The theater season opens with old favorites and a world premiere Poe production.
After an impressive 2008-’09 season, the area’s theaters begin the 2009-’10 campaign with a number of promising productions.
Two enterprising small companies, Theatre Horizon and 11th Hour Theatre Company, join forces to present a co-production of the musical Little Shop of Horrors (Sept. 11-Oct. 4). An odd romantic tale about a carnivorous plant with an insatiable appetite, the show is helmed by Megan O’Brien, director of 11th Hour’s innovative staging of Reefer Madness . Puppet whiz Aaron Cromie is responsible for bringing the bloodthirsty plant to life. Like Reefer Madness , this show will run first in the suburbs and then come to Center City.
The Walnut Street Theatre opens their third century with the Broadway musical Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Sept. 8-Oct. 25). Yet another musical based on a film—the 1988 comedy starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine—the story concerns a pair of con men who make a living fleecing tourists on the French Riviera. Tired of competing with each other, they make a wager involving a wealthy American heiress in which the loser must forever leave town. The production stars Paul Schoeffler and the popular Ben Dibble, who garnered a Barrymore Award nomination for his charming performance in the Walnut’s spring production of The Producers .
The Arden Theatre Company begins their season with Alan Bennett’s contemporary masterpiece The History Boys (Sept. 24-Nov. 1). Set in a British prep school, Boys focuses on a charming history teacher who displays his affection for his teenage students (all boys) in an unusual (not to mention somewhat inappropriate) manner. However, Boys is anything but a play about pedophilia. Instead Bennett constructs a magnificently funny debate about the value of learning history. The Arden’s production is helmed by Barrymore winner Terrence J. Nolen.
The Philadelphia Theatre Company gets under way with Lorenzo Pisoni and Erica Schmidt’s story about life under the big top in Humor Abuse (Sept. 25-Oct. 25). The story tells of Pisoni’s early life as the youngest member of San Francisco’s Pickle Family Circus. It’s an existence most kids dream of, but for Pisoni, life in the circus isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Employing both clowning and sleight of hand, Abuse emerges as a poignant investigation of a complex father-son relationship.
In celebration of Edgar Allan Poe’s 200th birthday, Brat Productions launches the world premiere of Haunted Poe (Oct. 1-Nov. 1). Staged in a 10,000 square-foot South Philly warehouse, the show will feature thrills and chills. As a theatrical enterprise, the project includes a narrative that weaves the various frights into an interactive tale that evokes the disturbing beauty in Poe’s macabre work. The show is conceived and directed by Madi Distefano, an artist known for fearlessly exploring the darkest aspects of the human experience.
1812 Productions begins October with the world premiere of Billy Aronson’s timely sex farce The First Day of School (Oct. 1-25). Directed by Pete Pryor (who also performs), the show focuses on five parents desperate to escape their humdrum lives in suburbia. While the kids in the neighborhood head back to school, a group of soccer moms decide to spend their free time in the bedroom perfecting a variety of sex games. Aronson’s writing credits range from the musical Rent to Beavis and Butthead episodes, and School could emerge as one of the fall’s most titillating pleasures.
After a five-year absence, Cirque du Soleil’s Alegria (Oct. 13-16) returns to Philly—it previously played under the Grand Chapiteau in South Philly—with a brief run at Temple University’s Liacouras Center. One of Cirque’s most abstract productions, the new indoor “arena” staging of Alegria features many of the same acts as the previous version, including the thrilling aerial calisthenics of the Russian Bars and the amazingly athletic Power Track, in which a team of limber tumbling artists perform on a trapeze embedded in the stage floor. However wondrous these acts are, the real stars of Alegria are Dominique Lemieux’s dramatic costumes, which provide the show with its compelling central image of birds in flight.
InterAct Theatre Company gets tits 22nd season underway with Kristoffer Diaz’s The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity (Oct. 23-Nov. 22). Inspired by the rhythms of hip-hop, Deity is set in the world of professional wrestling where the all-American champ Deity is being challenged by a trash-talking badboy named Vigneshwar Paduar. An investigation of America’s response to terrorism and globalization, the play features the talents of the always fascinating local actor Jeb Kreager in its Philly premiere. The production will be staged at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, just down the street from InterAct’s longtime artistic home at The Adrienne.
Azuka Theatre marks its tenth anniversary with a production of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel’s The Long Christmas Ride Home (Oct. 29-Nov. 15). Mom, Dad and their three kids are making their way to Grandma’s house on a snowy Christmas Eve. Although the scenario may bring up memories of Bing Crosby and Norman Rockwell, the consequences of that fateful drive are anything but idyllic. One of the most inventive holiday plays of the past decade, Home uses puppetry, music and taut storytelling to reveal the fragility of family relationships. ■
Little Shop of Horrors : Sept. 11-Oct. 4. $15-$28. Center Theater, 208 DeKalb St., Norristown. 610.283.2230. theatrehorizon.org
Dirty Rotten Soundrels : Sept. 8-Oct. 25. $10-$70. Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut St. 215.574.3550. walnutstreettheatre.org
The History Boys : Sept. 24-Nov. 1. $29-$48. F. Otto Haas Stage, Arden Theatre Company, 40 N. Second St. 215.922.1122. ardentheatre.org
Humor Abuse : Sept. 25-Oct. 25. $51-$64. Suzanne Roberts Theatre, Broad and Lombard sts. 215.985.0420. philadelphiatheatrecompany.org
Haunted Poe : Oct. 1-Nov. 1. $15-$25. 38 Jackson St. 800.838.3006. hauntedpoe.com
The First Day of School : Oct. 1-25. $20-$35. Plays and Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey St. 215.592.9560. 1812productions.org
Alegria : Oct. 13-16. $36-$95. Liacouras Center, N. Broad St. and Cecil B. Moore Ave. 800.298.4200. cirquedusoleil.com/alegria
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity : Oct. 23-Nov. 22. $16-$29. Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, 2111 Sansom St. 215.568.8079. interacttheatre.org
The Long Christmas Ride Home : Oct. 29-Nov. 15. $15-$25. Mandell Theater, 33rd and Chestnut sts. 215.733.0255. azukatheatre.org