The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will be serving a nine-course meal next season, with six musicals and three non-musicals occupying the five principal venues of the place for three weeks or longer. Another twelve short-run productions will serve as accompaniments, and there will be festivals – the Page-to-Stage festival to open the season, and the American College Theater Festival in April of next year.
Plus: Shear Madness, all year.
The Second City comes to the Kennedy Center for the holiday season to give us Love, Factually, loosely based on the movie Love, Actually, or, since improv is involved, based on something you think up. Nancy Hayden, Damon Royster, and Marc Warzecha are featured in this Theater Lab romp. From December 5 to 31 of this year.
Simultaneously, more or less, the Opera House will host the most recent iteration of Miss Saigon, the Alain Buoblil-Claude-Michel Schonberg-Richard Maltby, Jr. musical about an extremely young Vietnamese sex worker and the earnest American G.I. who will take her away from all that. “[A]s a piece of political theater that depicts Americans involved in a disastrous foreign war, cultural misunderstanding, the difficulties of emigrating to the U.S. as a refugee and the pursuit of success through shameless exploitation,” says Matt Windman of am New York, “‘Miss Saigon’ is more relevant and heartbreaking today than when it premiered on Broadway in 1991.” (Here is Jonathan Mandell’s review). Miss Saigon will run from December 11, 2018 to January 13, 2019.
Also simultaneously, more or less, is The Play that Goes Wrong, in which everything, well, goes wrong. Funny plays about horrible plays have been a theatrical staple – think Noises Off, or It Closed on Opening Night. The Play that Goes Wrong is about the Cornley University Drama Society’s doomed effort to stage Murder at Haversham Manor. The New Yorker’s Michael Schulman, who calls The Play that Goes Wrong “a combustible farce,” lists some of the things that go wrong: “The actor playing the murder victim can’t seem to play dead. The flapper heroine… gets knocked unconscious, so a mousy stagehand steps in, script in hand. A bottle of prop booze somehow gets replaced by paint thinner. ” (Here’s Mandell’s review.) From December 18 of this year to January 6 of the next, in the Eisenhower.
In June of next year, the Opera House will see a revival of Hello, Dolly!, with Betty Buckley in the title role. This is the story of a professional matchmaker, who has it in mind to match her grumpiest client, Horace Vandergelder, with herself. The New York Times’ Ben Brantley calls this staging of the musical an “exceedingly bright and brassy revival”. Ironically, Hello, Dolly! (then called Dolly, a Damned Exasperating Woman) was almost derailed in its original 1964 form by the unfortunate reception it received in Washington, D.C. Hello, Dolly! will run from June 4 to July 7, 2019.
Later in June, Byhalia, Mississippi – one of the more striking productions from last year’s Contemporary American Theatre Festival – will come to the Terrace Theater. The folks in Byhalia, especially Jim and Laurel, consider themselves post-racial – until they discover that the baby Laurel has been carrying is Black. “There is not an ounce of judgment or condescension for these characters; their flaws are funny because they’re human,” we said when we reviewed this play last summer. June 11-30, at the Terrace Theater.
The Band’s Visit comes to visit the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater in July. This is the story of the lordly Alexandria, Egypt Ceremonial Police Orchestra, having been invited to play at the Arab Cultural Center in Petah Tikvah, miscommunicate their destination to the bus driver and end up in Bet Hatikveh where, as a resident observes there is “not Israeli Culture, not Arab, not culture at all.” The Egyptian musicians then sit around with the Israeli residents and everybody becomes humans. “[T]his is a Broadway musical unafraid to be different…[Composer and lyricist David] Yazbek, best-known for his comic Broadway scores and lyrics for ‘The Full Monty,’ ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,’ and ‘Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,’ here keeps the dry wit of his lyrics but offers a new sound for Broadway,” Jonathan Mandell observes in this review, “ranging from Jewish klezmer to Israeli jazz to Egyptian pop, and even a ravishing classical Middle Eastern concerto, performed by musicians (some of them members of the orchestra we see on stage) using instruments that include the oud, riq and darbouka from the Middle East (a type of stringed instrument, tambourine and drum, respectively.)” The Band’s Visit will run from July 9 to August 4 of next year.
We remain thematically in the Middle East when Aladdin takes over the Opera House later in July. This Chad Beguelin-Alan Menken-Howard Ashman musical is the story of an impoverished young man who uses powers granted to him by a magic-invested genii to court a Princess, take over a sultanate and retire the national debt (only joking about that last one). “Aladdin on Broadway has been a unique triumph: glorious to look at, funny, topical – and definitely not just for kids,” Deborah Wilker of the Hollywood Reporter wrote. From July 18 to September 19, 2019.
And last but certainly not least, Dear Evan Hansen makes its triumphant return from New York to its city of origin in August of next year. A young man writes a letter to himself, offering hope and encouragement, and carelessly leaves it lying where another young man, deeply disturbed, pockets it. Later, the second young man kills himself, and his parents, mistakenly believing him to be close to the letter-writer, invite him into their lives as a surrogate son. In his review of the New York production, Jonathan Mandell noted that “It is to the credit of the songwriters [Benj Pasek and Justin Paul] and book writer Steven Levenson that, beneath the fanciful plot, Dear Evan Hansen digs towards some insights into several aspects of human nature – not just adolescent insecurity, but the struggle of parenting, family dynamics, sibling resentment, the delayed effects of grief, the self-interest of altruism; the show acknowledges that even good people see a tragedy through the prism of their own needs, and sometimes use it to their own advantage.” And Keith Loria, who reviewed the original production at Arena Stage two and a half years ago, concluded that “Innovative, real and highly emotional, Dear Evan Hansen is a musical for today- relatable to Millennials with a message that will span the generations.” From August 6 to September 8 of next year, in the Eisenhower.
But wait! There’s more!
Following the Page-to-Stage Festival — readings of new works under consideration for production by local theatre companies, held in venues all over the Kennedy Center September 1 – 3, 2018 — we get at taste of the Bard: in Russian (with projected English titles). The Pushkin Theater Moscow, in conjunction with the British theater company Cheek by Jowl, will do Measure for Measure. This is the story of a stern, moralistic judge who condemns a young man to death for sleeping with his betrothed before marriage — and who will relent only if the man’s sister, a nun, agrees to allow him to rape her. From October 10-13 of this year, in the Eisenhower.
Even a flower that eats humans is less grim than that, and on October 24, 2018 the Kennedy Center will produce Little Shop of Horrors, in which a nerdy young man discovers a meat-eating, R&B-singing giant plant and names it after the woman he loves, which may give you a clue as to why he is still unattached. This Kennedy-Center produced musical will run until October 28 — three days before Halloween.
The producers of the a capella Gobsmacked! will be back in town with The Choir of Man, which is a bunch of male singers ostensibly attached to an English pub. How good are they? Click on this YouTube video and judge for yourself. The Choir of Man will be in the Eisenhower for the Thanksgiving Season, November 24-26 of this year.
Two days later, the Eisenhower will welcome The Barbershop Chronicles, Inua Ellems elegiac account of African men being and uttering themselves in barbershops in Africa and England. “Ellams has an instinctive feel for the polyphonous rhythms of dialogue, and the way his characters use language is both a texture and a theme of this play,” says Claire Allfree of the Telegraph. From November 28 to December 1, 2018.
In February, the Eisenhower will welcome a short run of The Music Man, in which the traveling salesman and professional con man “Professor” Harold Hill, ensconced in a small Iowa town in order to dupe its residents into buying band instruments, improbably falls in love with the librarian, Marian. Professor Hill is an exponent of the “think” method, in which if you think about playing an instrument hard enough you will actually be able to play it. This theory, I understand, is now guiding U.S. foreign policy. The Music Man won the Best Musical Tony in 1958. when its principal competition was — West Side Story. From February 6-10 of next year.
In the Terrace Theater, the collaboration between Denmark’s artistic incubator Hotel Pro Forma and the Latvian Radio choir NeoArctic will make its U.S. debut. You will join your fellow audience members on a fictional eco-tour in a cruise ship to the Arctic, and there watch the dawning of the Anthropocene age, so named because it recognizes that the human effect on the environment is as profound as a collision with a meteor. Intrigued? Have a taste by clicking here. February 13-19, 2019.
Back in the Eisenhower, the Kennedy Center will host Tap Dogs, a dance troupe on an international tour. These guys dance — while dribbling a basketball, welding steel, and walking on girders, among other antics. Wanna see? Click here. (Sorry, the video quality is not of the greatest). From February 19 to the 24th of next year.
Swedish acrobats come to town in Cirkus Cirkör’s Limits, a combination of movement, music and graphics which explore the barriers we place around ourselves. Here is a trailer. March 6-9, 2019.
The Kennedy Center’s Family Theater will host The Last Supper, Ahmed El Attar’s dissection of contemporary Egyptian life through the medium of a dinner party for three generations of a single family. This is not your grandma’s Thanksgiving. The website Ahramonline describes it thusly: “Hassan speaks unabashedly about pleasures he draws from violent sex; his wife Fifi, who claims to be a confident woman herself, loses control, cries, and shouts in front of her husband and the servants…Finally, we also find a father who always has something to say, about everything and nothing.” From March 14 to 16 of next year.
The Kennedy Center will be the site of the 50th Annual American College Theater Festival April 15-21, 2019. which will feature not only the best work from regional collegiate festivals but master classes from leading artists in American theater as well.
The Kennedy Center will once again don its producer’s hat for The Who’s Tommy, a production of the world’s first rock opera. This story of a deaf, dumb and blind kid who was simply the greatest at pinball and who became a cult leader won five Tony Awards for the rock group, The Who, book-writing collaborator Des McNuff, and the other artists involved in its production. This will be in the Opera House April 24 to 28 of next year.
June will see a two-week run of Falsettos, a James Lapine-William Finn musical about the life of a family in which the father has fallen in love with another man. Lapine (book for Into the Woods) and Finn (music and lyrics for The Sisters Rosensweig) won the Tony for this musical, which will play in the Eisenhower Theater June 11-23, 2019.
Coming next: Kennedy Center Season for Young Audiences