So what’s going on at the Kennedy Center for the next Theatre* season? Everything. The freshest Broadway plays. One-day musical tributes. Theater in Dutch. And Norwegian. Hot directors. Bergman movies made into plays. The Book of Mormon! Hamilton! And, of course, Shear Madness.
The Kennedy Center kicks off the coming season, as it kicks off every season, with the Page-to-Stage Festival, in which playwrights working on new stuff stage readings before curious audiences. Sometimes the plays go nowhere, and sometimes the plays will turn into productions which you’ll see down the road. Sometimes you’ll get a chance to make suggestions to the playwright (no writing credit for you, though). It’s free; and one of the side benefits is that you’ll get a chance to explore spaces in the Kennedy Center that you normally don’t get to see. From September 1-3, 2017.
On one night only — specifically, September 22 of this year — Director Kathleen Marshall and Music Director Rob Fisher celebrate the music of the great Leonard Bernstein, particularly as it has impacted Broadway with Bernstein on Broadway. We’ll hear selections from West Side Story, On the Town, Candide, and Wonderful Town, as well as Mass — the Bernstein piece commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to open the Kennedy Center, forty-six years ago.
When Anne Hamburger’s teenaged son became so depressed that it was hard for him to leave his house, she and her husband decided to enroll him in a wilderness camp in Oregon. It helped — somewhat — and Hamburger decided to create a documentary about the effect of raw nature on the raw nerves of young men and women. The result was Wilderness, part film, part stage production. It follows the real-life adventures of six families who call on the wilderness to save their children. From October 12-15, 2017; recommended for audiences 12 and up.
And then for something completely different: an old friend, The Book of Mormon. Once again, the rollicking Latter-Day Saints will be parading across the Opera House stage. This is the tragical, magical story of two missionaries who seek to bring their sense of the almighty to an AIDs-ravaged Ugandan town run by a one-eyed, genocidal warlord. This collaboration between the creators of “South Park” and Avenue Q “is…blasphemous, scurrilous and more foul-mouthed than David Mamet on a blue streak,” according to New York Times reviewer Ben Brantley. “But trust me when I tell you that its heart is as pure as that of a Rodgers and Hammerstein show.” The Book of Mormon runs October 24 to November 17 of this year; the last two times it was here so many people tried to get tickets at once that it brought down the Kennedy Center ticket service.
Into a cappella singing? The Kennedy Center will feature a brief run of Gobsmacked! around Thanksgiving of this year. This show, which features not only traditional a cappella but multi-track live looping, also features the great beat-boxer Bell Zee. The show is “[s]uperbly supported by the world-renowned beat-boxer Ball Zee, who earns more than his performance fee, not just for his musical input, but for his physical presence, his humour, and his rapport with the audience,” says Live Theatre UK’s John Bowles. Here’s a little sample of their work. November 24-26, 2017
For the holiday season, what could be more appropriate than The Second City’s Twist Your Dickens, a satisfyingly absurd take on the ubiquitous A Christmas Carol? This show, making its second appearance at the Kennedy Center in as many years, is “one part A Christmas Carol, one part every other famous Christmas story, and one part improv,” according to DC Theatre Scene’s Kelly McCorkendale, who went on to observe that “The joy in this show—as in many Second City productions—is the fusion of pop culture and audience participation with a classic story (or histories) in order to show us something important about ourselves, like how ridiculous hipsters can be and that our greatest misdeeds are often someone else’s greatest laugh.” Twist Your Dickens runs from December 5-31 of this year.
At the same time, the Kennedy Center will be giving us a somewhat less uproarious option: Ingmar Bergman’s Private Confessions, having a brief run in the Eisenhower Theater. Bergman’s movie is based on his mother’s diary, which he discovered after her death. In the movie, a woman, urged by her priest, confesses an adulterous affair to her husband. Things go downhill from there. The National Theater of Norway has translated the movie into a play, although the language remains Norwegian (with English surtitles). From December 6-9, 2017.
Halfway between Twist Your Dickens and Private Confessions on the somberness scale will be An American in Paris, which will run between December 12 of this year and January 18 of the next. This is the ballet-infused 2015 version of the much-produced musical, with a new book by Craig Lucas (Prelude to a Kiss) to go along with George Gershwin’s music. It remains, however, the story of a G.I. who remains in Paris to pursue his painting; a beautiful woman catches his attention and she later turns out to be a ballerina he is asked to paint. “Just about everything in this happily dance-drunk show moves with a spring in its step, as if the newly liberated Paris after World War II were an enchanted place in which the laws of gravity no longer applied,” Charles Isherwood of the New York Times said of this 2015 production.
Finally, the Kennedy Center fills out 2017 with The Illusionists, a one-hundred thirty-five minute festival of the world’s greatest magic. When The Illusionists came to the Kennedy Center in 2015, Keith Loria said that the show was “one mind-blowing illusion after another” and noted “the beauty of having a diverse crew of magicians is that no matter what type of magic you fancy—the vaudeville-esque card tricks, the 21st Century showmanship, or even the Houdini-like escapism magic—there was something for everyone.” From December 27, 2017 to January 7, 2018.
The 2018 portion of the Kennedy Center season starts with two extraordinarily dissimilar productions. In the Eisenhower Theater, we will see The Humans, Stephen Karam’s story of a Thanksgiving dinner that goes horribly, horribly wrong. But though a Scranton family’s visit to their daughter’s basement apartment in Manhattan’s Chinatown brings up a lot of uncomfortable truths, there’s no Virginia Woolf-style fireworks. Quite the contrary: “Each and every character is enormously appealing, and Karam takes care to reveal their guarded secrets with great tenderness, just as [Director Joe] Mantello’s directorial hand gently advances the play from comedy to tragedy,” says Variety’s Marilyn Stasio. From January 9-28 of next year.
On the same dates, the Opera House will host On Your Feet!, Gloria and Emilio Estefan’s triumphant story of their departure from Cuba to become American music icons. Directed by two-time Tony Award winner Jerry Marshall and choreographed by Olivier Award winner Sergio Trujillo, On Your Feet! follows the Estefans as they perform at Bar Mitzvahs and Italian Weddings on their way to international fame. “On Your Feet is as much by-the-numbers as any other Broadway bio or juke box musical,” DCTS’ Jonathan Mandell observed, “but when the numbers are ‘1-2-3’ – the name of one of Estefan’s many electrifying hits – the average theatergoer will surely find it easier to forgive the formulaic aspects of the show.”
February will see a brief run of Chess, the musical in which a boorish American chess genius takes on the game’s ruling monarch, a Russian — who has fallen for the American’s manager. Reviewing a 2009 production at Signature, Gary Macmillan said that the musical had “a jaw-dropping score with music by ABBA’s Benny & Bjorn (Mama Mia!) and lyrics by Tim Rice (Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar among his impressive catalog of hits).” From February 14-18, 2018.
On March 6, 2018, Taylor Mac will take us to school with A 24-Decade History of Popular Music (1776-2016). Originally conceived as a 24-hour marathon, with an hour reserved for each decade (which Erick Neher of the Hudson Review called “[t]he theatrical event of the fall”), the Kennedy Center production will be abridged, but I don’t know by how much.
Later that month, the Kennedy Center will feature a brief run of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights, perhaps to whet our appetites for you-know-what. This Tony-winning musical takes a slice of the daily life of an immigrant NYC community, and gives us its triumphs and heartbreak. “In the Heights goes out of its way to please, and succeeds mostly through its musical fluidity, the way Miranda gives a community its voice through a mélange of hip-hop, Latin pop and old-fashioned Broadway schmaltz,” observed Charles McNulty of the Los Angeles Times. From March 21-25.
In April, it’ll be more Bergman again, as the Kennedy Center will feature theatrical versions of two of the great director’s films, After the Rehearsal and Persona, in rep. Both will be directed by the famed Ivo van Hove (who directed A View from the Bridge at the Kennedy Center last year), and both will be in Dutch. After the Rehearsal is the story of a buttoned-up theater director who is suddenly confronted with an actress who he just cast in Strindberg’s A Dream Play. She happens to be the daughter of an old lover of the director’s, and the two of them do a little dreaming themselves. In Persona, an actress has inexplicably stopped speaking during the middle of a production of Electra. She obtains a nurse and moves to a cottage; Persona explores the relationship between the nurse and her patient; which eventually becomes tense and fraught. With English surtitles; from April 21 to 25, 2018.
In June there’ll be a brief run of the Broadway classic How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. This is the story of a slickster’s efforts to rise from window-washer to CEO, using the usual techniques — flattery, back-stabbing and fake news. “And yet, when you really dig right into it, How to Succeed proves itself to be one of the smartest musicals ever written,” John Dellaporta said about the musical when it had its run at Studio three years ago. This Pulitzer Prize-winning show (for Drama) runs from June 6 to June 10 of next year.
And then: Hamilton. Do I really need to tell you about this show? (If so, I recommend reading Jonathan Mandell’s review, which summarizes the show better than I could.) From June 12 to September 16, 2018.
Next summer will also see the 2016 Tony-winning version of The Color Purple come to the Kennedy Center. This varietal of Marsha Norman’s adaptation of Alice Walker’s book tells the story of three strong women who grow stronger in the face of extreme oppression. “For the first time in its long history of dramatization, The Color Purple has been afforded an incarnation fully in sync with one crucial aspect of Walker’s original authorial intent — that the audience must participate in the imaginative act in order to comprehend its richness of theme and story,” the Chicago Tribune’s Chris Jones said, “And, in this production…so they do. Willingly. Delightedly. When they are not rising to their feet to stop the show.” From July 31 to August 26, 2016.
And, of course, there will be Shear Madness, the interactive mystery which combines murder and haircuts, all year, every day but Christmas.
If you’ve had a subscription to the Kennedy Center in the past, you can renew it here. If not, season subscriptions are not yet available.
*Kennedy Center Theater for Young Audiences to be announced.
The Washington National Opera’s season at The Kennedy Center already announced.