I've always heard Rochester described as a "theater town," a distinction that seems like a rare one in the days of TV on demand, web series, and all the other performance media that keep a distance between you and the performers. Judging from a look at the Greater Rochester area's 2013-2014 theater calendar, we're still a theater town — and a very busy one, at that.
A theme may be unifying these dozens of dramatic and musical productions, but if so, I'm not sure what it is. I can say that whatever might interest you to see performed on a stage is bound to be scheduled this year. Grand Broadway touring musicals jostle with quirky productions in tiny spaces; Shakespeare and Shaw share space with David Mamet; companies take turns presenting serious drama and lighthearted farce; Gilbert and Sullivan meet Elton John and Tim Rice. It's all theater, and it's good to see such a vibrant theater scene.
These are just a few of the upcoming theatrical productions that sparked my interest. Visit the various theater companies' websites for more details, and check back with City Newspaper every Wednesday — or visit the online calendar at rochestercitynewspaper.com — for a comprehensive list of upcoming theater events in and around Rochester.
"Mrs. Warren's Profession" (Black Sheep Theatre, October 4-12)
The plays of George Bernard Shaw are seldom performed by Rochester companies — perhaps Canada's Shaw Festival casts too long a shadow — but the best of them remain pertinent and wonderful workouts for actors. Black Sheep is moving where others fear to tread with last year's revival of "The Philanderer" and this fall's production of Shaw's powerful indictment of the whoredom infecting all aspects of modern society. For more information visit blacksheeptheatre.org.
"Radio Gals" (Out of Pocket Players, October 11-20 at Christ the Good Shepherd Church)
Ragtime, ukuleles, goodhearted Southern church ladies (a couple of them in drag) — what's not to like? If you listen faithfully to "A Prairie Home Companion" and loved "Nunsense" in all its holy manifestations, you'll probably be an ideal audience member for this featherweight musical spoof. It's set in a home in 1927 Arkansas that is base of operations for a local all-gal radio show (which broadcasts over a surprisingly wide reach) with the usual Southern small-town zanies as characters. And it is all for a good cause: all the profits from Out of Pocket ticket proceeds go to charity. Also coming this season from Out of Pocket Players: "The Lion in Winter" (January 24-February 1, 2014) and Lisa Kron's "Well" (May 23-31, 2014), both at MuCCC. For more information visit outofpocketproductions.org.
"Bun in the Oven: Contractions with the Calamari Sisters" (RAPA's East End Theatre, October 24-November 10)
The boisterous Italian catering sister act consisting of Delphine and Carmela is back, celebrating "the biggest bouncing baby shower Brooklyn has ever seen." The Calamari Sisters may be cheesy, but it's Grade-A parmesan, as the "gals" sling squid, sing and dance to old standards, and no doubt cater to large and appreciative audiences once more. The shtick is served with a knowing wink and the performances are superb. Also coming to RAPA's East End Theatre this season is "Aida" (October 11-19). And while no details were available at press time, be on the lookout for shows to start filling Theater on the Ridge, which RAPA recently began managing. For more information visit rapatheatre.org.
"War Horse" and "Once" (Rochester Broadway Theatre League)
An awful lot of touring offerings seem to show Broadway at its most tawdry, but these two shows are class acts (and Tony winners). "War Horse" (November 5-10) turns a children's story (also the basis for the Spielberg movie) into a triumph of theatrical creativity and stagecraft. "Once" (March 18-23, 2014), based on the popular Irish movie, seems more Off-Broadway than On, but it is an affecting love won/love lost story with some haunting songs and a pleasingly simple staging. Also part of the RBTL's 2013-14 season at the Auditorium Theatre are "Ghost the Musical" (October 8-13), "Dr. Seuss' Grinch the Musical" (December 10-15), "Sister Act" (February 11-16, 2014), "The Phantom of the Opera" (April 16-27, 2014). Also coming, but not part of the season package, are limited runs of "Rock of Ages" (January 30-31, 2014), "American Idiot" (February 27, 2014), and "Beauty and the Beast" (May 13-18, 2014). For more information visit rbtl.org.
"The Pirates of Penzance" (Off-Monroe Players, November 8-17)
Gilbert and Sullivan founded the modern musical, but most of their wacky, tuneful century-plus-old output is not performed very often anymore. Off-Monroe Players keep the flame alive with two performances annually. This year the community-theater troupe will present one of the most popular G&S offerings, "Pirates of Penzance," and one of the least-known but most satirical, "Ruddigore," in the spring of 2014. Visit off-monroeplayers.org for more information.
"Les Misérables" (Pittsford Musicals, November 15-24 at Pittsford Sutherland High School)
One of the big guns of local community-theater groups tackles one of the big guns of modern musicals in November, and a college-community group — Roberts Wesleyan Community-College Theater — will follow soon after in January. Enthusiastic fans of "Les Mis" (Mis-Heads? Missies?) won't care; this massive, demanding show isn't performed all that much, the movie wasn't that great, and they will want to see both productions, more than once. Pittsford Musicals will close out its season with Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music" (June 13-21, RIT's Panara Theatre). For more information visit pittsfordmusicals.org.
"Parfumerie" (Screen Plays, performed at MuCCC December 13-21)
Miklos Laszlo's 1930's romantic comedy is the definition of durability: a success in its day, Hollywood reworked it as "The Shop Around the Corner," "In the Good Old Summertime," and "You've Got Mail," and it became a delightful Broadway musical as Bock and Harnick's "She Loves Me" (which the Eastman School of Music is presenting this fall as well). Fairly new local theater troupe Screen Plays offers a chance to see the seed from which all those pretty flowers have sprung. For more information visit facebook.com/ScreenPlaysonStage.
"Clybourne Park" (Geva Theatre Center, February 11-March 9, 2014)
Bruce Norris' corrosive and purportedly hilarious follow-up to Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun" (recently performed by Geva in 2012) tackles racism head-on, and has won a shelf-full of awards, including the Pulitzer Prize. Geva is giving its first local showing, directed by Geva Artistic Director Mark Cuddy. Geva's 2013-14 Mainstage season also includes the musical "Pump Boys and Dinettes" (through October 13), the farcical mystery "The 39 Steps" (October 22-November 17), the annual holiday production of "A Christmas Carol" (November 27-December 28), the romantic comedy "Last Gas" (by John Cariani, author of "Almost, Maine") (January 7-February 2, 2014), the world premiere of drama "Informed Consent" (March 18-April 13), and closes with the Neil Simon classic "The Odd Couple" (April 22-May 18). For more information visit gevatheatre.org.
"The Normal Heart" (JCC Centerstage, March 8-23, 2014)
The recent Broadway revival of Larry Kramer's play about the early days of the AIDS crisis proved it to be much more than a 1980's period piece: it remains a strong, affecting drama drama, an actors' showpiece...and a modern American classic. Also coming this season to the JCC Centerstage: recent Off Broadway hit "The Last Five Years" (October 5-20); "Relatively Speaking," three one-act comedies by Woody Allen, Elaine May, and Ethan Coen (December 7-22); the Burt Bacharach-focused "That's What Friends Are For" (February 1-16, 2014); and the musical adaptation of "Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein" (May 3-18, 2014). Visit jccrochester.org for more information.
"The HOT L Baltimore" (Blackfriars Theatre, March 28-April 21, 2014)
Speaking of period pieces, this 1970's Off Broadway comedy about life in a funky hotel is an undersung work by one of America's great undersung playwrights, Lanford Wilson ("The Fifth of July," "Talley's Folly"), and probably well worth a revival. Also on stage this season at Blackfriars: "Me and Jezebel," a play about what happens when Bette Davis paid a house visit to a fan (October 18-27); Mitch Albom's sentimental favorite "Tuesdays with Morrie" (November 14-24); the airline comedy "Boeing Boeing" (January 24-February 8, 2014); and Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical adaptation of the big-screen gem "Sunset Boulevard" (May 16-June 14, 2014). For more information visit bftix.org.