Fall Theater Preview

The treacherous Lady Macbeth. The incurably green Nellie Forbush. The sinister Mack the Knife. Not one, but two Ebeneezer Scrooges, one singing and dancing, one not. The imperiled Susy Hendrix. The boisterous Max Bialystock. The rambling Sissy Hankshaw. These memorable characters, and dozens more will take the stages of the South Sound’s rather impressive roster of theaters this fall. From the Lakewood Playhouse to Washington Center, from the professional to the amateur and all in-between, theatergoers will find themselves a thrill.

The season kicks off at the Lakewood Playhouse, celebrating their 70th anniversary. The anniversary presents go to the audience though, in the form of a brand new air conditioning unit and the presentation of the musical Lucky Stiff. This farcical show follows the adventures of the unassuming Harry Witherspoon, an English shoe salesman set to inherit a fortune, providing he survives his week-long vacation in Monte Carlo with his uncle’s corpse. Yes, you read that right. Don’t ask, it’s a farce.

After the inspired lunacy of Lucky Stiff, the Playhouse season takes a dark turn, presenting Shakespeare’s Macbeth. This tale of megalomania and betrayal gave the world one of the great characters in the English language, the conniving Lady Macbeth. The South Sound and its surroundings are blessed with a group of fine Shakespearean actors, many of whom summer at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. Shakespeare plays are a rare thing in our area, and you can bet that the actors will be chomping at the bit for a part in the supposedly-cursed “Scottish Play”.

The Lakewood Playhouse will close 2009 with a production of A Christmas Carol. The Playhouse is keeping the wraps on this one, as it promises an original adaptation of Dickens’ classic staged with the Playhouse in mind. Another surprise for Lakewood Playhouse fans comes hard after the New Year, as Managing Artistic Director Marcus Walker and Associate Managing Artistic Director Scott Campbell, better known as the brains behind the Playhouse, will direct and star in a a production of Greater Tuna, both an affectionate look at Southern culture and an attack on the same. The trick is that Campbell and Walker will – as is the standard for the Tuna Trilogy – will play all 20 characters themselves. This production will be a treat, as both men are accomplished performers, but typically seen more behind the scenes.

The Tacoma Musical Playhouse is celebrating an anniversary as well, as this is the 15th year for the South Sound’s only fulltime musical theater. TMP will kick off the season in October with a production of the Rogers and Hammerstien classic South Pacific. This musical warhorse is a true masterpiece of craft, thrilling audiences for half a century. Songs such as “Some Enchanted Evening” and “There is Nothing Like a Dame” have become standards, and the TMP excels at the classic musical form.

To end the year, Tacoma Musical Playhouse is debuting a brand new show. The Slipper and the Rose: The Story of Cinderella is a retelling of the beloved fairy tale. Based on the British film from 1976, The Slipper and the Rose has been charming English stage audiences for the past few years, and TMP is bringing this lushly romantic musical to the South Sound. Featuring new songs and a fantastical set that brings the faux European land of Euphrania to life this show is a can’t-miss for fans of musical theater.

In Olympia there is a daring, a willingness to push boundaries not found in many small communities. The Olympia Little Theater starts the season with I Hate Hamlet, the story of a young actor named Andrew Rally, who finds himself haunted by the ghost of the great John Barrymore, stymied by his girlfriend, and struggling between the stage and the bright lights of Hollywood. I Hate Hamlet is at times uproariously funny, at times darkly bitter, and a gloriously fun show to start the 69th year of the OLT.

After the bitter tragicomedy of I Hate Hamlet, OLT presents the spine-tingling suspense of Wait Until Dark. The role of Susy Hendrix, the blind housewife who finds herself in the clutches of evil, won Audrey Hepburn the Oscar for the film adaptation. Susy, and the brutal, violent Roat, leader of the gang of criminals tormenting her, are iconic stage characters. The finale, when Susy casts the stage in darkness, is a not-to-be-missed moment.

To end the year, Olympia Little Theater will bring back its beloved WOLT radio play. A distinctly retro show, WOLT mimics the set of an old-time radio show. This year the Christmas classic Yes, Virginia is the show. The response to a little girl’s plaintive question to the New York Sun, the show follows Frank Church, the reporter tasked with answering. OLT does a bang-up job on these radio plays, and they make a wonderful holiday tradition.

Harlequin Productions, just shy of 20 years in existence, does things a bit different from most theaters. Instead of following the Fall-Winter-Spring season, the Harlequin starts in January and pushes on through the year. While most companies are taking the summer off and retooling, this company is in full swing with the dynamic stage show of the cult classic Rocky Horror Picture Show. While so popular it is being held over the entire summer, Dr. Frankenfurter and family will be sent off in time for Harlequin’s fall offerings.

Harlequin Productions barely take a break, opening with Stardust for Christmas, a holiday musical show with a twist. Set in the 1940’s, featuring a nightclub, gangsters and a card-game gone wrong, this show is a holiday classic made especially for those with low tolerance for holiday schmaltz.

The Washington Center for Performing Arts offers a wide variety of entertainment this season. Starting in October, the center ushers in the hypnotizing boundless energy of Natalie MacMaster a celtic music fiddler. The following month another female performer takes the stage. Linda Eder vocal talents have packed Carnegie Hall and Broadway’s Gershwin Theater.

The New Year is in full swing at as five-time Grammy winner Billy Joel and legendary director/choreographer Twyla Tharp have joined forces to create the spectacular new musical Time Magazine declares “The #1 show of the year!” The New York Times calls Movin’ Out “a shimmering portrait of an American generation.

The Broadway Center, proprietors of downtown Tacoma’s Pantages and Rialto theaters, always bring strong quality shows to the area. In October, the Center features the Tom Robbin’s counterculture classic Even Cowgirls Get The Blues. Sissy Hankshaw is born with enormous thumbs that she uses to best advantage from a young age: she begins a hitchhiking odyssey across the United States. On her adventures to far-flung places, she accumulates a collection of renegade women—cowgirls—who only want their fair share of the myth that is the Wild West.

While that plays at Theater on the Square, the Tony Award winning The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee comes to the Pantages, plus celebrated humorist David Sedaris does a reading at the Rialto. And that’s just in October! In November, the Center starts the holiday season with a bang, bringing a new telling of the story of Ebenezer Scrooge story, this one based on the hit Bill Murray film Scrooged, to celebrate Tacoma’s tree-lighting ceremony.

Theater in the South Sound is a vital, glorious part of the local culture. There will be a show for everyone this fall and winter, so go out and grab an aisle seat.

Justin Carleton