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In the landscape of Madison's 2009-10 theater season, there is one glaring gap: no Madison Rep.
As local theatergoers will recall, this year Madison Repertory Theatre folded in the midst of its 40th anniversary season, scrapping its final two shows. The loss is still fresh.
Over the years, the Rep delivered some powerful theater experiences. I still recall David Adkins' performance as a German transsexual in I Am My Own Wife several seasons ago and, more recently, Chicago's Amy J. Carle as a frazzled restaurant worker in Fully Committed. The Rep gave professional actors both local and national a place to showcase their craft.
But theater audiences of all stripes still have plenty of choices for a night out. While it's virtually impossible to list every upcoming show - and schedules are bound to change somewhat - here's a look at some highlights of what the next theater season has to offer.
For splashy Broadway shows, Overture Center is still the place to be, with The Lion King setting up camp for a month-long run (April 27-May 23). Though it's hardly new at this point - it won the Tony for Best Musical over a decade ago - it should attract plenty of families with young children.
Grease (Dec. 8-13) will feature American Idol winner Taylor Hicks as Teen Angel, and Rent (Jan. 26-31) returns with Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp, who originated their roles on Broadway and also starred in the film version.
While financially strapped Overture is no doubt hoping that these familiar musicals will bring in healthy ticket sales, I can't help but wish there were something current and quirky on the menu, like last season's The Drowsy Chaperone or Avenue Q.
But Overture isn't the only place to catch a musical. Music Theatre of Madison has two shows on tap for the new season: The Wild Party and Yours, Anne (dates pending).
MTM performed another show by Wild Party creator Andrew Lippa last summer: the poignant, heartfelt john & jen. The Wild Party promises to be utterly different. It's a debauched Jazz Age tale about a vaudeville dancer and her lover, based on the book-length Joseph Moncure March poem from 1928. Yours, Anne, Enid Futterman and Michael Cohen's 1985 show, is a musical retelling of the story of Anne Frank.
Over at the Bartell Theatre, Madison Theatre Guild's varied season includes the popular 1950s-themed revue Forever Plaid (Oct. 9-14) and a musical version of The Spitfire Grill (May 7-29), about a young woman who starts life over in rural Wisconsin after her release from prison.
Four Seasons Theatre will co-produce Little Women: The Musical (Oct. 10-25) with Children's Theater of Madison, as well as tackle Fiddler on the Roof on its own (Aug. 20-22, 2010).
Looking for a locally written musical? Mercury Players Theatre will produce In the Beginning: A Musical Comedy (Sept. 4-26), which sounds like it picks up where creators Catherine Capellaro and Andrew Rohn left off with Blasphemy! in January. Billed as "an unholy trinity of musical comedies," Blasphemy! took on right-wing politics, evolution vs. creationism and other charged topics, though its quality was uneven.
While Blasphemy! was not exactly kid-appropriate, In the Beginning is aimed at ages 6 and up. Whether the wee ones will grasp a spoof exploring the origins of humanity remains to be seen, but this duo's wacky, freewheeling style should help.
Over on the UW-Madison campus, University Theatre takes on Stephen Sondheim with a production of Into the Woods (April 16-May 1), which racked up several Tony Awards in 1988 and enjoyed a Broadway revival in 2002.
The 2009-10 season boasts plenty of work by local writers. The recently formed Forward Theater Company will present a staged reading of David Schanker's Kiritsis (March 20). Schanker, who by day clerks for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, based his drama on the real-life story of Tony Kiritsis, who held another man hostage for 63 hours in 1977.
As usual, virtually everything at Broom Street Theater is written by company members. The season includes a sequel to Brian Wild's successful 2007 sci-fi comedy Dork Side of the Moon. Likable dorks Scott and Corey return in Tales From the Dork Side (Sept. 25-Nov. 1) to find themselves in a haunted house, pursuing an inheritance from a mysterious uncle.
Other Broom Street shows include McBeth (Nov. 13-Dec. 20), Callen Harty's modernized twist on Shakespeare's classic, and Doug Reed's Minglewood Blues (Aug. 7-Sept. 13), described as "a journey through the dark heart of the Anthology of American Folk Music."
Encore! Studio for the Performing Arts, also known for writing its own material, offers revivals of some of its earlier shows, like Acts to Grind II (Sept. 12-19), which features one-act plays, and Tidings From the Seasonally Affected (Dec. 10-19), plus a brand-new play. Encore will premiere 9-1-1 (March 19-April 3), a series of comedy shorts about living with a disability.
Mercury Players offers Rob Matsushita's 1SW33T R1DE (Nov. 20-Dec. 12), a psychological thriller set after a devastating act of violence.
TAPIT / new works presents Help Wanted!, a comedy slated for spring 2010. Written and choreographed by the TAPIT team of Danielle Dresden and Donna Peckett, it's described as "a comedy about the search for security, true love or at least a decent part-time job."
The Overture Center's line-up for children is filled with productions adapted from children's literature, like Stellaluna (Oct. 17), based on Janell Cannon's popular and wildly adorable book about a little fruit bat.
There's also A Year With Frog and Toad (Feb. 21), based on Arnold Lobel's beloved amphibians, and Seussical (March 7). Rounding out the kids' schedule are Room on the Broom (Nov. 15), which looks like a post-Halloween treat, and The Man Who Planted Trees (April 10), with a hopeful and environmental message.
Children's Theater of Madison also goes the page-to-stage route with the aforementioned Little Women: The Musical; its annual production of A Christmas Carol (Dec. 11-23); Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse (Feb. 13-21), based on the much-loved book by local author Kevin Henkes; and Narnia (April 9-18), based on C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia series.
At University Theatre, local actor and director Pete Rydberg helms The Revolt of the Beavers (Oct. 3-11), a musical taking place in Beaverland, where industrious beavers are imprisoned by the nasty Head Beaver. Revolt has its origins in the WPA's Federal Theater Project and debuted in New York City in 1937. Given the success of UT's last Theater for Youth Production, the delightfully avant-garde Falling Girls, Revolt is worth checking out.
Looking for something new, rather than time-tested shows? Overture's Playhouse Series (in part an attempt to fill the void left by the Rep) will include Milwaukee Repertory Theater's production of Almost, Maine (April 22-May 9), which debuted off-Broadway in 2005. John Cariani's bittersweet play about love won and lost has "date night" written all over it.
Set in a fictional Maine town, the play stars Milwaukee actor Gerard Neugent (who was terrific several years ago in Madison Rep's Lobby Hero) and is directed by Laura Gordon, who is presently helming American Players Theatre's excellent Old Times. With that pedigree, it sounds like a winner.
Elsewhere in the Overture Center, Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps (part of the Broadway series) features a cast of four playing over 150 characters. While Hitchcock's film version was released in 1935, the stage version of the comedy/thriller (Nov. 10-15) is much more recent and snagged a Tony nomination for Best Play in 2008.
Forward Theater Company will offer the Midwestern premiere of Christopher Durang's Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them (Dec. 30-Jan. 17), only six months after the end of the play's successful run in New York. It promises to be a thought-provoking comedy about not-so-funny subjects like torture and what Americans are willing to tolerate from their government.
Venerable community theater company Strollers Theatre tackles one of David Mamet's recent plays, Romance (Aug. 13-Sept. 5), a courtroom comedy that opened off-Broadway in 2005. While Mamet is not everyone's cup of tea, he's undeniably one of the country's most acclaimed contemporary playwrights.
The Bartell's newest resident company, Laboratory Theatre, will stage the David Sedaris crowd-pleaser The Santaland Diaries (Nov. 27-Dec. 19), about the humorist's ill-fated stint as a Macy's Christmas elf.
For a sampler of new plays, try Mercury Players' Mercury Rising: A New Play Competition (April 16-May 1), a selection of eight one-act plays with the accent firmly on comedy; or its 11th annual Blitz, in which plays leap from page to stage in only 24 hours. It doesn't get any newer than that.
StageQ's Queer Shorts 5 (June 10-19) is also a good place to catch recent one-acts. As this popular show celebrates its fifth anniversary, it will include some favorites from the first four years, plus new material.
If the classics are more your style, look for Aquila Theatre's production of Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy of the People (March 11-March 28) in the Overture Playhouse. The New York-based touring company asks the question "What are you willing to risk for the truth?" with its take on the 1882 drama about a whistleblower who exposes an environmental hazard.
For more Ibsen, check out University Theatre's staging of the Norwegian playwright's The Lady From the Sea (March 19-April 10), a psychological drama exploring the constraints faced by 19th-century women.
University Theatre also offers Molière's The Imaginary Invalid (Oct. 23-Nov. 7). UT will give it an unexpected twist by producing it in steampunk style, which should be lots of fun. The comedy, Molière's last work, concerns a miserly hypochondriac who wants his daughter to marry a doctor so he can get free medical care.
There's not much Shakespeare on tap, unless you count the Reduced Shakespeare Company's The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) (Dec. 3-20) at Overture, in which three actors will whip through all of the Bard's works in a mere 97 minutes.
Finally, if it's edgy stuff you're after, local theaters have you covered.
Though it's not officially part of the 2009-10 season, Mercury Players is reprising Tearoom Tango (Aug. 7-15), its look at anonymous bathroom sex (see preview, this page). Mercury's season proper includes Stephen House's Vin (Oct. 9-24), about two disadvantaged youths and a grifter they encounter, and Fat Men in Skirts (Jan. 22-Feb. 13), a dark comedy with themes that run the gamut from cannibalism to incest.
Mercury's also staging Poona the Fuck Dog and Other Plays for Children (May 28-June 12), which is, well, not for children.