Whether you're looking to catch the latest Broadway blockbuster or witness the world premiere of a local novice's creation, Madison's many theater companies have it all. From the retro to the risqué, the sheer volume and diversity of productions in the 2010-2011 theater season is staggering. You're bound to find something that appeals to you and gives you good return for your entertainment dollar.
Everyone knows that musicals put butts in the seats, and Overture Center has no fewer than six to choose from, including the mega-hit Wicked (Sept. 22-Oct. 10), which kicks off the season with a three-week run. The rest of Overture's Broadway lineup includes two musicals based on movies - the Mel Brooks monster hit Young Frankenstein (Feb. 22-27), and Legally Blonde (April 5-10), which made a star of Reese Witherspoon.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the production, there will be a new staging of Les Misérables (May 10-15), one of the most beloved musicals of all time, and the season will be filled out with runs of Drumline Live! (Nov. 27-28) and the perennial favorite Mamma Mia! (Jan. 28-30), based on the music of ABBA.
But it's not only Overture that will be singing and dancing. Madison Theatre Guild will present The Spitfire Grill (Dec. 3-18) in partnership with Four Seasons Theatre, telling the offbeat story of a woman whose plan to raffle off her roadside diner leads to unexpected events. On a completely different note, TAPIT/new works Ensemble Theater's all-youth cast will broach an uncomfortable subject (albeit from a humorous angle) with Bullying: The Musical (spring 2011).
If participation is up your alley, University Theatre presents the cult classic The Rocky Horror Show (March 3-5) in the Wisconsin Union Theater. If that's not quite outré enough for you, the Bricks Theatre produces an original musical called Gorilla Man (April 7-16), which explores the perils of puberty through the lens of horror movies and glam rock. The story revolves around a young man whose mother has to break the news to him that he is a bloodsucking monster. And you thought your adolescence was rough!
Encore! Studio for the Performing Arts gets in on the musical act with Found Money (Nov. 5-20), an original piece by local writer KelsyAnne Schoenhaar that's described as "a farcical romp of riches and extortion."
A special event at Wisconsin Union Theater sees the touring production of Spring Awakening (Oct. 23-24), a rock musical adaptation of a provocative 1891 German play that poignantly celebrates the journey from youth to adulthood. It is presented by Four Seasons Theatre with University Theatre, but Four Seasons branches out on its own for The Great American Songbook Cabaret (March and April 2011), showcasing songs by Jerome Kern, George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter and many more. Four Seasons will finish its season with Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady (Aug. 19-21, 2011), featuring a full pit orchestra and dazzling Edwardian costumes.
Laboratory Theatre will produce Really Rosie (Nov. 5-20), a musical adaptation of Maurice Sendak's series of books about a little girl, with Carole King providing the melodies. And while they may not be traditional musical forms, StageQ's Make Me a Song (Sept. 2-25) and Madison Theatre Guild's revival of Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins (May 6-21) should sufficiently satisfy all lovers of the Euterpean muse.
If drama is more your style, you'll find a plethora of choices, starting with Forward Theater Company's Going to St. Ives (March 3-19), a political morality tale from award-winning playwright Lee Blessing. It's about the unusual relationship between an English doctor and the mother of a brutal African dictator.
Sticking with the political theme, Bricks Theatre presents Neil LaBute's stirring post-9/11 drama Mercy Seat (Feb. 9-19), while University Theatre offers a stripped-down adaptation of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (Oct. 1-16), which seems ominously appropriate for the current state of economic affairs.
Strollers Theatre kicks off its season with the literate drama 84 Charing Cross Road (Sept. 9-Oct. 10), familiar to most people through the movie that starred Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins. Shifting gears, Strollers then plans to send shivers down your spine with the gothic classic Jekyll and Hyde (Oct. 28-Nov. 20). Strollers' season concludes with The Seafarer (March 31-April 23), a much-lauded play by Irish writer Conor McPherson that details the alcohol-fueled relationship between two brothers.
If you're on the lookout for laughs, you could do worse than check out Forward's In the Next Room or the vibrator play (Nov. 4-21). Written by Sarah Ruhl, it was a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize and will undoubtedly create some buzz. Forward also slates Moonlight and Magnolias (April 28-May 15), a madcap romp that goes behind the scenes of one of the most famous book adaptations in history, the filming of Gone with the Wind.
Madison Theatre Guild invites you to Dinner with Friends (Feb. 18-March 5), a take on modern social mores, while Strollers (in much the same vein) will ambitiously assay Alan Ayckbourn's triptych masterpiece The Norman Conquests (Jan. 13-Feb. 12). University Theatre will showcase Valparaiso by Don DeLillo (Oct. 22-Nov. 6), an intellectual comedy about an ordinary business trip that turns into a major misadventure, and will also pull that old chestnut You Can't Take it With You (April 15-30) out of the fire.
Speaking of chestnuts brings us to the Christmas season, which will be irreverently celebrated with Bricks' version of the David Sedaris satire Santaland Diaries (Nov. 26-Dec. 22), based on the author's own experience working as a Macy's elf.
On a more traditional note, Madison Theatre Guild will perform a radio-play version of A Christmas Carol (Dec. 4-Dec. 18), originally broadcast in 1938 on the Campbell Playhouse and starring Orson Welles. American Players Theatre stages its first cold-weather production, O. Henry's classic The Gift of the Magi (Nov. 28-Dec. 19), adapted by APT's James DeVita. And Children's Theater of Madison will present A Wonderful Life (Dec. 10-23), replacing the company's own version of the Dickens tale with Frank Capra's immensely popular story of a man who gets a second chance.
CTM will also have its usual excellent slate of plays for younger audiences, including new productions of Most Valuable Player (Feb. 19-27) and The Little Prince (April 8-17). CTM's Little Stars series, which features younger performers, will include Goodnight Moon (Oct. 16-24), based on the much-loved book of the same name, and The Surprising Story of the Three Little Pigs (March 5-13). Overture also presents a series of plays for children, including Lemony Snicket's The Composer Is Dead (March 6).
The classics (ancient and modern) will not go unnoticed, with productions of The Glass Menagerie (Madison Theatre Guild, Oct. 1-16), Eurydice (Sarah Ruhl's adaptation of the Greek tragedy for University Theatre, April 1-16), True West (Bricks Theatre, Sept. 16-25), and a special treat for Shakespeare lovers, a performance of The Comedy of Errors (Feb. 3) by the Acting Company at the Wisconsin Union Theater. The Acting Company was formed by John Houseman and Margot Harley in 1972 and is one of the most respected touring repertory companies in the United States.
If you're looking for something a little less staid, try the subversive Mercury Players Theatre comedy You've Ruined a Perfectly Good Mystery! (Sept. 9-25). This is an expanded version of a short piece that was originally performed in the most recent Mercury Blitz! and is an audience-interactive affair, with every performance being dictated by suggestions from the house.
Alternatively, if your taste runs to the dark side, try Mercury's hallucinatory drama The Velvet Sky (Oct. 8-23). Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who writes for the Fantastic Four comic book series (that should give you a hint), the play explores the boundaries of what is real and imaginary. And let's not overlook Broom Street Theater, whose season promises such delights as Invisible Boy (Sept. 24-Oct. 31), which examines sexual abuse; A Woman on Paper (Aug. 6-Sept. 12), about the love affair between Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz; and Yoo-Hoo, Rent-a-Cop and the Ambulance Chaser's Bitch (Nov. 12-Dec. 19), a comedy about the state of the American workplace.
StageQ will continue its role of bringing works portraying the LGBT experience with a production of Last Summer at Bluefish Cove (March 10-March 26). The play is considered a landmark event in lesbian theater and tells the moving story of a woman who must come to terms with her impending death while dealing with the throes of her first lesbian affair. Also on StageQ's slate is The Dying Gaul (Dec. 2-18), a tense drama about a three-way love affair that has tragic consequences.
New plays are a staple of the Madison theater scene, and several companies will present original works along with the ones previously mentioned. University Theatre will have two premieres. Across A Distance (Sept. 17-25), written by Nick Lantz with music by Scott Gendel (both recent UW Madison graduates), is a multimedia, bilingual performance piece that explores our need to communicate with each other in seemingly impossible circumstances; it features a professional deaf actor. Finishing out the UT fall season will be The Yum Yum Room (Nov. 12-20), an Australian drama that delves into the mysteries, the beauty and the pain of first love. The play is part of the Theatre for Youth program and has not hitherto been performed in the States.
Another play new to Madison audiences is Not Always a Parent (March 25-April 16), to be produced by Encore. It deals with the perils that befall the parents of children with disabilities, and given Encore's unique status as Wisconsin's only theater group for actors with disabilities, this promises to be an authentic experience.
As always, emerging playwrights will be showcased at the city's various new play festivals. These events act as a compendium of all that local theater has to offer, be it writers, actors or directors, and their continuing popularity speaks to the adventurousness of Madison performers and audiences alike. They include Mercury's Blitz! series (also known as Smackdown, June 10-11), Stage Q's Queer Shorts 6 (May 26-June 4), and Encore's Acts to Grind III (Sept. 10-18). In a similar vein, Forward will conclude its season with a monologue festival dubbed The Love That Changed My Life (Feb. 11-12), in which playwrights from across the country contribute monologues about love in all its incarnations.
This cross-section of the upcoming season is only the tip of the iceberg, of course. To get the whole story, you should visit the websites of the various companies for more information. But be warned: The hardest part about your theater experience in Madison will be deciding how to choose from so much variety.