Burns and Murray Discuss the 2013 Williamstown Theatre Festival Lineup

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Looking at the Williamstown Theatre Festival’s 2013 Lineup
by Gail Burns and Larry Murray

The historic and Tony Award-Winning Williamstown Theatre Festival revealed its plans for the Summer of 2013 at a news briefing at the Williams Inn today. (Enjoy some of the moments from past productions in the slide show above.) Following the same format that Artistic Director Jenny Gersten introduced last year, there will be three Main Stage productions and four on the smaller and more intimate Nikos Stage.

Following is the official announcement, with some additional commentary on the upcoming season by Gail and Larry following each show’s synopsis.

The schedule was announced by Eric Kerns, the company’s director of marketing and development filling in for Jenny Gersten who was indisposed with the flu.

He noted that this year there would be three musicals, a major undertaking, and three plays with a world premiere in each category. A seventh production will be announced at a later date, since final details – involving well known names in the business – are still being finalized.

Running from June 26 to August 18, the Festivals 59th Season promises to be a remarkable one. The highlights include the highly anticipated World Premiere of Bridges of Madison County, a new musical by Jason Robert Brown and Marsha Norman; a madcap revival of Animal Crackers; and a Nicholas Martin-directed production of George Bernard Shaw’s classic Pygmalion. On the smaller Nikos Stage, audiences will see revivals of Tom Stoppard’s Hapgood along with productions of Bess Wohl’s American Hero (a World Premiere) and the new musical Johnny Baseball by Richard Dresser (book), Robert Reale (music) and Willie Reale (lyrics).

Kate Burton in The Corn is Green (2007) directed by Nicholas Martin. Photo by Ben Marcus.

Kate Burton in The Corn is Green (2007) directed by Nicholas Martin. Photo by Ben Marcus.

The season will also see the return of many Williamstown veterans including Kate Burton (in Hapgood), and Robert Sean Leonard (in Pygmalion), plus first-time Festival directors Bartlett Sher, and Leigh Silverman.

“This is without question one of the most ambitious seasons in Williamstown Theatre Festival history – three musicals and a terrific lineup of plays, all of which engage different sensibilities, Gersten said in a statement. “I especially enjoyed putting together this season’s slate because, ultimately, it embodies what makes the Williamstown Theatre Festival distinctive, providing artists with great opportunities, and allowing audiences to join us in our summertime joys and adventures.”

Each year, WTF also presents a free outdoor production for family audiences at Poker Flats Fields. Gersten announced today that Dracula, written by Bram Stoker and adapted by Steve Lawson, will be the Free Theatre Production, running July 10 – 19, 2013.

The last Nikos Stage production and additional casting for all 2013 WTF shows will be announced at a later date.

ABOUT THE SEASON
Main Stage

Animal Crackers | June 26 – July 14, 2013

Book by George S. Kaufman & Morrie Ryskind; Music and Lyrics by Bert Kalmar & Harry Ruby
Adapted and Directed by Henry Wishcamper

Hooray for Captain Spaulding! The intrepid African explorer, inveterate womanizer, and interminable jokester hobnobs with high society as the guest of honor at a swanky soiree. But when a priceless painting is pilfered, he and the guests are swept up in a screwball search for the thief. This new interpretation of the Marx Brothers’ hit Broadway musical and classic film overflows with mirthful melodies, dynamite dancing, and seriously silly slapstick.

Larry: Reportedly the original script for this show was lost long ago, but this hilarious 1920s Broadway musical comedy which starred the Marx Brothers, was adapted for their classic film and so in essence it is not gone forever. DC’s Arena Stage reconstructed and revived it for the stage back in the 1980′s and there was a superb production at Boston University’s Huntington Theatre in 1987. Above there’s a video clip of last year’s much talked about revival at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre. For that, Henry Wishcamper did his own adaptation of the show to great acclaim, so we have a lot to look forward to.

Gail: I’ve owned a script, peddled by Samuel French, for a couple of decades now, though I doubt that it is the “original” from 1928. Remember Kaufman’s classic remark when standing in the back of the theatre as the Marx Brothers performed in one of his plays? “Wait! I think I just heard one of the lines!” On stage the brothers rarely stuck to anything as mundane as a script.

That being said, I am really looking forward to this production. I am fascinated by American musical theatre of the early decades of the 20th century. It was a time when the art form really blossomed but today we rarely produce anything BSB (Before Show Boat). But I do worry about the Marx Brothers aspect of this one.

Larry: The Larry Carpenter production at the Huntington pretty much recreated the four Marx Brothers as we remember them, and it made for a hilarious show. The clip of the show above from the Goodman production gives us a little peek at what the director has in mind. It should be a hoot.

Pygmalion | July 17 – 27, 2013

By George Bernard Shaw; Directed by Nicholas Martin
With Robert Sean Leonard

“You have no idea how frightfully interesting it is to take a human being and change her into a quite different human being.” With all the parallels of a modern reality-show makeover, an impoverished flower seller is taken in hand by a linguistics professor who attempts to change her accent and pass her off as the epitome of English society. For a wager. A sharp satire on class and women’s independence, Shaw’s century-old masterpiece features Robert Sean Leonard as Henry Higgins in an uproarious, poignant, and unforgettable battle of wits between two of theatre’s most iconic characters.

Leonard (“House,” Dead Poets Society) last appeared at the Festival in Dead End, directed by former WTF Artistic Director Nicholas Martin (She Stoops to Conquer, Our Town) who returns to Williamstown to helm Pygmalion.

Gail: Another exciting production. The Old Globe billed it as the 100th anniversary of this classic when they opened it in January of this year, although Shaw actually wrote the play in 1912 and it didn’t have its first English production until 1914. This is the centennial year of its first production, which was in Vienna in a German translation – I cannot imagine how that worked since it is all about British accents and their societial implications.

Of course today most Americans know it as the basis for My Fair Lady. The WTF hasn’t presented a work by Shaw yet this century, their last effort being Arms and the Man in 1997.

Larry: If history is our guide, then Nicholas Martin’s new staging for the Old Globe is something to look forward to. His work with Tony Award winner Robert Sean Leonard as Prof. Henry Higgins was highly praised. We don’t know who the Eliza Doolittle will be played by but that is a plum role and always fun to see the battle of wills between the phonetics Professor and the Cockney Doolittle on stage.

A WORLD PREMIERE MUSICAL!

The Bridges of Madison County | August 1 – 18, 2013

Book by Marsha Norman; Music and Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown
Directed by Bartlett Sher

In 1992, a rural American romance by an unknown author became a literary phenomenon. Millions of readers have been captivated by the simple story of Francesca, a beautiful Italian woman who marries an American soldier to flee war-ravaged Italy. Her new life in Iowa is common until she encounters Robert, a loner and artist, whose photography at National Geographic shields him from commitment and connection. Their three days of flirtation, memories of Naples, food, and laughter inspire a timeless love, and an impossible choice. Lushly transforming the best-selling novel into an intimate musical work for the stage, Marsha Norman and Jason Robert Brown have added new resonance to a lyrical portrait of true love, loss, sacrifice, and devotion.

Tony Award-winner Bartlett Sher (South Pacific, The Light in the Piazza) directs, making his WTF debut.

Larry: Artistic Director Gersten has been seeking out the new trends in musicals, not necessarily adaptations of films, but more complex works with both overarching stories and underlying leitmotivs. Last season we had Far From Heaven which, while not entirely successful, wore its heart on its sleeve, and this may continue the trend to lush, musical romances.

Gail: Well dang, this means I am going to have to read the book. This morning Eric Kerns said he had attended a read through recently and that this show is based much more closesly on Robert James Waller’s 1992 novel, which is one of the best-selling books of the 20th century, than on the 1995 film starring Meryl Strep and Clint Eastwood. I hope this show continues the success of Far From Heaven.

On the Nikos Stage

A WORLD PREMIERE!

American Hero | June 26 – July 7, 2013

By Bess Wohl; Directed by Leigh Silverman

Three ounces of meat. Two ounces of cheese. Four ounces of lettuce. Seventeen-year-old Sheri and her co-workers at a new submarine sandwich franchise have honed their skills making everything from the Turkey Torpedo to the Big Kahuna Tuna exactly as specified in the corporate manual. But when the franchise owner mysteriously disappears, they are forced to improvise, and Sheri takes charge of the ragtag band of “sandwich artists.” See just how far they’ll go to keep their shop afloat in Bess Wohl’s hilarious, surreal tale of the struggle for optimism in tough times, the power of sandwiches, and the glorious, messy American Dream.

Wohl’s Touch(ed) received a 2011 World Premiere at Williamstown; this marks Leigh Silverman’s (Chinglish) WTF debut.

Larry: Bess Wohl is a fabulous writer whose work reflects the moods and attitudes of the present, the real world, not the normal conceits of theatrical convention. Her dialogue tends to ramble sometimes, and contains the same sort of non sequiturs you hear in everyday conversation with kids who are busy texting as you talk to them. Wohl also has solid fringe festival and tv sitcom credits, so it seems that what Williamstown is trying to do here is to speak to a younger generation while nurturing the theatre of the future. Older audiences may find the rhythms and responses puzzling in her plays, as I did in Touch(ed), but that’s what the real world is like these days. Still, doesn’t the set-up in a sandwich shop sound intriguing?

Gail: Yes, I have to say that Kerns’ description of the plot and characters appealed to me, but it’s hard to improve on the old Buddies-at-Work-Bond-and-Make-Good-During-a-Crisis story which is a familiar theme. What is needed is for Wohl to tell it in a fresh, modern way with endearing, relatable characters.

Hapgood | July 10 – 21, 2013

By Tom Stoppard; Directed by Evan Yionoulis
With Kate Burton

Treacherous twins and double (or triple?) agents abound in a twisty-turny look at the unlikely interrelation of quantum physics and international espionage. Simultaneously channeling John le Carré, Albert Einstein, and Mel Brooks, Tom Stoppard’s Cold-War thriller boasts equal shares of brains, guts, and sly humor. WTF mainstay Kate Burton takes on the tour-de-force title role, the brilliant but eccentric British intelligence chief working to expose a Soviet double agent while attempting to keep her personal life under wraps.

Burton returns to WTF after a five-year hiatus, having appeared in the Festival’s Beyond Therapy, The Corn Is Green, Hedda Gabler, and more.

Gail: I just love Tom Stoppard! And the WTF does him really, really well. I have happy memories of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead in 1999 and Travesties in 2003. But Stoppard can be densely intellectual. There is a lot of quantum physics in this one. I have already made a mental note to bring a physicist along.

Larry: Anything with the names Kate Burton and Tom Stoppard attached to it has got to be a must-see.

Johnny Baseball | July 24 – August 4, 2013

Book by Richard Dresser; Music by Robert Reale; Lyrics by Willie Reale
Directed by Marc Bruni

The infamous Curse of the Boston Red Sox is brought to life through the changing fortunes of three orphaned souls: Johnny O’Brien, a hard-luck right-hander on the 1919 Sox; his idol, Babe Ruth; and Daisy Wyatt, a dazzling African-American blues singer and the love of Johnny’s life. The mystical intertwining of their fates reveals both the source of the Curse and the secret to its triumphant end off Big Papi’s bat in 2004. Packing a resonant commentary on social history into a quintessentially American musical, Johnny Baseball will bring cheers and tears to baseball fans and theatre lovers alike.

Larry: This show is going to be harder to get tickets to see than the World Series. The Curse of the Bambino on stage with musical numbers? For lots of fans this is going to be the two-hanky, embarrassed tears show. It had its premiere at Harvard’s American Repertory Theatre in 2010 where Diane Paulus directed, and the pruning and shaping has been going on since then. It will be great to see how it has been tightened up, and given a somewhat different lineup of songs with Director Marc Bruni.

Gail: I am such a sports dummy. I will have to do serious homework for this one, but I agree with you that it will sell well and people who spend more time watching sports than theatre (ie everyone who isn’t me!) will enjoy it thoroughly.

The fourth production on the Nikos Stage, which will run from August 7 – 18, 2013, is to be announced.

FREE THEATRE

Dracula: playing July 10 – 19, 2013

By Bram Stoker; adapted by Steve Lawson

Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel comes alive under the stars in a new adaptation by WTF veteran and Free Theatre co-founder Steve Lawson. One of the most haunting figures of our common imagination, “the Count” has stalked his nightmarish way through literature, art, theatre, and film, never failing to leave an impression, as well as the marks of his fangs. This dynamic new stage version of Stoker’s iconic tale is sure to hold audiences rapt. Leave your nerves at home…but bring the whole family and a picnic. (Garlic provided.)

Gail: It’s good news that the Free Theatre is back outdoors in the evenings. I had a ball at last year’s Sherlock Holmes offering. My only concern is that vampires are a little overdone in these post Twilight years, but hopefully there are still plenty of die-hard blood-sucking fans out there. You can’t beat the ticket price or the ambience.

Larry: Lawson is a great writer, and has a sure touch for authentic dialogue. And who knows, maybe he will even throw in a zombie or two, or references to the Twilight series. Just to keep it current enough for the kids.

TICKETS AND SCHEDULE

Special Discount Ticket Bundles are available for purchase until March 15, 2012 at http://www.wtfestival.org. Single tickets for the 2013 Williamstown Theatre Festival season will be available in April through the WTF website (www.wtfestival.org) and by mail order using WTF’s season brochure (call 413 597 3400 to join the mailing list). The WTF Box Office will open on June 4th at which point tickets may be purchased online, by phone, or in person at the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance Box Office at 1000 Main St (Route 2), Williamstown, MA 02167.

ABOUT WILLIAMSTOWN THEATRE FESTIVAL

Since 1955, the Williamstown Theatre Festival has brought America’s finest actors, directors, designers, and playwrights to the Berkshires, engaging a loyal audience of both residents and summer visitors. Each WTF season is designed to present unique opportunities for artists and audience alike, revisiting classic plays with innovative productions, developing and nurturing bold new plays and musicals, and offering a rich array of accompanying cultural events including Free Theatre, Late-Night Cabarets, readings, workshops, and educational programs. While best known for our acclaimed productions, WTF is also home to one of the nation’s top training and professional development programs for new generations of aspiring theatre artists and administrators. WTF was honored with the Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre in 2002 and the Commonwealth Award for Achievement in 2011.

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