Our top 10 picks for the 2015-16 theater season
The 2015-16 theatrical season is all about fresh faces. New shows, theater companies, and directors abound, bringing a welcome energy to our local stages. It will be a busy season, but here are 10 productions that caught our attention.
"James and the Giant Peach"
(Rochester Association of Performing Arts at School of the Arts; September 19 through September 26)
RAPA has quite a few productions in the First Niagara Fringe Festival this year — "La Cage Aux Folles," an adaptation of "The Birdcage," is another one to catch — but Roald Dahl's "James and the Giant Peach" stands out because the new script has never been performed in this region before now. Clocking in at just 60 minutes, "James and the Giant Peach" has family-friendly appeal — and of course, the promise of a larger-than-life peach onstage.
(Pittsford Musicals at Pittsford Sutherland High School Auditorium; October 10 through October 17)
On the heels of its admirable staging of "Next to Normal," Pittsford Musicals is mounting a production that will leave cheeks blushing and hearts pumping to toe-tapping 1920's tunes. With "Cabaret," the risqué show set in a German nightclub nearly 100 years ago, Pittsford Musicals wants to convince you it's no good sitting in your room, so "come to the cabaret, old chum." For more information, visit pittsfordmusicals.org.
"The Duchess of Malfi"
(WallByrd Theater Company at MuCCC; October 15 through October 24)
One of the newest companies on the Rochester scene is WallByrd, whose mission is to create "immersive theatrics." The company, headed by Royal Conservatoire of Scotland graduate Virginia Monte, explores social themes such as race, class, gender, and culture through the lens of classical plays. The first production, "The Duchess of Malfi," will place a macabre script from the 1623 in the setting of the American Civil War. For more information, visit wallbyrd.com.
(Blackfriars Theatre; October 23 through November 8)
One of the first plays in Artistic Director Danny Hoskins's first season lineup is a work that's never been performed in the state outside New York City (it was staged there with Nick Offerman of "Parks and Recreation" and his wife Megan Mullally of "Will and Grace" in the starring roles). Local adjunct theatre professor and "Unleashed" improv member Patricia Lewis Browne directs this love and loss story set in the mountains of Colorado. For more information, visit bftix.org.
"Confessions of a Nightingale"
(Bread and Water Theatre; November 6 through November 22)
Bread and Water takes on one of the greatest dramatists of all time with this dramatization of playwright Tennessee Williams's life. Through audience interaction, as though it were told to a reporter, the story is told in Williams's own style. This production is also part of the Rainbow Theater Festival. breadandwatertheatre.org
(Geva Theatre Center; November 11 through November 22)
Everyone in the theater world has likely heard of this one-man show by now, since it managed to nab the 2015 Drama Desk Award for Best Solo Performance; the 2015 "Offie" (Off-West End) Award for Best New Musical; and the 2015 Theatre World Award. Those are big accolades for a show that consists of a man telling his life story through 75 minutes of guitar and vocals (it's worth noting that Geva's former director-at-large Sean Daniels is the director of this show). "The Lion" writer and performer Benjamin Scheuer will tour only six cities this fall, and Rochester is the third stop. For more information, visit gevatheatre.org.
"Coney Island Christmas"
(JCC CenterStage; December 5 through December 20)
Due to artistic director Ralph Meranto's commitment to new works, CenterStage is a delightful place to find a non-traditional holiday offering each year. This time, it's "Coney Island Christmas," which will have its East Coast Premiere during this run. (Later in the season, the Tony Award-nominated "Other Desert Cities" will also have its area premiere at the JCC.) Pulitzer Prize-winner Donald Margulies crafts a story about a young girl who is cast as Jesus in her school play — and the merry making ensues from there. For more information, visit jcccenterstage.com.
"PUSH Physical Theatre's Jekyll & Hyde"
(Blackfriars Theatre; January 29 through February 14)
Through a new partnership program with Blackfriars, PUSH Physical Theatre will create and perform an adaptation of the classic "Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" by Robert Louis Stevenson. Blackfriars' Danny Hoskins, who also worked with PUSH on "Dracula" (which ran for a sold-out three weeks at Geva in 2009) and "Arc of Ages" (produced at JCC CenterStage in 2013), wrote the script. For more information, visit bftix.org.
"Matilda the Musical"
(Rochester Broadway Theatre League; April 12 through April 17)
It's refreshing to see a choice for the youngsters (that isn't "Annie") coming through the tour circuit. "Matilda the Musical" is based on the children's book by Roald Dahl, and it has garnered rave reviews around the world since it opened in London's West End in 2011. It won the 2013 Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical and seven 2012 Olivier Awards — as one would expect from a show that centers around an energetic 5-year-old girl who loves to read. For more information, visit rbtl.org.
"The May Queen"
(Geva Theatre Center, May 3 through May 29)
Geva closes out its 2015-16 season with a lighthearted play that's written and directed by two women (sadly, still a rarity in the stage world). SUNY Geneseo graduate Molly Smith Metzler penned the comedy about a high school May Queen who returns to her hometown after many years, and Amanda Charlton directs. For more information, visit gevatheatre.org.