There will be a whole lotta theater going on at Olney Theatre Center next season. In addition to its nine-production subscription series, Artistic Director Jason Loewith and his crew will welcome The National Players for two summer productions, stage three Theater for Young Audience productions, produce the concert version of three audacious musicals and present, once again, Paul Morella’s one-actor A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas.
South Pacific will kick off the member season on August 31 of this year. This Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, based on the Pulitzer-winning novel by James Michener, tracks the adventures of American GIs during the second War as they experience lush scenery, fabulous weather and friendly indigenous people while having sudden death as a constant companion. In particular, Nelly Forbush, a cheery and sweet-natured nurse from Arkansas (to be played by the fine actor Jessica Ball) falls in love with French expatriate Emile de Becque, only to discover that some ugliness in her own soul stands in the way of happiness. Alan Muraoka will direct this production, which will run through October 7.
If Round House’s Handbagged has whetted your appetite for more theater about politics across the pond, you may be interested in Olney’s second production, James Graham’s Labour of Love. In this story about a centrist Labour Party Member of Parliament and his left-wing constituency agent (a sort of political manager), the Labour party is the real star. The MP’s working-class constituency rockets between Blairlike centrism and Corbynesque radicalism. Michael Billington of The Guardian calls Labour of Love a “brilliant new play…[which] recalls Much Ado About Nothing.” Leora Morris will direct this production, which will run from September 26 to October 28, 2018.
For the holiday season, what could be more heart-warming or appropriate than a six-foot-two elf looking for his real father? Yes, Elf the Musical, a singing version of the fabulously successful Will Farrell movie, will be coming to Olney on November 9 of this year. The celebrated Chicago actor David Schlumpf, newly transplanted to the DMV, will play Buddy, who as an infant crawled into Santa’s big bag o’ gifts and was thus spirited to the North Pole. Now grown, Buddy goes back to New York to find his dad, who is, shall we say, on Santa’s naughty list. New York Theater Guide.com’s Tom Millward says the musical is “as brightly-colored as a row of frosted pop tarts” and notes that “[t]he plot is as easy to swallow as Buddy’s favorite syrup.” Michael Bobbitt will direct this production, which goes from November 9 of this year until January 6 of the next.
Another movie turned into a musical will kick off the 2019 portion of Olney’s schedule: Enda Walsh’s Once, which tracks the fortunes and misfortunes of a Dublin street musician and the woman who, against the odds, believes in him. Ben Brantley of the New York Times says that this musical, which won eight Tonys including Best Musical, “feels as vital and surprising as the early spring that has crept up on Manhattan.” Brantley claims that “‘Once’ uses song and dance in a way I’ve never experienced in an American musical…: to convey a beautiful shimmer of might-have-been regret.” Once, which Marcia M. Dodge, who won acclaim for her direction of Ragtime at the Kennedy Center, will direct, runs between February 6 and March 10 of 2019.
A second British playwright, Ella Hickson, makes her debut on the Olney Stage with Oil, an epic story which follows single mother May and her daughter Amy through two hundred years of life with petroleum — from the late 19th century to the near future. May plays different roles — from a Cornish homemaker to a hard-charging oil executive — but in each case, The Guardian’s Billington observes, the plays shows that “there is a parallel between the imperialist instinct of countries and corporations and that of parents.” Billington observes that Hickson “has created a remarkable play that…contains one of the best theatrical mother-daughter relationships of recent years.” Oil, directed by Tracy Brigden, will run from February 27 to March 31 of next year.
Wonder what ever happened after the curtain went down on Lend Me a Tenor? Ken Ludwig’s answer, A Comedy of Tenors, is Olney’s next production. Tito, Max and the cranky impresario Saunders are in London for a sold-out concert; Saunders has brought in a hot young star, Carlo, to sing Jussi’s part. Tito becomes jealous of the newcomer and storms out. But, via an incredible stroke of luck, Beppo the Bellhop not only has a beautiful singing voice but looks just like Tito, and…well, you can guess the rest. “Mr. Ludwig has fabricated a fast-paced farce,” Michael Sommers of The New York Times says. “[A] very good time ensues.” A Comedy of Tenors runs from April 10 to May 12, 2019; Jason King Jones directs.
Next, Olney Artistic Director Loewith will do some work on the Friedrich Schiller classic, Mary Stuart — a story which looks intensely at the conflict between Mary, Queen of Scots and her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. The conflict, of course, ended with Mary’s execution, but Schiller’s examination focuses also on the compromising and maneuvering which Elizabeth, while sovereign, was forced to do. Loewith’s adaptation, Olney says, will set “Schiller’s classic clash of titans for the #MeToo world with six extraordinary performers and the barest of sets in our most intimate performance space,” the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab. The Mary Stuart Project will run from May 3 to June 9 next year; Loewith will direct.
While Olney has its own Theater for Young Audiences program, it has concluded that Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical is suitable for grownups — and for its member season. This is, as you recall, a story about a young woman whose parents don’t like books. They probably don’t like theater, either. They only watch TV, probably during Executive Time, and much like Chauncy Gardiner. Matilda schedules a full-scale rebellion, but she has a formidable enemy in Agatha Trunchbull, the principal of her school. Brantley of the Times calls it “the most satisfying and subversive musical ever to come out of Britain.” From the master of satisfying and subversive children’s stories, Roald Dahl, mediated by Dennis Kelly (book) and Tim Minchin (music and lyrics), Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical won a Tony for best book in a musical, and will run from June 21 to July 21, 2019. Olney has not announced a director for this production.
Olney wraps up its member season with Tiger Style!, Mike Lew’s exploration of Asian identity and…well, no. It’s a comedy. Albert and Jennifer Chen are raised to be über-successful: both are Harvard graduates, and Jennifer did it in three years. Then she got an M.D. and a Ph.D. and ended up playing piano in Carnegie Hall. Albert became a cello-playing computer programmer. But their careers are not as successful as expected, and their love lives are terrible. So they decide to confront their parents, who hounded them to achievement all their lives. Confrontation — not so great. So they decide to go “full Western” (psychotherapy and loud talking is involved). Also not so great. So they go to China in order to go “full Eastern.” Also…well, you get the picture. The Boston Globe’s Jeremy Goodwin calls it “a carefully layered comedy about two children of Chinese immigrants who both confront and embrace the stereotypes that are meant to reduce their humanness into shorthand.” From July 17 to August 18 of next year. No director has been announced.
But wait! There’s more!
Olney has scheduled one-night concert for each of three musicals, On October 12, 2018, we’ll hear the Stephen Sondheim-Arthur Laurents work Anyone Can Whistle, in which a sly and corrupt mayor stages a fake news miracle in order to get some juice into his near-bankrupt town. An Irishman and his daughter hope to strike it rich in America in Finian’s Rainbow, by E.Y. Harburg, Fred Saidy and Burton Lane. This will run on May 19 of next year. Finally, on August 2, 2019 it will be Children of Eden, the Stephen Schwartz — John Caird collaboration reboot of the Book of Genesis.
The National Players will be in for the summer with a two-play session: Leading off (from May 22 to 26, 2019) is Around the World in 80 Days, in which…well, the title pretty much tells the story. Phileas Fogg, intending to win a 20 thousand pound bet, takes off on this improbable mission (remember, this is 1872) with his valet. Next, (from May 29 to June 2, 2019) we have Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, in which a young girl, shipwrecked in a strange country, does what anyone in her situation would do. She disguises herself to a boy, gets hired by a Duke, and is sent on his behalf to woo a very eligible Lady. The Lady spurs the Duke, but she likes the messenger plenty. Whoo boy!
Olney’s Theater for Young Audience productions will also all be in 2019. The Magic School Bus is a theatrical adaptation of the media franchise, less involved with motor vehicles and more with the astonishing Ms. Frizzle (played on the TV series by Lily Tomlin). This story involves what happens when the planetarium is closed (hint: we still have planets). It will run on March 16 and 17. On March 30 and 31, we will have Madeline and the Bad Hat. The bad hat is actually a bad boy, but Madeline gets to reconsider her opinion of him after getting to know him better. Finally, on May 4 and 5 our old friend Junie B. Jones will visit us again — this time in an adventure which finds her the boss of lunch and the halftime show planner for the school kickball game.
Last but certainly not least — and not last, either, come to think of it — we have Paul Morella’s annual one-actor classic, A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas, which will run between November 23 and December 30 of this year. DCTS’ Rosalind Lacy called it “an inspired, deeply-felt, moving one-man marathon monologue.”
Season tickets will become available to the general public on April 18.