This article was written by LucyAnn Dunlap and Simon Saltzman
Why does anyone go to the theater? Well, some people are madly in love with theater — people like the writers of this article who see around 200 plus plays a year. But what about the rest of the world?
— Some of us go for fun.
— Sometimes we go to see a favorite performer in person.
— Some of us go to agitate our minds and think about profound matters
— Some of us go to be stirred politically.
— Some go to have something arty or amusing to talk about at cocktail parties.
— Then there are those, like ourselves, who go as some sort or religious or mystical experience.
Whatever your need, you can be sure that area artistic directors have put together a season of plays and musicals that they think will have something for everyone. And besides, who wants to give a party to which no one comes?
Let’s take a look at the possibilities and we hope you’ll find productions that intrigue you and urge you to go to the theater.
Typically, David Saint, the artistic director at George Street Playhouse, doesn’t always play it safe with his selection of plays. “Personally, my favorite kind of theater makes me challenge my assumptions or beliefs and sparks a good debate among friends,” he says. He can be counted on to take a risk or two when planning a season. Yet, there is a notable void in the world premiere department.
The season gets off to a few laughs on Friday, October 19, opening night of Neil Simon’s ever-popular joke-a-thon “The Sunshine Boys,” starring George Street favorite Jack Klugman. The rest of the season consists of weightier yet very fine plays that speak well for Saint’s belief in his audience.
John Patrick Shanley’s Tony Award-winning “Doubt” about a nun who has a (you guessed it); Donald Margulies’ Pulitzer Prize-winning “Sight Unseen,” about lost love and found art, and Theresa Rebeck’s “The Scene,” a stinging and dark urban comedy about the biz that will give George Street-ers plenty to talk about. Rebeck, whose many plays have been consistently praised over the years, is finally seeing one of them, “The Mauritius,” produced on Broadway this fall. Hey, David. There is room left in the season for one more play, perhaps a world premiere.
Crossroads Theater Company of New Brunswick, once the nation’s most prominent and successful showcase for African-American theater, is continuing in its efforts to regain its former stature. This season looks promising and from the looks of it isn’t going to tax the budget. Singer-actress Melba Moore is doing more than singing in her one-woman show “Melba Moore: Sweet Songs of the Soul.” Although it is filled with a heady mix of jazz, gospel, and Broadway melodies, it is threaded with the trials and tribulations that have made the petite performer with the four octave range a survivor. Moore makes her entrance on Friday, September 28.
It’s great to see that Crossroads is also presenting the off Broadway hit “Emergence-See!,” another one-person show. The play, as well as its star, Daniel Beaty, got some rave reviews when it opened last season. Featuring slam poetry, multi-character transformation, and song, the show received the 2007 Obie Award for Excellence in Off Broadway Theater. It opens on Wednesday, November 28.
Before slam poetry there was doo-wop, and Crossroads promises plenty of it in the world premiere musical “Great Googley Moo,” a celebration of the 1950s roots of doo-wop and the group singing style of the era, opening on March 28.
Opening on May 1 is Crossroads’ Genesis Festival of New Voices, a tradition that began more than a decade ago by artistic director Ricardo Khan and new play development director Sydne Mahone during which audiences get to see promising works still in the development stage.
If you think Melba Moore wasn’t harried enough, then perhaps it will be time by Saturday, November 3, to turn your attention to “The Devil’s Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith” at Passage Theater in Trenton. In Angelo Parra’s musical, Miche Braden portrays Smith, the legendary diva who drank too much, loved too much, and sang her way into history.
Passage’s annual Solo Flight Festival looks especially exciting this year as it includes Bill Bower’s “It Goes Without Saying,” a funny and touching play about the life of a mime (saw this one Off Broadway and it is wonderful); “A Sense of Wonder,” about biologist/ writer/ ecologist Rachel Carson, written and performed by Kaiulani Lee; and “A Womb with a View,” a one-woman musical based on a lesbian couple’s journey to conception, written and performed by Debra Barsha. This triple threat plays from March 6 to 30.
Russell Davis’ “Cecilia’s Last Tea Party” is called a political fantasia with puppets. We’ve seen a number of Davis’ plays and are always charmed by his whimsical yet profound look at life. If that doesn’t sound worth checking out I don’t know what does. Mark your calendar for the opening on May 10.
McCarter Theater’s artistic director Emily Mann doesn’t neglect the classics even as she champions new work, sometimes even by a playwright who doesn’t need a champion like Edward Albee, celebrating his 80th birthday on March 12. Albee’s newest play, “Me, Myself and I,” which takes sibling rivalry to existential heights, will have its world premiere under Mann’s direction. The opening night is scheduled for January 11.
Mann is unique in that she is not only a director but also a lauded playwright (“Having Our Say,” “Execution of Justice”). Although there is no entirely new Mann play this season she is directing her own free adaptation of Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” with the intriguing title “A Seagull in the Hamptons,” opening on May 2.
Chicago-based Mary Zimmerman is another writer who directs her own often fantastical adaptations, including “The Odyssey” and the Broadway hit “Metamorphosis.” Zimmerman is bringing in her Chicago production of “Argonautica: The Voyage of Jason and the Argonauts” to McCarter, opening March 16.
Moliere is never far away from any theater that reveres the classics. Daniel Fish will direct the incomparable Richard Wilbur’s translation of “Tartuffe,” you know the one about that religious hypocrite. “Stick Fly,” a new play by Lydia Diamond is already in previews and opens officially this Friday, September 14.
Faced with a possible shutdown due to a $1.5 million budget shortfall, decreasing attendance and poor managerial oversight in recent years, the Paper Mill Playhouse is still without a resident artistic director at the helm. Thanks to donations and a newly procured loan, the theater is tentatively on track for the new season. Director Mark Hoebe, is currently serving as acting artistic director.
Funding the new season hasn’t been easy but there is optimism in the air as the venerable theater has set a hopefully revitalizing course for itself. After a few years of experimenting, the Paper Mill is presenting a season of musicals and plays that should appeal to the core family audience that had previously sustained it over its 70-year history.
The season opens on Wednesday, September 26, with the New Jersey premiere of “Happy Days: The Musical.” Gordon Greenberg directs the musical that has been adapted from the hit TV series with a score by Paul Williams. The familiar musicals “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “Kiss Me Kate,” and “Little Shop of Horrors” should bring smiles of recognition to many faces, and the plays “The Miracle Worker” and “Steel Magnolias” are known audience pleasers.
Two River Theater Company, just under an hour’s drive from Princeton in Red Bank, kicks off its 14th season with Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece “Our Town.” Combining seven actors with 13 imaginative puppets in the full body banruku style, it runs through Sunday, September 30.
Set in the tiny town of Grover’s Corners at the turn of the century, Wilder’s play captures the simple beauty and fragile elegance of ordinary lives. “Our Town is the most eloquent play I know. It is also one of the simplest,” says director Aaron Posner. “Its ambitions are enormous, but its manner is amazingly unassuming. ‘Our Town’ talks about all the things that matter most in our lives, and manages to do so with truth and grace. For a play to really work it needs to be constantly reinvented and rediscovered. We are respecting what Wilder wrote while bringing a fresh perspective to the play,” Posner says. All of the seven-member cast will play multiple characters — each playing one main character and each operating a number of the townspeople puppets
The Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey takes a break from the Bard and the just-closed absurdist comedy “The Bald Soprano” with its next play, William Saroyan’s 1940 Pulitzer Prize-winner “The Time of Your Life,” playing through Sunday, September 30. But it’s only a break before director Brian Crowe brings us his adaptation of the Henry VI plays, “Blood and Roses,” which goes into previews on Tuesday, October 9.
Christmas isn’t Christmas without some theater doing Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” However, the one the Sheakespeare Theater is mounting promises to have a new wrinkle and a twist (not Oliver). Artistic director Bonnie J. Monte is directing British author Neil Bartlett’s adaptation, originally created for the Lyric Theater and uses only Dickens’ own words. This East Coast premiere, in which audience favorite Sherman Howard as Scrooge joins seven actors who portray more than 50 unusual “characters,” begins on Tuesday, November 27.
It appears that Monte is looking forward to ending her season with a play that people recognize saying, “I’m only biting my nails over the fact that perhaps too many of our shows this season have unfamiliar titles.” We say hooray for that.
We will bet if we looked hard we might find that there are other artistic directors with even shorter nails. Is it worth it one might ask? McCarter’s Emily Mann has an answer: “As I enter my 18th season as artistic director, I must thank our loyal, keen, and caring audience. Without their support, their intelligent, challenging responses, and their willingness to hear from ground-breaking artists, we could not have reached our current artistic heights.” Mann’s sentiments, notwithstanding normal anxieties,are undoubtedly shared by all the artistic directors.
146 Route 130, Bordentown, 609-291-9000, www.theacademytheatre.com.
Rocky Horror Show. Musical. $20. Wednesday, October 17, through Thursday, November 1.
635 North Delmorr Avenue, Morrisville, 215-295-3694, www.actorsnetbucks.org.
Death of a Salesman. Drama. $20. Friday, October 5, through Sunday, October 21.
Show Stoppers. Musical performers present songs from their favorite musicals. $20. Friday, November 30, through Sunday, December 2.
Song of Bernadette. Drama. $20. Friday, December 14, through Sunday, December 30.
Bristol Riverside Theater
120 Radcliffe Street, Bristol, 215-785-0100, www.brtstage.org.
I Do! I Do!. Musical about 50 years of marriage. $42. Tuesday, October 2, through Sunday, October 21.
Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge. Musical parody by Christopher Durang. $42. Tuesday, November 13, through Sunday, December 2.
Winter Musicale. “Your Favorite Songs of the Season,” written and directed by Edward Keith Baker. $42. Thursday, December 13, through Sunday, December 23.
Bucks County Playhouse
70 South Main Street, New Hope, 215-862-2041, www.buckscountyplayhouse.com.
The Compleat Works of William Shakespeare. Comedy. $23 to $25. Wednesday, September 19, through Sunday, September 30.
Little Shop of Horrors. Musical. $23 to $25. Wednesday, October 3, through Sunday, October 14..
The Rocky Horror Show. Musical. $23 to $25. Friday, October 12, through Saturday, October 27.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Musical. $23 to $25. Wednesday, October 17, through Sunday, October 28.
Sugar Babies. Musical starring Eddie Mekka. $23 to $25. Wednesday, October 31, through Sunday, November 11.
Fiddler on the Roof. Musical starring Eddie Mekka. $23 to $25. Wednesday, November 14, through Sunday, December 2.
It’s a Wonderful Life. Musical. $23 to $25. Wednesday, December 5, through Sunday, December 23.
at the Peddie School
Peddie School, Hightstown, 609-490-7550, www.peddie.org/capps.
Dramatists Workshop Series. “I Dreamed Tlon in Ruins” by Peter Dabbene of Hamilton. Register. Free. Wednesday, September 26.
7 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-545-8100, www.crossroadsnb.com.
Melba Moore: Sweet Songs of the Soul. Autobiographical music production written and performed by Melba Moore. $40 to $55. Friday, September 28, through Sunday, October 7.
Emergence-See! New play presented by Daniel Beaty about the supernatural emergence of a slave ship in front of the Statue of Liberty. Thursday, November 29, through Sunday, December 9.
George Street Playhouse
9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-246-7717, www.gsponline.org.
The Sunshine Boys. Comedy by Nail Simon stars Jack Klugman and Paul Dooley as the comedy team reuniting for one last performance. Directed by David Saint. Tuesday, October 16, through Sunday, November 11.
Doubt. Drama by John Patrick Shanley centered on a Catholic school in 1964. Tuesday, November 27, through Sunday, December 23.
1200 Old Trenton Road, Mercer County Community College, 609-570-3333, www.kelseytheatre.net.
Through Our Eyes. Original musical to benefit special needs individuals includes 60 actors ranging in age from 12 to 65. Written, composed, and directed by Alan Rosen, cast members tell their stories through a series of vignettes and songs. A performing arts teacher at Mercer County Special Services school, he is developing a curriculum for young people. $25 and $35. Friday through Sunday, September 14 to 16.
Falsettos. Musical comedy about a man, his wife and son, his male friend, and his psychiatrist. $16. For mature audiences. Friday, September 28, through Sunday, October 7.
Clue: The Musical. Musical features 216 possible endings, different with every performance. $16. Friday, October 19, through Sunday, October 28.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Musical adapted from the animated film. $16. Friday, November 2, through Sunday, November 11.
Follies. Stephen Sondheim musical about a reunion and youthful dreams. $16. Friday, November 16, through Sunday, November 25.
Miracle on 34th Street. Christmas classic family show. $12. Friday, November 30, through Sunday, December 9.
91 University Place, 609-258-2787, www.mccarter.org.
Stick Fly. East coast premiere of a contemporary drama by Lydia Diamond and directed by Shirley Jo Finney. $43 to $49. Friday, September 14, through Sunday, October 14.
Tartuffe. Moliere’s drama translated into English verse by Richard Wilbur. Directed by Daniel Fish. $28 to $49. Sunday, October 7, through Sunday, October 28.
The Salzburg Marionettes. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music” directed by Richard Hamburger. $35 to $42. Monday, November 12.
A Christmas Carol. Holiday classic by Charles Dickens adapted by David Thompson and directed by Michael Unger. There are 14 area children performing with the cast of 37 actors. $31 to $49. Sunday, December 2, through Sunday, December 23.
Lumia Theater, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, 732-229-3166, www.njrep.org.
Minstrel Show or the Lynching of William Brown. Drma by Max Sparber. $30 to $40. Thursday, September 27, through Sunday, October 28.
5 South Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell, 609-466-2766, www.off-broadstreet.com.
The Fantasticks. Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt story of young love, innocence, and whimsy features the classic song, “Try to Remember.” $25.50 to $27.25. Friday, September 21, through Saturday, October 27.
Nobody’s Perfect. Opening night of a comedy about the winner of a romantic fiction contest. $25.25. Friday, November 9, through Saturday, December 15.
Paper Mill Playhouse
Brookside Drive, Millburn, 973-376-4343, www.papermill.org.
Happy Days: The Musical. New Jersey premiere of musical comedy based on Garry Marshall’s television series. Written by Marshall with music by Paul Williams. Directed by Gordon Greenberg. $25 to $92. Wednesday, September 26, through Sunday, October 28.
Meet Me in St. Louis. Paper Mill premiere based on the MGM movie musical. Dircted by Mark S. Hoebee. Wednesday, November 7, through Sunday, December 16.
Mill Hill Playhouse, Front and Montgomery streets, Trenton, 609-392-0766, www.passagetheatre.org.
Random Horrible Thoughts About Love. Staged workshop by David L. White. $10. Thursday through Sunday, September 27 to 30.
The Devil’s Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith. $25. Thursday, November 1, through Sunday, November 25.
Urban Central. $10. Thursday through Saturday, December 13 to 15.
George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-207-2304, www.preciouspromiseac.com.
Talent Showcase. Performers range from from ages 5 to 105. Saturday, September 15.
Princeton University Theater & Dance
Matthews Acting Studio, 185 Nassau Street, Princeton, 609-258-9220, www.princeton.edu.
Laughing Wild. Christopher Durang comedy. Thursday, October 11, through Saturday, October 20.
Death and the Maiden. By Ariel Dorfman. Friday, December 7, through, Saturday, December 15.
At the Berlind Theater at McCarter, 609-258-2787, www.mccarter.org.
The Winter’s Tale. William Shakespeare’s drama. Friday, November 9, through Saturday, November 17.
Route 28, North Branch, 908-725-3420, www.rvccarts.edu.
A Christmas Carol. $35 and $40. Saturday, December 1.
Don Evans Black Box Theater, College of New Jersey, Ewing, 609-882-5979, www.shakespeare70.org.
The Glass Menagerie. Tennessee Williams’ classic. $12. Thursday through Sunday, September 20 to 23.
of New Jersey
F.M. Kirby Theater, Drew University, Madison, 973-408-5600, www.shakespearenj.org.
The Time of Your Life. William Saroyan’s drama. $28 to $52. Wednesday, September 12, through Sunday, September 30.
Blood & Roses: Shakespeare’s Henry VI. Created and directed by Brian B. Crowe. $28 to $50. Tuesday, October 9, through Sunday, November 11.
A Christmas Carol. East Coast premiere of Charles Dickens’ story adapted by Neil Bartlett. $28 to $52. Tuesday, November 27, through Monday, December 31.
Somerset Valley Players
Amwell Road, Hillsborough, 908-369-7469, www.svptheatre.org.
Once Upon a Mattress. Musical. $18. Friday, September 14, through Sunday, September 30.
15 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-246-7469, www.StateTheatreNJ.org.
Gypsy. Musical based on the life of Gypsy Rose Lee. $40 to $65. Friday and Saturday, October 26 and 27.
Mark Twain Tonight. Presented by Hal Holbrook. $25 to $55. Friday, November 16.
Hamilton Murray Theater, Princeton University, 609-258-1742, www.theatreintime.org.
The Violet Hour. Richard Greenberg drama. $12. Thursday, September 20, through Saturday, September 29.
The 24-Hour Play Festival. Saturday, October 6.
Topdog/Underdog. Through October 20. Thursday, October 11,