There is one question I ask myself as I scan the list of shows scheduled at the 20 or so professional theaters in New Jersey at the start of a new season. To be more specific (and taking a cue from the traditional question asked by the youngest member of the family at the annual Passover Seder): why does this season appear to be notably special, more exciting, and more inviting to me — as well as to all who love going to the theater?
The answer comes — as it usually does — by speaking with theater producers and executive or artistic directors, who, in turn, give me every indication that this season will, indeed, be enticing enough to make people either renew their subscription, consider a new subscription, or at the very least become a single show ticket buyer.
A number of new plays and musicals by some of the most celebrated playwrights and composers will have their world premiere during a season in which some of our major theaters are also marking a significant milestone. My phone chat with Emily Mann, the artistic director of the McCarter Theater Center, got off to such a lively start that I forgot to mention that exactly 40 years ago McCarter established its independence from Princeton University and became a separate producing organization.
Though Mann remarks how pleased she is that subscriptions are up over last year, her focus at the time we talked was on directing the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Proof” about the daughter of a University of Chicago professor who has inherited her father’s brilliance and the interest of a graduate student who has found a groundbreaking proof among her father’s notes.
It is understandable why Mann feels a kinship with this play — she grew up in Hyde Park, the daughter of a university professor. “I know the milieu. I’ve loved this play from the first time I saw it in New York, and the subject is so potent for me.” “Proof” is now running through Sunday, October 6. Look for a review in U.S. 1 on September 18.
“We’re like a home theater for director Mary Zimmerman (“Secret in the Wings,” “The Odyssey,” “Argonautica”) and I knew I wanted to bring ‘The White Snake’ to the McCarter the minute I saw it last season at the Berkeley Rep, and it blew me away.” That was Mann’s reaction to this fantastical new work that Zimmerman has based on a Chinese fable in which a girl from the spirit world must take human form in order to win the love of a boy. What Mann says appeals to her most about Zimmerman, who gained renown with her Broadway produced “Metamorphoses,” is “she writes with such whimsy.” “This is a gorgeous play about love and transformation that will have stunning costumes and music and appeal to audiences from the age of eight to 80,” Mann says. Performances: Tuesday, October 15, through Sunday, November 3.
The much-loved traditional holiday production “A Christmas Carol” returns under the direction of Michael Unger. Performances: Friday, December 6, through Sunday, December 29.
Acclaimed actor Phylicia Rashad, who appeared at McCarter in August Wilson’s “Gem of the Ocean,” will be returning, but this time as the director of August Wilson’s “Fences,” a co-production with the Long Wharf Theater. Among the most popular of the 10 plays that Wilson wrote chronicling the African-American experience in the 20th century, “Fences,” (following Wilson’s basic theme) is about a tragic character determined to help others reach for goals previously unavailable to blacks. Performances: Friday, January 17, through Sunday, February 16.
Mann also expressed her delight with the return of Stephen Wadsworth to direct “The Figaro Plays.” Acclaimed for his adaptation and direction of the Mariveaux trilogy at McCarter, Wadsworth, according to Mann, “has adapted the classic but almost unknown comedies by Pierre Beaumarchais upon which were based the operas ‘The Barber of Seville’ and ‘The Marriage of Figaro.’ “These smart and funny plays are credited with starting the French Revolution,” says Mann with a laugh. Performances, in repertory style, Tuesday, April 1, through Sunday, May 4.
No one is more enthused about the new season than is David Saint, the artistic director of the George Street Playhouse, now celebrating its 40th year in New Brunswick. Its new season begins with a world premiere musical “Gettin’ The Band Together.” About this new musical under the direction of John Rando and publicized as a “laugh-out-loud rockin’ musical comedy celebration of the great Garden State!,” Saint says, “It is in the same spirit as ‘The Toxic Avenger,’” a hit for GSP in 2008 that went on to an award-winning run Off Broadway, also directed by Rando. Saint gives credit to Rando for bringing this musical created by a new and young creative team to his attention. It also has its sight on New York. Performances: Tuesday, September 24, through Sunday, October 27
After a season’s delay, Joe Di Pietro’s play “Clever Little Lies” is back on track, after it was put on hold by its star Marlo Thomas, who, Saint says, “really loved the play but had to fulfill a TV commitment. She’s back and it’s on.” Also waiting to be “literally” served is a new play “I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti” by Jacque Lamarre and based on the Giula Melucci memoir. Some lucky audience members will have the opportunity to not only sit on stage (these are “premium seats”) but enjoy a complete meal with wine that is prepared on the stage during the play that Saint describes as “about a woman/Melucci (as portrayed by Antoinette LaVecchia) who feels the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” Saint says that he saw this play up at TheaterWorks in Connecticut last season and “knew it was perfect for George Street.” Performances: Tuesday, November 19, through, Sunday, December 22.
Saint, who is now in his 16th year as artistic director, is looking forward to a season that may prove to be one of his most memorable as it will include a long sought after collaboration with Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts. A production of Thornton Wilder’s classic “Our Town” will be the final production of the season and include professional actors along with graduating students in the MFA program playing the young lovers George and Emily. “It has been my dream to make this happen ever since I came to George Street. I am hoping to keep this collaboration with them on a classic to be a part of every season.” Saint also reminds me that this is the 75th anniversary of the world premiere of “Our Town” at the McCarter Theater.
And while there have been a few blips along the way, New Brunswick’s Crossroads Theater has every right to be proud of its 35-year history. Crossroads producer Marshall Jones assures me that “the legacy continues,” with an E-mail reminder of Crossroads’ mission: “to create and present professional theater of the highest standards of artistic excellence that celebrates the culture, history, spirit, and voices of the entire African Diaspora.” It is easy to share Jones’ enthusiasm for “Kansas City Swing,” the show that opens the season. As he says, “It was developed over three years with the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the Negro Baseball Museum. It takes a compelling look at the dawn of the Civil Rights movement.” Performances: Thursday, October 10, through Sunday, October 27.
As have other theaters, Crossroads has struggled to overcome economic challenges, but Jones sees as its biggest challenge “remaining relevant in a changing world. Younger audiences are used to free or low cost entertainment and experiencing it at their leisure, like watching on their phone in their bed at 3 a.m. We have to stress the importance of live entertainment and experiencing plays/entertainment as a community.”
Another key point that Jones stresses is how “mainstream” theaters are developing “diversity” initiatives. “We strive to keep our authenticity. We don’t need a diversity plan or hire a diversity consultant because that’s who we are. Always have been. Always will be.”
Maybe not reaching a milestone like the theaters above, but impressive indeed is the 28 years of continued success of Trenton’s Passage Theater. The season offers a variety of theatrical experiences that sets it apart from many theaters. By becoming a member of Passage, you not only gain admission to the plays but also to four special events. The first is just ahead when the spirited contemporary dance company Dancepora will be presenting a varied and “passionate” program under the umbrella title “Red Hot and Blue.” Performances: Saturday and Sunday, September 21 and 22.
The dramatic season begins with “True Story” by Passage Play Lab writer E.M. Lewis, about which Passage Theater artistic director June Ballinger says, “I am thrilled that we have a brainy, edge-of-your-seat thriller about a ghost writer. Damon Bonetti will be directing an excellent cast from the Philadelphia region.” Performances: Thursday through Sunday, November 7 through 24.
Ballinger is especially pleased about the return to Passage of renowned playwright William Mastrosimone, who has a revised version of his 1987 Los Angeles NAACP award-winning drama, “Tamer of Horses,” which, by the way, had its world premiere at Crossroads Theater Company.
“I’m excited about the matchup of Mastrosimone and Adam Immerwahr, the new associate artistic director at McCarter who will be directing this wonderful play about a black couple who agree to help educate an illiterate young runaway,” Ballinger says. “Trenton is still a barrier, but on the flip side our Princeton audience has increased its support.” Performances: Thursday, May 15, to Sunday, June 1.
Paper Mill Playhouse
The Paper Mill Playhouse has every reason to celebrate. It is the 75th anniversary of the theater, so proudly announces managing director Todd Schmidt. “This is the first time that we have had an entire season of musicals, beginning with the world premiere of ‘Honeymoon in Vegas’ based on the hit movie.” More importantly, he stresses the number of subscribers has reached 20,000, the highest it has been since the heyday of Playhouse and an indication that as New Jersey’s officially designated “state” theater, it has made the turnaround to prosperity. “Honeymoon in Vegas” performances: Thursday, September 26, through Sunday, October 27. The balance of the season includes “Oliver,” “The Other Josh Cohen,” “South Pacific,” and “Grease.”
Numbers and milestones are only numbers, but they help to remind us that resident theaters don’t survive if the public isn’t impressed by the quality of the productions. Among the professional theaters that I attend regularly in addition to those in the purview of U.S. 1 that not only comply with the high standards of the New Jersey Theater Alliance, but also consistently provide outstanding productions include the Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey, celebrating the classic repertoire for the past 50 years, and the New Jersey Repertory in Long Branch, whose specialty is presenting new plays, the most recent being the New Jersey premiere of “Saving Kitty” by Princeton playwright Marissa Smith.
As you can see in this sampling, New Jersey theaters offer this season a feast of old and new, dramatic and musical entertainment to suit many tastes and temperaments.
635 North Delmorr Avenue, Morrisville, PA, 215-295-3694, www.actorsnetbucks.org.
Man of La Mancha. Musical. Through October 6. $20. Friday, September 20.
Quartet. Drama about opera singers. Through November 10. $20. Saturday, October 26.
White Christmas. Musical. $20. Through December 22. Friday, December 6.
Little Theater, Georgian Court University, 900 Ninth Avenue, Lakewood, 609-443-1320.
Fade Out at Clo-Achers. Spoof about life in an adult community presented by Mercer County drama group. $18. E-mail email@example.com. Through October 27. Friday, October 11.
Bristol Riverside Theater
120 Radcliffe Street, Bristol, 215-785-0100, www.brtstage.org.
My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish, and I’m Still in Therapy. Comedian Steve Soloman presents an area premiere of the prequel of his solo show. Through October 6. $40 to $46. Tuesday, September 17.
Kevin Johnson. Master ventriloquist with Clyde and Harley. For all ages. Through October 13. $20 to $35. Friday, October 11.
Pride and Prejudice. Drama based on Jane Austen’s story about four sisters, a match-making mother, and a string of men is adapted by Jon Jory. Through November 24. $40 to $46. Tuesday, October 29.
Winter Musicale. Keith Baker, the BRT Band, and entertainers present classic songs. Through December 15. $28 to $35. Thursday, December 5.
70 South Main Street, New Hope, 215-862-2121, www.bcptheater.org.
Holiday Show. To December 29. Wednesday, December 4.
7 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-545-8100, www.crossroadstheatrecompany.org.
Kansas City Swing. A world premiere by Trey Ellis and Ricardo Khan. Through October 27. $40 to $50. Thursday, October 10.
Holiday Jubilee. Musical celebration directed by Rick Sordelet. Through December 15. Thursday, December 5
9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-246-7717, www.gsponline.org.
Gettin’ The Band Back Together. World premiere production of the new musical comedy about 40 somethings getting the high school band back together. Written by the Grundleshotz, a group of performers and writers who developed the work through improvisational rehearsals, and Ken Davenport. Music by Mark Allen and Sarah Saltzberg. $40 to $50. Through October 27. Tuesday, September 24.
Clever Little Lies. World premiere by Joe DiPietro stars Marlo Thomas as the mother of a son who shares confidences with his father. $40 to $50. Through December 22. Tuesday, November 19.
126 Sculptors Way, Hamilton, 609-586-0616, www.groundsforsculpture.org.
Monday Night Monologues: An Actors’ Arena. Presentation of “A Saturday’s Child,” an opportunity to witness the emotional experience of an actor’s audition, comedic and dramatic moments brought to life, all woven together by a storyteller. Actors include Melissa Connell, Jarrett DeStouet, Chealsea DiPilla, Patricia Durante, and Andrew Vitagliano. $26 includes a post performance reception and admission to the park. Friday, September 20.
1200 Old Trenton Road, West Windsor, 609-570-3333, www.kelseytheater.net.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. PinnWorth Productions presents Sondheim musical comedy. Through September 15. $20. Friday, September 13.
A Flea in Her Ear. Comedy of mistaken identities with Yardley Players. $18. Through September 29. Friday, September 20.
Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Musical presented by the Pennington Players. Every line and lyric is simulataneously performed in spoken or sung English as well as American Sign Language. The cast includes hearing and deaf actors. $20. Through October 13. Friday, October 4.
The Laramie Project. Staged reading by the James Tolin Memorial Fund on the 15th anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard. An openly gay student was kidnapped, beaten, tied to a fence, and left to die on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming. The play reflects on hate crimes and bullying. Post performance discussion with representatives from the Tyler Clementi Foundation. $15. Sunday, October 6.
Carrie: The Musical. Musical based on Stephen King’s novel presented by Pierrot Productions. Through October 27. $20. Friday, October 18.
Working. Musical about people features 26 songs by James Taylor, Mary Rodgers, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and others. Through November 10. $20. Friday, November 1.
Monty Python’s Spamalot. Musical comedy based on the film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” presented by Maurer Productions. Through December 1. $20. Friday, November 15.
Annie the Movie Sing-A-Long. Get your curly red wig and red dress and be ready to sing during the screening of the film. Trivia and costume contests. $20 includes an audience participation kit. Also December 14. Friday, December 13.
91 University Place, 609-258-2787, www.mccarter.org.
Proof. Drama by David Auburn features Michael Braun as Hal, Kristen Bush as Catherine, Jessica Dickey as Claire, and Michael Siberry as Robert. $20 and up. Through October 6. Wednesday, September 11.
The White Snake. Drama by Mary Zimmerman based on a Chinese fable. Through November 3. Tuesday, October 8.
Shakespeare: One Man in His Time. Created and performed by Kevin Kline. $30 to $60. Monday, November 18.
Spank: The Fifty Shades Parody. Musical comedy that brings the book to life. $20 to $45. Tuesday, November 19.
Lewis Black. “The Rant is Due” presented by the stand up comedian. $30 to $60. Wednesday, November 20.
A Christmas Carol. Holiday classic by Charles Dickens. Through December 29. $20 to $60. Sunday, December 1.
Odd Act’s Warehouse Theater
100 Whitehead Road, Hamilton, 609-577-1384, www.phenomenalanimals.com.
Blood Rite at the Horror House. Take a self guided tour of a mysterious maze created by actors using storyteling, dance, ritual, and interplay with the audience. $10. Tuesday, November 26.
5 South Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell, 609-466-2766, www.off-broadstreet.com.
The Costume Ball. Comedy by Norman Beim. $29.50 to $31.50 includes dessert. Through October 26. Friday, September 27.
The Game’s Afoot. Murder mystery comedy by Ken Ludwig. Through December 14. $29.50 to $31.50 includes dessert. Friday, November 8.
Paper Mill Playhouse
22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, 973-376-4343, www.papermill.org.
Honeymoon in Vegas. World premiere of musical by Jason Robert Brown features Tony Danza, Rob McClure, and Brynn O’Malley. Through October 27. $27 to $98. Thursday, September 26.
Oliver!. Musical adapted from the novel by Charles Dickens. Through December 29. $35 to $90. Thursday, November 21.
Mill Hill Playhouse, 205 East Front Street, Trenton, 609-392-0766, www.passagetheatre.org.
True Story. Thriller by E.M. Lewis is directed by Damon Bonetti. Through November 24. $30 to $35. Thursday, November 7.
721 Cranbury Road, East Brunswick, 732-254-3939, www.playhouse22.org.
The World Goes ‘Round. Musical revue showcasing the songs of Kander and Ebb. Through October 5. $22. Friday, September 20.
Monty Python’s Spamalot. Musical with book and lyrics by Eric Idle. Through November 24. $22. Friday, November 8.
A Christmas Carol. Classic story adapted and directed by Tony Adase. Through December 22. $15. Friday, December 13.
Stuart Country Day School, 1200 Stuart Road, Princeton, 609-924-7108, www.Princetonsenior.org.
Capitol Steps. Washington, D.C.’s political comedy troupe returns to Princeton with political satire. Reception follows performance. Register. $150 and up. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for information. Saturday, November 23.
185 Nassau Street, Princeton, 609-258-1500, www.princeton.edu/arts.
Lewis Center for the Arts. “I Was the Voice of Democracy,” a solo performance piece by faculty member Brian Herrera in conjunction with Performance Central. Also September 20. Thursday, September 19.
Princeton French Theater Festival. “L’Epreuve” by Marivaux performed in French. Register by E-mail to email@example.com. Free. Saturday, September 21.
Princeton French Theater Festival. “Rendez-Vous gare de l’Est,” written and directed by Guillaume Vincent. Performed in French. Register by E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Free. Sunday, September 22.
Princeton French Theater Festival. “Les Main Negatives/Blessures” directed by Pierre Giafferi and Clement Bondu. Performed in French. Register by E-mail to email@example.com. Also September 26. Free. Wednesday, September 25.
Princeton French Theater Festival. “La Machine de l’homme” directed by Stanislas Roquette. Performed in French. Register by E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Free. Saturday, September 28.
Princeton French Theater Festival. “L’Inquietide/Novarina” perfromed by Stanilas Roquette at Butler College. “La Machine de l’homme” directed by Stanislas Roquette at 8 p.m. at 185 Nassau Street. Both performed in French. Register by E-mail to email@example.com. Free. Sunday, September 29.
Richardson Auditorium, Alexander Hall, 609-258-2943, www.princeton.edu.
Princeton Muslim Life Program. A solo play focusing on five Muslim women in a post 9/11 world uncovers what lies beneath the veil. Written and performed by Rohina Malik, a Chicago-based playwright, actress, and solo performance artist. $25. Sunday, September 29.
Lewis Center for the Arts. “Uncle Vanya.” Through October 25. $12. Friday, October 18.
Princeton University Players, Matthews Acting Studio, 609-258-3000, www.princeton.edu/pup.
Cabaret. Musical. Through November 9. $12. Thursday, November 7.
Route 28, North Branch, 908-725-3420, www.rvccarts.org.
Hello, Dolly! Musical starring Sally Struthers presented by Big League Theatricals. $25 and $35. Saturday, October 5.
F.M. Kirby Theater, Drew University, Madison, 973-408-5600, www.shakespearenj.org.
A Most Dangerous Woman. World premiere of drama focusing on Mary Ann Evans, better known as George Eliot. Through October 12. $35 to $70. Wednesday, September 18.
Lend Us Your Ears Play Reading Series. Reading of “The Tragedy of Miseter Morn.” $15. Monday, September 30.
Our Town. Thorton Wilder’s drama about life in Grover’s Corners celebrates its 75th anniversary. Through November 17. Wednesday, October 16.
Something Wicked This Way Comes. Readings from classic ghost and horror tales. $32. Monday, October 28.
Pericles. Shakespeare’s adventure directed by Brian B. Crowe. Through December 29. $35 to $70. Wednesday, December 4.
Something Merry This Way Comes. Holiday tales, songs, and poems performed by a cast of actors and musicians. $32. Monday, December 16.
Somerset Valley Players
689 Amwell Road, Hillsborough, 908-369-7469, www.svptheatre.org.
Monty Python’s Spamalot. Musical. Through October 6. $20. Friday, September 13.
A Piece of My Heart. Shirley Lauro’s drama about nurses in the Vietnam War. Through November 10. $18. Friday, October 25.
Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus. Holiday story set in 1897 New York City. Through December 22. $18. Friday, December 6.
15 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-246-7469, www.StateTheatreNJ.org.
Joan Rivers with Steve Tyrell. $35 to $75. Saturday, October 12.
The Addams Family. Musical comedy. Also October 26. $41 to $75. Friday, October 25.
Godspell. Musical by Steven Schwartz. $45 to $75. Sunday, November 10.
A Bronx Tale. Autobiographical show is written and performed by Chazz Palminteri. $35 to $75. Friday, December 13.
Hamilton Avenue at Route 129, Trenton, 800-298-4200, www.comcasttix.com.
Cirque Musica. A concert and visual experience features circus performers including the Wallenda Highwire Duo and a live orchestra. $36 to $77. Wednesday, September 18.
Jeff Dunham. “Disorderly Conduct” tour presented by Dunham and his troupe of sidekicks. $45.50. Sunday, November 24.
Hamilton Murray Theater, Princeton University, 609-258-1742, www.theatreintime.org.
Fuddy Meers. Comedy by David Lindsay-Abaire. Through October 5. $12. Thursday, September 26.
24-Hour Play Festival. Saturday, October 12.
All My Sons. Arthur Miller’s drama explores family dymanics, lies, and betrayals. Through November 16. $12. Thursday, November 7.
Frankenstein. R.N. Sandberg’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s work. Through December 11. $12. Thursday, December 5.
475 DeMott Lane, Somerset, 732-873-2710, www.villagerstheatre.com.
God of Carnage. Drama about two families. Through October 6. $18. Friday, September 20.
Agnes of God. Drama. Through October 27. $15. Friday, October 11.
A Chorus Line. Musical about dancers. Through November 24. $20. Friday, November 8.
The Musical of Musicals. Musical about musicals. $25 for early show. $60 for 9:30 p.m. show includes a post performance gala. Tuesday, December 31.
Open Air Theater
355 Washington Crossing-Pennington Road, Titusville, 267-885-9857, www.dpacatoat.com.
Gypsy. Musical. Through September 15. $15. Friday, September 13.
Into the Woods. Musical. Through September 29. $15. Friday, September 20.
Captain Louie. Musical by Stephen Schwartz based on “The Trip” by Ezra Jack Keats. Through October 13. $15. Friday, October 4.