There seems to be an unofficial rule in Philadelphia that no local company will open a new show during the holidays. Now with that time of year behind us, the region’s theater troupes are back in full force. Not only is this one of the busiest times on area stages, but history has shown that January and February typically spawn many of the season’s best productions. With that in mind, we’ve assembled a sampling of some the area’s most promising.
Following on the heels of the fabulous 25th anniversary production of Les Miserables, the Kimmel Center’s Broadway Series continues its jam-packed season with the touring show of the Broadway hit Catch Me if You Can at the Academy of Music. A highly energetic musical version of the Leonardo diCaprio-starring film, Catch—which opened Jan. 15 and runs through the 20th—is the first of three dynamic musicals making their Philly debut as part of the series the Kimmel co-produces with the Shubert Organization. Also at the Academy is the over-the-top drag queen road musical Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (Feb. 26-March 3), while at the Merriam, the Broadway Series presents the highly anticipated Philly premiere of Green Day’s raucous American Idiot (Feb. 12-17).
Among the local companies, there are always one or two dates every season when an overwhelming number of new productions open. In Winter 2013, that date is Jan. 23, when four productions officially begin their respective runs. The quartet of openings includes InterAct Theatre Company’s world premiere of David Robson’s Assassin (through Feb. 10) and Arden Theatre Company’s staging of Samuel Beckett’s classic Endgame (through March 10). Philadelphia Theatre Company explores Dr. Martin Luther King’s final hours in The Mountaintop (through Feb. 17), and Walnut Street Theatre continues its season with Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband (through March 3). Among the four, the lone newcomer is Assassin. Penned by David Robson, the play uses football injuries as a backdrop to a larger exploration of how we assign guilt and innocence. Based on a true event, Assassin is especially topical in light of the disturbing recent findings regarding damage to the brain of legendary NFL linebacker Junior Seau, who joined a growing list of football players who have committed suicide.
One of the busiest stages this winter is at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, which, in the past few years, has become the city’s foremost presenter of adventurous live performance. Jan. 30 through Feb. 2, Pig Iron Theatre Company co-founder Suli Holum and playwright Deborah Stein return to the Annenberg with their recent collaboration, Chimera. The new piece explores the unique medical condition known as chimerism, a rare phenomenon in which one body contains two different sets of DNA. The complex and innovative work features some of Philadelphia’s most talented artists, including set designer Jeremy Wilhelm, lighting designer James Clotfelter and Pig Iron’s multitalented James Sugg, who is responsible for the production’s remarkable sound design. On Feb. 8 and 9, the Annenberg hosts Applied Mechanics, Philly’s most unusual theater company. Known for their groundbreaking shows that eradicate boundaries between theater, dance and art, the company is staging director Rebecca Wright’s seventh installation theater piece, Some Other Mettle. The show, which debuted at the Philly Fringe, tells the story of five “underdogs” from different parts of the globe who unite to solve a mysterious prophecy.
The Annenberg is also presenting the highly-touted docudrama ReEntry, in which five actors portray veterans of the Iraq War, on March 8 and 9. Staged with minimal props, the play doesn’t have the emotional impact of Temple University’s spectacular 2007 piece In Conflict or the thrilling Scottish war play Black Watch, but this doesn’t diminish ReEntry’s importance. Created by Emily Ackerman and KJ Sanchez, both of whom are sisters of veterans, the script is taken verbatim from interviews conducted with vets. The 90-minute play is both a tribute to those who served and a sad reminder of the challenges they face when they return home.
The United States is under martial law in Jason Wells’ incendiary dark comedy The North Plan, which makes its Philly debut Feb. 13 through March 3 in a production by Theatre Exile. Directed by Exile’s head honcho Joe Canuso and starring Dan Hodge and local legend Madi Distefano, in Plan, state and local governments are under the control of military commanders. The nation’s last hope for freedom and democracy lies with an unlikely trio of citizens that includes a booze-swilling, foul-mouthed redneck who’s such a fan of southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd, she thinks the group should be featured on the nation’s new currency.