Actors’ NET

Bristol Riverside

Crossroads Theater

Kelsey Theater

Magnet Theater

McCarter Theater

New Jersey Shakespeare Festival

Off-Broadstreet Theater

Paper Mill Playhouse

Passage Theater:

State Theater

Corrections or additions?

This column by Simon Saltzman was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on September 15, 1999. All rights reserved.

Simon Saltzman on Drama

An impressive group of America’s most celebrated playwrights,

composers, and lyricists will be at New Jersey’s professional stages

this season to rewrite, improve, or — to quote one theater’s artistic

director — "tweak" old versions of their plays and musicals.

Expect such notables as Sam Shepard, David Mamet, Arthur Laurents,

and Stephen Schwartz, among them. While we have all become used to

the liberties taken with the classics of dramatic literature and the

musical theater by directors who are eager to bring their revisionist

dreams to the fore, we are less accustomed to having living playwrights

return to work on their presumably finished texts.

That some are plays that are in constant circulation makes one wonder

when it is time to leave it alone, and how valuable or essential is

changing an old text or score to suit the author’s whims, the public’s

tastes, and a theater’s needs. And might it not distort the original

vision? Certainly, one can only make a judgement call after the revised

work is seen.

There can be no doubt that political correctness prompted both healthy

changes, as well as questionable altering, to once unthreatening musicals

such as "Peter Pan," and "Annie Get Your Gun." The

trend to embrace revisionism reached a peak with the British imports

of two American musicals "Carousel," and "Cabaret."

But the contemporary straight play has remained relatively free of

tampering. For the audiences that are no longer shocked to see Shakespeare

shaken up, Moliere molested, and Chekhov chopped, the playwrights

and the writers of contemporary musical theater are obviously eager

to have another go at the same thing, only, they hope, to make it

better.

Each season New Jersey’s professional stages are charged with the

expectancy of something new, but the promise of making something old

new again. Which is why we extend a welcome to musical versions of

Shakespeare, Molnar, and even Louisa May Alcott. New works and world

premieres are always an essential part of every theater season. Two

of the most eagerly awaited are "Down The Garden Path" by

actress and playwright Anne Meara, and the musical "Night Governess"

by Polly Pen.

"Rewrites are standard procedure," says Joseph Megel, artistic

director at Madison’s Playwrights Theater of New Jersey, the state’s

only theater dedicated solely to the development of new plays. It

is courageously embarking on its first subscription season in its

14-year history with three plays: AT&T will sponsor "Southern

Christmas" by Guillermo Reyes, and the National Endowment of the

Arts will sponsor both "Fathers and Sons" by J. Rufus Caleb,

and "Radium Girls" by Dolores Whiskeyman.

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Sam Shepard has been personally

involved in the revised "Fool for Love," at Princeton’s McCarter

Theater, where artistic director Emily Mann is currently celebrating

her 10th season. "He has been at the rehearsals and is part of

Emily’s process," says McCarter associate producer Mara Isaacs.

"Tweaking" is the word she uses to describe the playwright’s

role. She expects the same sort of involvement from David Mamet, who

will be hanging around for the first major staging in 15 years of

his "Glengarry Glen Ross."

Perhaps the most eagerly awaited production of the year

is "Night Governess," a new musical by McCarter’s artist-in-residence

composer Polly Pen. Pen ("Goblin Market," "Bed and Sofa"),

has found her inspiration in Louisa May Alcott’s 19th-century thriller

"Behind a Mask." She is also busy composing the incidental

music for both "Fool for Love," and "The Importance of

Being Earnest." On October 18, Pen will receive $25,000 as one

of the two winners (the other is composer Douglas Cohen) of the Gilman

& Gonzales-Falla Theater Foundation’s Eighth annual Musical Theater

Award.

Aside from the three new plays on its schedule, New Brunswick’s Crossroads

Theater Company, winner of the 1999 regional theater Tony Award, will

be celebrating the Duke Ellington centennial by presenting "Play

On," the 1997 Broadway musical with music by Ellington, inspired

by Shakespeare’s "Twelfth Night." Tony Award winner Andre

De Shield, who appeared in the Broadway production, will be putting

a new spin on the musical, this time as its director. Kim Coles, known

for her role in the TV series "Living Single," and as host

of Lifetime TV’s "New Attitudes," may become better known

as a playwright if her new play "Homework" makes the grade.

Coles also stars in the play co-written and directed by Charles Randolph-Wright.

It opens, to use Ricardo Khan’s words, "a season of celebration."

David Saint, artistic director at the George Street Playhouse, sounds

like he just discovered Santa Claus as he talks about the up-coming

new production of the 1965 musical "Do I Hear A Waltz." Both

the original author Arthur Laurents, and original lyricist Stephen

Sondheim, are busy collaborating on an almost completely overhauled

version of the musical that was based on Laurents’ 1952 romantic comedy

"The Time of the Cuckoo." Saint feels George Street can take

the credit for making this happen.

It all started last season during technical rehearsals for Laurents’

play "Jolson Sings Again," explains Saint. "Laurents turned

to me and said, `What about doing `Do I Hear A Waltz’ here? I always

wanted it to be an intimate musical and was disappointed when it was

blown up for the Broadway stage.’"

"That’s a terrific idea," was Saint’s response, and now he

expresses his pleasure at the way Laurents has beefed up the roles

and made them more complex than they were before. In Saint’s own inimitable

style, he sings for me an entire chorus number that has been cut for

this production to transform it into a more intimate musical. Saint

then offers an equally stirring impersonation of the view of the scaled-down

version taken by Theoni Aldredge, the show’s costume designer: "Oh,

please dahling, it’s a wonderful show about three-and-a-half people."

The score by Richard Rodgers will remain largely intact, and one song

dropped by the Broadway production has been restored, and Sondheim

is contributing some additional lyrics. Now, do I hear a hit?

A major reconstruction of the 1986 musical "Rags"

will be one of the highlights of the season at Paper Mill Playhouse.

Although there were many reasons for the musical only lasting four

performances on Broadway, this critic has always been a champion of

Stephen Schwartz’s thrilling score, the intelligence of Charles Strauss’

lyrics, and the poignancy of Joseph Stein’s book. "The team began

to rework the musical practically from the day the musical closed

on Broadway," says Paper Mill’s executive producer Angelo Del

Rossi, who traveled down to the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Florida

last season to see the scaled-down new version. He undoubtedly was

pleased with what he saw.

Grove director Jeffrey Moss will be restaging this more intimate version

of Jewish immigrants in New York. A new song by Schwartz will close

the first act. With the musical "Pippin" also on the schedule,

to be directed by Robert Johanson, this marks the first time in Paper

Mill’s history that the season includes two musicals by the same composer.

About the thriller "Deathtrap" and the farce "Noises Off,"

Del Rossi reassures me there won’t be any changes. But he adds, "Just

don’t be surprised if Johanson doesn’t do a little rewriting of the

ageless operetta "The Student Prince."

The early 20th century Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnar isn’t around

to assist in the re-writes that has turned his original play "The

Guardsman," into the musical "Enter The Guardsman," now

at the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival. But the adaptation of the

original by director Scott Wentworth and the score by Craig Bohmier

(music) and Marion Adler (lyrics) are attempting a respectful homage

to the playwright’s light romantic style. Artistic director Bonnie

J. Monte says that the production will have many changes and be a

very different show from the one that opened at the Donmar Warehouse

in London, in 1997. Monte, who is directing her first "Romeo and

Juliet" this season, says this greatest of all romantic tragedies

won’t get any rewrites but it is not above some judicious pruning.

And she says, "As successful as `A Child’s Christmas in Wales’ was

last season, there will be some improvements made." Now, isn’t

that what all these playwrights are hoping for?

Top Of Page
Actors’ NET

Actors’ NET, 635 North Delmorr Avenue, Morrisville, 215-295-3694.

Website: www.members.aol.com/actorsnet.

Sunrise at Campobello, a play about Franklin D. Roosevelt’s

battle with polio, September 17 to October 3. Greater Tuna,

two actors play most of the very funny citizens, men and women, of

Tuna, Texas, October 15 to October 31. The Devil’s Disciple,

George Bernard Shaw’s play about the American Revolution, November

12 to 28. Happy Holidays, a short original play and a holiday

musical revue, December 17 and 18.

Top Of Page
Bristol Riverside

Theater

Bristol Riverside Theater, Bristol, 215-785-0100. Website:

www.BRTstage.org.

Blithe Spirit, the Noel Coward comedy, October 12 to 31.

Inspecting Carol, Daniel Sullivan’s comedy about a tired Midwestern

theater company’s annual "Christmas Carol," November 30 to

December 19. Clarence Darrow, March 28 to April 16. A Funny

Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum , May 16 to June 4.

Top Of Page
Crossroads Theater

Crossroads Theater, 7 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick,

732-249-5560. Website: www.crossroadstheatre.org.

Homework, Kim Coles stars in a comedy written with Charles

Randolph-Wright about three best girlfriends (all played by Coles),

September 23 to October 31. Play On!, a jazz musical that blends

Duke Ellington with Shakespeare, November 18 to January 2. Yellow

Eyes , world premiere of a play by Migdalia Cruz about a woman growing

up at the end of the Civil Rights era, January 27 to February 27.

Venice, a new play by Kathleen McGhee Anderson about two families,

one black, one white, drawn together by unexpected circumstances,

March 9 to April 9.

George Street

Playhouse

George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick,

732-246-7717. Website: www.georgestplayhouse.org.

Do I Hear a Waltz?, a new version of the Arthur Laurents

musical, directed by David Saint, with music by Richard Rodgers and

lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, October 9 to November 14. Down the

Garden Path , world premiere by actress and writer Anne Meara, November

20 to December 19. Syncopation, Mark Nelson stars in the world

premiere of Alan Knee’s play about two mismatched immigrants who dream

of becoming professional ballroom dancers, January 8 to February 6.

Master Class, Rita Moreno stars in Terrence McNally’s 1996 Tony-winning

character study of diva Maria Callas, February 12 to March 19. Loot,

Joe Orton’s classic English comedy about a bank robber and a family

funeral, March 25 to April 23. Final offering of the season TBA, April

29 to May 28.

Top Of Page
Kelsey Theater

Kelsey Theater, Mercer County Community College, 609-584-9444.

Produced by area companies, shows play Fridays through Sundays. Website:

www.mccc.edu.

The Odd Couple, Neil Simon’s perennially funny comedy,

September 24 to October 3. Some Like It Hot, October 8 to 17.

Poe’s House of Usher, world premiere of an adaptation of Edgar

Allan Poe’s classic tale, October 29 to 31. 42nd Street, based

on the 1933 Busby Berkeley film about the chorus girl who saves a

Broadway show, November 26 to December 5. Pippin, based on the

Bob Fosse classic about the oldest son and heir of Holy Roman Emperor

Charlemagne, January 8 to 16.

Schoolhouse Rock, campy rock musical based on the 1970s

cartoon series, February 11 to 13. The Importance of Being Earnest,

the Oscar Wilde classic that pokes fun at the social elite, March

11 to 19. Funny Girl, based on the life of Fanny Brice, an ugly

duckling chorus girl who rises to stardom, April 8 to 16. $9 to $18.

A Chorus Line, Michael Bennett’s hit musical, April 28 to May

7.

Top Of Page
Magnet Theater

Magnet Theater Company, Mill Hill Playhouse, Front & Montgomery

streets, Trenton, 609-392-5589. $12 & $15.

The Effects of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds,

Paul Zindel’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about a bitter widow and

her daughters, October 14 to 31. Frankie and Johnny in the Clair

de Lune , Terrence McNallys ribald comedy about a jaded waitress

and a sentimental cook, January 27 to February 13. The Foreigner,

Larry Shue’s farce set in rural Georgia, April 27 to May 14.

Top Of Page
McCarter Theater

McCarter Theater, 91 University Place, Princeton, 609-258-2787.

Website: www.mccarter.org.

Fool for Love, Emily Mann opens her 10th season at McCarter

directing Sam Shepard’s searing drama about two childhood sweethearts

confronting both their enduring passion and a mutually haunted past,

September 14 to October 3. The Importance of Being Earnest,

the Oscar Wilde comic masterpiece, October 19 to November 7. Glengarry

Glen Ross , the dark comedy by David Mamet about a group of small-time

real estate salesmen competing for a share of the American dream,

February 15 to March 3.

The Stonemason, the Cormac McCarthy play about four generations

of a Kentucky African-American family struggling to maintain their

ties to the land and each other, March 28 to April 16. Night Governess,

world premiere of Polly Pen’s comic thriller about a genteel governess

who craftily manipulates her employers for her own mysterious aims,

May 2 to 21.

Top Of Page
New Jersey Shakespeare Festival

New Jersey Shakespeare Festival, F.M. Kirby Theater, Drew

University, Madison, 973-408-5600. $20 to $38.

Enter the Guardsman, Dana Reeve stars in the American

premiere of a musical based on a frothy comedy by Ferenc Molnar, continues

to October 3. Romeo and Juliet, the Shakespeare tragedy directed

by Bonnie Monte, October 26 to November 21. A Child’s Christmas

in Wales , for the holidays, a stage adaptation of the beloved Dylan

Thomas story, November 30 to December 23.

Top Of Page
Off-Broadstreet Theater

Off-Broadstreet Theater, 5 South Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell,

609-466-2766. Dessert theater, Fridays through Sundays. $20.50 & $22.

The Odd Couple, Neil Simon’s comedy about two best friends

who become roommates, September 10 through October 16. Cheatin’

Hearts, Country musical about three women who try their wings as

the singing group, Daddy’s Girls, October 22, through December 4.

Abie’s Irish Rose, a Jewish son brings home an Irish bride and

a comic war ensues, December 10 through January 22. Triumph of

Love, a musical adaptation of the classic Marivaux comedy about

a princess who disguises herself as a young man to enter the palace

of an exiled prince she has admired from afar, January 29 through

March 11. Finger Painting In A Murphy Bed, romantic comedy about

a secretarial temp torn between caring for her young brother and accepting

a date with a young executive, March 17 to April 22.

Top Of Page
Paper Mill Playhouse

Paper Mill Playhouse, Brookside Drive, Millburn, 973-376-4343.

Mame, Jerry Herman’s musical comedy, starring Christine

Ebersole as the madcap aunt, September 8 to October 24. Rags,

a new version of the musical sequel to Fiddler on the Roof, with book

by Joseph Stein, music by Charles Strouse, and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz,

November 3 to December 12. Noises Off, the comedy about a troupe

of fifth-rate actors, January 7 to February 13. Deathtrap, the

comedy thriller about a playwright so desperate for a hit that he’ll

kill for it, February 23 to April 2. The Student Prince, American

light opera about a forbidden romance, featuring love songs, waltzes,

moonlight serenades, and a classic drinking song, April 12 to May

27. Pippin, an updated edition of the razzmatazz musical that

has magic, vaudeville, music hall, and Mardi Gras, June 7 to July

23.

Top Of Page
Passage Theater:

Passage Theater, performing at Mill Hill Playhouse, Front

& Montgomery streets, Trenton, and at the War Memorial, 609-392-0766.

The Gift of the Magi, begins December 1 for an eight-performance

run on the Ballroom Stage of the Trenton War Memorial. Zora Neale

Hurston , Mill Hill Playhouse, begins February 17. Blinding Light,

Mill Hill Playhouse, world premiere of William Mastrosimone’s touching

and funny look at the push and pull between people caught up in life’s

and love’s snares, begins June 9

Top Of Page
State Theater

State Theater, 15 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-246-7469

or toll-free 877-STATE 11. Website: www.statetheatrenj.org.

Touring productions of drama, musicals, opera, and dance in the restored

movie palace.

Anything Goes, Saturday, October 16. Lily Tomlin Live,

Thursday, November 18. Annie, Saturday, November 20. Porgy

and Bess , Saturday, December 4. 1775, Saturday, January 22.

King Lear, by the Aquila Theater Company, Sunday, February 6.

Smokey Joe’s Cafe, Saturday, February 12. The Irish and How

They Got That Way, Thursday, March 16. Camelot, Saturday,

March 18. Victor/Victoria, Saturday, April 29. Show Boat,

Friday, June 9, and Saturday, June 10.


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