Signature Theatre will bookend next year’s season with musicals about Jelly Roll Morton and Jesus Christ, and will also feature five brand spanking-new plays, the company announced yesterday. Included in its season will be a new play by local playwright Audrey Cefaly and a musical constructed by the local team of Allyson Currin (book), Matt Connor (music and lyrics) and Stephen Gregory Smith (lyrics).
Signature will open next season with Jelly’s Last Jam, a musical about the famed Jelly Roll Morton (real name: Ferdinand Joseph LeMothe), who was in on the creation of jazz. Rejected by his family, he downplayed his Black roots and emphasized his Creole heritage. Frank Rich, reviewing the original production for the New York Times, observed that Jelly’s Last Jam is “not merely an impressionistic biography of the man who helped ignite the 20th-century jazz revolution, but it is also a sophisticated attempt to tell the story of the birth of jazz in general and, through that story, the edgy drama of being black in the tumultuous modern America that percolated to jazz’s beat. And that’s not all: ‘Jelly’s Last Jam,’ a show in part about what it means to be African-American, is itself an attempt to remake the Broadway musical in a mythic, African-American image.” Running from August 2 to September 11, 2016, this play features celebrated pianist Mark G. Meadows and Signature mainstay Nova Y. Payton. Matt Gardiner (West Side Story) directs.
Cefaly, whose Maytag Virgin was Quotidian Theatre’s entry into the Women’s Voices Theater Festival, is next up with The Gulf, a story about two close friends, both women, who are suddenly stranded when the motor of their fishing boat breaks down somewhere in the Alabama delta. Cefaly has mined the territory of the relationship between women successfully before, in Mill Town Girls and Fin and Euba. The Gulf will feature performances from Rachel Zampelli and Maria Rizzo; Joe Calaro directs. From September 13 to November 6.
Freaky Friday, the Mary Rodgers novel made immortal by Walt Disney Studios, will make its world premiere on the Signature stage in musical form. Bridget Carpenter (Parenthood) wrote the book and the rest was done by music-and-lyric team of Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey (Next to Normal, If, Then). This story is about a teenage girl and her mother who exchange bodies on the day before mom’s wedding. This is not always a good thing, incidentally. This world premiere musical, which Christopher Ashley will direct, will run from October 4 to November 20, 2016.
After everybody gets his body back, well, it’s Christmastime. And Silver Belles, a new musical by Currin, Connor and Smith, shows what happens when Designing Women-type schemers take over the planning for the Christmas pageant in the little town of Sylva Ridge. With Payton, Donna Migliaccio, Ilona Dulaski, Naomi Jacobson and Sandy Bainum. Eric Schaeffer will direct this musical, which will run from November 22 to December 24.
If you would prefer a musical about a ship ramming an iceberg and sinking into the ocean, killing thousands, to another Christmas musical, Signature will present Titanic, the Musical, from December 13 of this year until January 29 of the next. Schaeffer will also direct this musical, which won Tony Awards for best musical, best book (Peter Stone, who has 1776 to his credits) and best score (Maury Yeston, Nine, Phantom, Grand Hotel).
If you enjoyed Souvenir you may be intrigued by the world premiere of James Lapine’s Mrs. Miller does her Thing, which is sort of an anti-musical. Lapine, Stephen Sondheim’s longtime collaborator (he wrote the book for Into the Woods and Sunday at the Park with George, among others), explores the musical depredations of Elva Miller, who did to pop music in the sixties and seventies what Florence Foster Jenkins did to opera in the thirties and forties. Debora Monk (Mozart in the Jungle, Gray’s Anatomy) will be Mrs. Miller; Lapine will direct. From February 28 to March 26, 2017.
Here’s two words you seldom see next to each other: “thriller musical.” Yet that is precisely what Signature says it is offering in its next production, Midwestern Gothic, which will run from March 14 to April 30, 2017. There is not much detail available about this world premiere musical, which Signature describes as “a vivid portrait of a young woman, Stina, who is desperate to escape her everyday surroundings. Stina’s wild and twisted imagination drives her to create more and more bizarre diversions that suddenly take a perverse turn toward a surprising end.” Joshua Schmidt, who co-wrote the music for Adding Machine, will provide the music to Royce Vavrek’s book; Matthew Gardiner directs.
Signature will wrap up the season with Jesus Christ, Superstar, the Andrew Lloyd Weber-Tim Rice classic which you might also consider to be a thriller musical if you are of a certain cast of mind. Joe Calarco will direct this story of the betrayal and death of Jesus, which will run from May 9 to July 2 of next year.
While individual tickets won’t be available until June, season ticket packets are available.