Hartford Stage has a new Community Access Pilot Program that lets groups from three local nonprofits see several shows at the theater. The inaugural batches of theatergoers are drawn from the Generations program of the Community Renewal Team, the Salvation Army Marshall House Family Shelter and Walk in the Light Church of God. The groups have already seen “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and will soon see “A Christmas Carol” and “Feeding the Dragon.” This is reportedly the first time that some of them have ever attended a play. Hartford Stage plans to continue the program next season with fresh participants. Details at 860-520-7114 and hartfordstage.org/community-outreach/.
More Musicals At The Oakdale
The Oakdale in Wallingford began as an outdoor arena-style theater in 1954, presenting touring musicals and its own children’s theater shows. When the Oakdale was renovated as a year-round indoor 3,800-seat venue in 1996 it competed directly with The Bushnell and New Haven’s Shubert for first national tours of Broadway shows. The Oakdale’s subscription-based “Family Broadway Series” lasted around a decade, bringing in tours of everything from “Rent” to “Contact” to “Urinetown” to “The Producers.”
While The Oakdale has always been known for elaborate stage shows, from major children’s theater tours to dance spectacles such as “Riverdance,” musicals haven’t been a big part of that mix for years now.
That appears to be changing. Last year, the Oakdale booked the national tour of “Wicked” for a successful two-week run. “Kinky Boots” visited for a weekend last month. Now “Dirty Dancing — The Classic Story on Stage” is due Feb. 2 and 3.
The tours the Oakdale is getting these days have played elsewhere in the state already. The crowd-pleasing “Kinky Boots” and “Dirty Dancing” have both been seen not just at The Bushnell but at the Shubert and the Waterbury Palace besides.
James Bozzi, the vice president of marketing for Live Nation Connecticut, has worked at the Oakdale since 1991.
“‘Wicked’ broke all all kinds of records,” Bozzi says, which led to a fresh interest in musical theater. He sees shows like “Kinky Boots” (with its Cyndi Lauper score) and “Dirty Dancing” (studded with ‘80s pop hits) “concert-adjacent,” meaning that they appeal to those who come to the Oakdale for music concerts.
“We’re booking what makes sense,” Bozzi says. “This year we also got back in the ‘Nutcracker’ business,” he adds, with the Dec. 2 stop of the national tour of Moscow Ballet’s “Great Russian Nutcracker.” “The Oakdale is a great place to do all of this.”
Cast In “Steel”
Here’s who’s in “Steel Magnolias,” coming Jan. 10 to 28 to Playhouse on Park in West Hartford: Broadway veterans Dorothy Stanley as Clairee and Peggy Cosgrave as Ouiser, Playhouse on Park regular Susan Slotoroff (“Unnecessary Farce,” “I Hate Hamlet”) as Shelby, Jill Taylor Anthony as Truvy, Jeannie Hines as M’Lynn, and Liza Couser as Anelle. (These are the roles respectively played by Olympia Dukakis, Shirley MacLaine, Julia Roberts, Dolly Parton, Sally Field and Daryl Hannah in the much-different 1989 film version of Robert Harling’s play.)
Stanley’s long Broadway resume includes the original Broadway productions of “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” “High Society” and “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway.” Among her many New York credits, Cosgrave was in a 1994 New York production of Edward Albee’s “The Sandbox” directed by Albee himself. Locally, she’s performed at Westport Playhouse, Seven Angels, the O’Neill Center and elsewhere.
“Steel Magnolias” is directed by Susan Haefner, whose Playhouse on Park credits include “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” and “Little Shop of Horrors.” Details at 860-523-5900 ext 10, playhouseonpark.org.
Lombardo Times Two
“Tea at Five,” Matthew Lombardo’s one-woman play about Katharine Hepburn that premiered at Hartford Stage in 2002 and played off Broadway in 2003, has reportedly been optioned for a Broadway run.
You might recall that Lombardo’s Dr. Seuss-inspired contribution to the holiday one-act anthology “Christmas on the Rocks” at TheaterWorks has been pulled from that show because the playwright was expanding it into a full-length piece.
Well, he did it: “Who’s Holiday!” opened off Broadway Nov. 28 at the Westside Theatre Upstairs. The opening followed a year-long legal fight with the Dr. Seuss Enterprises, which charged copyright infringement.
The September court ruling by Judge Alvin Hellerstein makes for fun reading, describing Lombardo’s play in careful detail: “Throughout the Play, as she shares her history, Cindy-Lou drinks hard alcohol, abuses prescription pills, and smokes a substance she identifies as ‘Who Hash,’ which she describes as just ‘like a prescription’ which keeps her in check to avoid a ‘conniption’."
In declaring “Who’s Holiday” an acceptable parody, Judge Hellerstein assessed the Seuss side’s claim that “the Play will cause harm to its licensing market for derivative works and that it has previously authorized a number of Grinch derivative works that expanded on the character of Cindy-Lou Who and included ‘themes and jokes aimed at adult audiences’.”
Hellerstein opines that “even accepting these allegations as true, as I must on a motion for judgment on the pleadings, defendant makes no allegations that it intends to authorize a parody containing references to bestiality, drug use, and other distinctly ‘un-Seussian’ topics.” Hoo-boy!
The Humana Festival
The Humana Festival of New American Plays held annually by the Actors Theatre of Louisville in Kentucky is one of the oldest and greatest new-works festivals in the country. It’s had the same sponsor, Humana Inc. for its entire four-decade-plus existence. (Hint, hint, Hartford insurance companies — there are longterm benefits to supporting regional theaters.)
The Humana Festival can provide a major leg-up to playwrights just starting their careers. Frequently, those anointed writers have come from the Playwriting program at the Yale School of Drama. This year is no exception: Susan Soon He Stanton (“we, the invisibles”), and Dipika Guha (a co-writer of “You Across from Me”) are on the recently announced six-play slate for Humana’s 42nd season, Feb. 28 through April 8. Another of the playwrights, Mark Schultz (“Evocation to Visible Appearance”), has a master’s degree from the Yale Divinity School and a certificate from the Yale Institute of Sacred Music.
Also on the Humana schedule: “God Said This” by Leah Nanako Winkler, “Marginal Loss” by Deborah Stein and “Do You Feel Anger?” by Mara Nelson-Greenberg.
Among the many plays that premiered at the Humana Festival and later had productions in Connecticut: José Rivera’s “Marisol,” Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ “Appropriate,” Kimber Lee’s “brownsville song (b-side for tray),” the Rude Mechs ensemble’s “The Method Gun” and Charles Mee’s “Big Love.”