PW's Summer Guide 2014: stage shows & Philadelphia's rising theater stars

By J. Cooper Robb
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jun. 4, 2014

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Andy: A Popera

With its heady mixture of poignant dramas, uproarious comedies, enthralling dance performances and everything in between, the Philadelphia stage scene is promising to generate as much heat this season as the sun itself—and certainly shine just as brightly.

After a power outage forced the cancellation of opening night, the Wilma Theater is up and running with the company’s production of Sir Tom Stoppard’s remarkably clever drama The Real Thing, which runs through Sun., June 22. A beguiling blend of reality and fiction, the story focuses on a playwright whose new work—which stars his actress wife—begins to impact his marriage in strange and increasingly mysterious ways. The Real Thing marks the 10th time the Wilma has staged a play by the brilliant dramatist, a collaboration that has already yielded nine remarkable shows; it’s safe to say that no other company in America has had as successful a track record with Stoppard as the Wilma. Following The Real Thing at the Wilma is the world premiere of Sunset, o639 Hours, choreographed by Ballet X co-artistic director Mathew Neenan (July 9-13), and Andy: A Popera, a new Andy Warhol-inspired collaboration between Opera Philadelphia and the city’s uniquely talented experimental cabaret troupe The Bearded Ladies, which will take up residence in the Wilma’s lobby from July 16-27.

Four popular touring productions are rolling through town this summer, led by the area debut of the side-splitting musical comedy Book of Mormon, which invades the Forrest Theatre from July 29-Sept. 14. Raucously funny and featuring a catchy score with an abundance of clever lyrics, the Tony Award-winning show is the brainchild of South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Also visiting the city courtesy of the Kimmel Center’s Broadway Series is an innovative new version of The Wizard of Oz (through June 8), the popular concert musical Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles (June 11-15), and Andrew Lloyd Weber’s timeless masterpiece Evita (June 17-22). All three productions are set for the grand stage at the Academy of Music.

In 2009, InterAct Theater Company commissioned Ritu Comes Home, Peter Gil-Sheridan’s play about an affluent gay couple living in the Philly suburbs. (Its June 4 world premiere is remarkably well-timed, with Pennsylvania now the latest state to legalize marriage equality.) In Sheridan’s comedy, the couple’s carefree lives are thrown into turmoil when a young Bangladeshi girl they’ve been sponsoring for 80 cents a day suddenly shows up on their doorstep. Director Seth Rozin’s staging, which runs through June 22, stars David Bardeen and Philadelphia’s most exciting actor, Jered McLenigan.

The enterprising company Shakespeare in Clark Park joins forces with Team Sunshine Performance Corporation to mount the summer’s biggest production, a massive presentation of Shakespeare’s brilliant Henry IV (July 30-Aug. 4) in West Philly’s lush outdoor mecca. Directed by the inventive Alex Torra, who’s best known for his work with Pig Iron Theatre Company, the free-of-charge performance features a cast of over 100 to bring the play’s famous battle scenes between the French and English forces to life. It’s sure to be a thrilling spectacle.

Another free event this summer is Commonwealth Classic Theatre Company’s production of Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night. Part of the company’s Free Theatre in the Parks program, it is performed both in- and outdoors at different locations, beginning July 10 with a show at the Free Library. Commonwealth is following up its Shakespeare tour with Tennessee Williams’ classic The Glass Menagerie at the Off Broad Street Theatre in Center City (Aug. 7-24) with celebrated Philly actor Allen Radway, last seen in Simpatico Theatre Project’s In a Dark Dark House.

If you are looking for rollicking entertainment, rush to the F. Otto Haas Stage in Old City, where the Arden Theatre Company is presenting a revival of local playwright Michael Hollinger’s comic masterpiece Incorruptible through June 22. Originally staged there 18 years ago, the dark comedy tells the story of a group of monks who hatch an ethically questionable scheme to pay off their considerable debts and save their monastery home. Director Mathew Dekker’s new staging features an all-star cast led by Barrymore winners Ian Merrill Peakes, Mary Martello and the delightful Alex Keiper.

New Freedom Theatre teams with Cliveden to present the interactive drama Liberty to Go to See (June 19-21) as part of historic Germantown’s Juneteenth celebration. The play, a collaboration between Cliveden and Philadelphia Young Playwrights, brings to life the people who lived and worked at Cliveden from 1760 to 1860, including a slave named Joseph, who tried to convince Cliveden owner Benjamin Chew to allow him to travel to another plantation in order to be with his wife.

Philadelphia Theatre Company is replacing its cancelled production of A Boy and His Soul with an extended 28-performance run of Unconstitutional, a solo show by Colin Quinn, best known for his five-year stint on Saturday Night Live. Originally slated for July 1-13, Quinn’s satiric look at the U.S. Constitution will now occupy the Suzanne Roberts Theatre from June 13 to July 6. The scheduling change was precipitated when Tony nominee Colman Domingo, the star of A Boy and His Soul, withdrew from the production to accept the role of Rev. Ralph Abernathy in a film about Rev. Martin Luther King Jr that begins shooting this month.

Marquee Worthy: If you see these names on a show, see the show

James Ijames is one of the most highly-rated actors in Philadelphia. As a transplant to the Philadelphia area and winner of the prestigious Barrymore Award, this incredible actor is as talented as they come. He boasts a B.A. from Morehouse College, an M.F.A. from Temple University and has appeared in dozens of productions throughout the region, as well as a few commercials and independent films. His upcoming play, The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington, premiering June 11 at the Off Broad Street Theatre, solidifies Ijames as a reputable playwright as well, adding to his steadily growing list of credentials.

Mutli-gifted actor-director-educator Justin Jain received his B.F.A. from the University of the Arts and, as a professional apprentice with the Arden Theatre Company, gained intensive training in creative leadership. Another former LAB Fellow of Fringe Arts, Jain has been featured in works of his own during the Philly Fringe Fest and has performed with a wide array of Philadelphia-based theatre companies, most notably the Berserker Residents, which he co-founded with David Johnson and Bradley K. Wrenn. The trio will be reworking last year’s local Fringe Fest hit The Talkback over three weeks in June before heading to Edinburgh’s famous Fringe Festival.

As the cofounder and producing artistic director of InterACT Theatre Company, director and playwright Seth Rozin is in a league all his own. Nominated for several Barrymore Awards, this multi-faceted stage pro has set a precedent for Philly’s thriving theatre scene. His most renowned works include Men of Stone, Black Gold, Two Jews Walk Into a War and A Passing Wind: The (Mostly) True Story of Joseph Pujol. Rozen’s directed over 45 productions with InterACT, including 1999’s world premiere of the culturally introspective Bee-Luther-Hatchee, and this summer’s provocative comedy Ritu Comes Home. He currently chairs the Philadelphia New Play Initiative.

Alex Torra has worked alongside the best and brightest in the theatre world. Sporting a B.A. from University of Pennsylvania and an M.F.A. in directing from Brown University, this heavy-hitter has made a huge impact on the Philly theatre scene. As the associate artistic director of the famed Pig Iron Theatre Company and resident director at Team Sunshine Performance Corporation, this accomplished stage vet is also a past recipient of the Fringe Arts LAB Fellowship, a nine-month residency that helped hone his artistic flair even further. With performance credits in both the Philadelphia and New York theater circuits, Torra shows no sign of stopping. Catch his directorial genius in action at Shakespeare in Clark Park’s Henry IV in late July. —Kennedy Allen & J.C.R.

PLUS: All sorts of free performances all summer long!

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