One Eclectic Season — 2019-2020 in Philadelphia

Excerpted by kind permission from Neals Paper.
18Come-BackLittleShebabyWilliamInge-1200x750The list, not totally complete, sometimes because of forgetfulness, sometimes because of blissless ignorance, and mainly because all the imminent Fringe activity might double the number, stands at 211, including three shows — Our Town, Tommy and Me, and Forever Plaid—that have come and gone.

A compilation of plays, musicals, and operas scheduled for performance in a Philadelphia area loosely defined as stretching from New Brunswick, N.J., it demonstrates how robust and various this 80-mile corridor of America’s East Coast in creating theater for the tens of thousands who will come to see it.

A quick examination of the list indicates maturity and independence among the few dozen companies listed. Classics blend with world premieres, the latter possibly dominating. Favorites mingle with the unknown. Theater planned for the 2019-2020 season is about an diverse and eclectic as I’ve in almost 50 years of paying close attention.

No one playwright or composer seems to dominate the schedule. Stephen Sondheim is almost absent, perhaps because the Arden, a Sondheim stronghold, is doing two musicals this year, and both, Ragtime and Once Upon This Island, by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty.

Shakespeare is being produced fewer times than usual, and while there’s peeps from Shaw and Ibsen, there’s not offering by Anton Chekhov. Moliere, Tennessee Williams, and David Hare are better represented, and Quintessence Theatre Group is covering a quartet of works by John Millington Synge.

All new seasons stir excitement, but this one sparks enthusiasm. Among theater’s attractions are the number of minds whose ideas and conclusions one can be exposed to, showing the span of thought in the world. 2019-2020 in Philadelphia and environs gives occasion for lots of points to view to be explored, lots of themes of be considered, lots of drama, lots of laughs, lots of seriousness, and lots of silliness.

Thank goodness for this abundance and range. If anyone’s bored in Philadelphia this academic year, it’s his or her own darned fault.

Going over it all is a labor in itself, even if a labor of love. So much triggers anticipation, and even impatience. Pieces by young playwrights such as Rachel Bonds (Goodnight Nobody at McCarter in January), Douglas Williams (Ship at Azuka in March, and Erlina Ortiz (Minority Land at Theatre Horizon, however briefly, in October) make one as eager as how Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium’s Tina Brock will stage and perform in William Inge’s 50s melodrama, Come Back, Little Sheba. In terms of timely, there’s the Walnut Street Theatre’s production of Gore Vidal’s 1964 opus, The Best Man arriving just as it becomes clear which candidate is likely to face Donald Trump in the Presidential election.

Another sign that Philadelphia is growing as a theater is the Kimmel Center’s decision to offer its Broadway Series productions for two weeks instead of the one-and-out that has been its habit.

Some of this has to do with Hamilton being in town. As part of the Kimmel subscription, it must have boosted sales to the point a second week was warranted.

Hamilton, the overriding hit of this decade, nay century — No mean feat considering The Producers and The Book of Mormon also debut in the 21st — has the honor and distinction of ushering in the season, opening in late August at the underused and marvelous Forrest Theatre and staying to mid-November.

Comics, known as well for performance as writing, are represented with Steve Martin’s Meteor Shower at the Walnut’s Independence Studio Theatre on 3 in early September, and Tina Fey’s musical of her 2004 movie, Mean Girls, inspired by her days at Upper Darby High School, at the Academy of Music, in November.

The local playwright with most national standing, Bruce Graham, sees his drama about aging, The Outgoing Tide, playing at the Montgomery Theatre in Souderton, a week before his latest work, Gary (not to be confused with Taylor Mac’s Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus), debuts at the Eagle Theatre in Hammonton, N.J.

Star actresses abound in the beginning of the season with Mary McDonnell playing Gloria Steinem in McCarter Theatre’s Gloria: A Life by Emily Mann, Kim Wayans playing Her in Bristol Riverside Theatre’s An Act of God by Colbert head writer David Javerbaum, Bebe Neuwirth appearing in Adam Bock’s A Small Fire for Philadelphia Theatre Company, and Stefanie Powers coming, with Harry Hamlin, in Delaware Theatre Company’s One November Yankee by Josua Ravetch. Of course, in terms of local stardom, there’s also Jennifer Childs and Grace Gonglewski working together in Jen Silverman’s The Roommate for 1812 Productions, and Marcia Saunders pairing with Tom Teti in The Outgoing Tide in Souderton.

Rather than trying to spot highlights and trends, it might be wiser to take the coming season month-by-month and point out what stands out as particularly special…. read the full month-by-month breakdown at >>>

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