre. Man and Moon, Chicago playwright Siena Ledger’s newest work, centers around the conversations between a transgender man, Aaron, and a young girl, Luna, as they play Go Fish during their wait in an oncology unit waiting room. Then, in June, there’s She Kills Monsters, which follows Agnes, who goes on an adventure after discovering her late sister Tilly’s Dungeons and Dragons notebook.

5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche, Oct. 18-27
eLLe, Nov. 7-17
Man and Moon, March 20-29
She Kills Monsters, June 19-28

Wharton Center for Performing Arts
750 E. Shaw Ln., East Lansing
whartoncenter.com, (517) 353-1982

Tony Award winner for Best Musical, Come From Away, will take audiences to Newfoundland when the season kicks off. The new musical tells the true story of 7,000 stranded passengers who ended up in the small town following the 9/11 attacks. Other Broadway touring productions coming to the Wharton are the updated versions of Les Misérables in November and My Fair Lady in February. In between is Disney’s Aladdin, where of course the Genie gets a few fabulous songs. A green witch named Elphaba will defy gravity when Wicked comes back to the Wharton stage in the spring. The last touring production of the season is Tony Award and Grammy Award winning-musical Dear Evan Hansen. Grab tissues for that one.

Come From Away, Sept. 10-15
Dr. Fox and the Impossible Cure for Death, Sept. 21-22
Frankenstein, Oct. 11-20
Twelfth Night, Nov. 8-17
Les Misérables, Nov. 12-17
Reduced Shakespeare Company, Nov. 20-21
Freshman Showcase: The Power of Spontaneous Invention, Nov. 21-24
Aladdin, Dec. 4-15
Into the Woods, Feb. 14-23
My Fair Lady, Feb. 26-March 1
Bonnets: How Ladies of Good Breeding are Induced to Murder, March 13-22
Dogman: the Musical, March 14
Wicked, April 1-19
Marian, or The True Tale of Robin Hood, April 10-19
Miss Nelson Has a Field Day, April 25
Dear Evan Hansen, June 16-21

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