Deborah Hedwall (Obie Award-winner for off-Broadway's "Sight Unseen") will head the cast of the world premiere of Christopher Shinn's "An Opening in Time" at Hartford Stage. Oliver Butler (founder and co-artistic director of off-Broadway's The Debate Society) directs the play — inspired by Shinn's hometown of Wethersfield. The production runs Sept. 17 to Oct. 11.
Also cast are Kati Brazda (Broadway's "A Moon for the Misbegotten"), Molly Camp (Broadway's "The Heiress"); Bill Christ (Broadway's "Born Yesterday"), Patrick Clear (Broadway's "Noises Off"), Mike Keller (off-Broadway's "Old Times"), Karl Miller (off-Broadway's "Marie Antoinette"), and Brandon Smalls ("Anthony and Cleopatra: Infinite Lives" at the International Fringe Festival).
The play is described this way: "Anne, a retired schoolteacher, moves back to the suburban town in central Connecticut which she left years before. She finds a number of things have been changed. Dunkin' Donuts franchises are everywhere; the local high school is putting on a production of 'Rent'; and a long-lost friendship suddenly appears in a new guise in this subtle and moving play about finding connections in a shifting world."
A Pulitzer Prize finalist for "Dying City," presented at Hartford Stage in 2009, Shinn is the winner of a 2005 Obie in playwriting and a Guggenheim fellowship in playwriting for his plays, which include "Four," "What Didn't Happen" and "Picked." Shinn's "Teddy Ferrara" opens at London's Donmar Warehouse next month as well. Information: www.hartfordstage.org.
Van Der Pol Stars
TV's Disney Channel star of "That's So Raven," Anneliese van per Pol, will play as Audrey in the musical comedy "Little Shop of Horrors" at the Sharon Playhouse Aug. 13-30.
Van der Pol played Chelsea Daniels for six years in the popular Disney Channel show. She also is a singer and has recorded several songs for the Walt Disney Co. She made her Broadway debut in 2007 as the final Belle in Disney's long-running "Beauty and the Beast" and appeared off-Broadway in 2009 in "Vanities." Van der Pol also acted in the 2010 vampire spoof film "Vampires Suck." In 2012, she played the lead role in the Arizona Theatre Company's production of the new musical "Emma."
Also in the Sharon cast are Ryan Vona (Broadway's "Once") as Seymour. Jennifer Werner directs and choreographs, with music direction by Eric Kang. Information: (860-364-7469) or www.sharonplayhouse.org.
Ivoryton's 'Memphis' Cast
Carson Higgins and Rénee Jackson star in Ivoryton Playhouse production of the musical "Memphis," which runs Aug. 5-30. The Ivoryton production is directed and choreographed by Todd Underwood (Playhouse's choreographer for "La Cage aux Folles" and "Dreamgirls"). Musical direction by Michael Morris. Also featured in the cast are Teren Carter and Jamal Shuriah.
Higgins' credits include the international tour of Green Day's "American Idiot" as St. Jimmy. He also was featured on "American Idol" (season 10).
The show's Tony Award-winning writer and co-lyricist, Joe DiPietro, will join the cast on stage for talk-back after the performance on opening night, Friday, Aug. 7. Information: 860-767-7318 or by visiting our website at www.ivorytonplayhouse.org
Edwin Sanchez to Twain House
Playwright Edwin Sanchez will discuss his first book, "Diary of a Puerto Rican Demigod," at the Mark Twain House & Museum on Wednesday, Aug. 12, at 7 p.m. The event will be moderated by Connecticut poet and writer Bessy Reyna.
Sanchez is a graduate of the Yale School of Drama, and was an Aetna Voices playwright in residence at Hartford Stage. His works "Clean" and "Diosa" were produced at Hartford Stage, and he contributed a segment to the acclaimed play anthology "Christmas on the Rocks" at TheaterWorks.
This is a free event, and is followed by a book sale and signing. Reservations recommended. Information: 860- 280-3130 or www.marktwainhouse.org.
Henry Rollins, Too
It's a busy late summer at the Mark Twain House. Poet-writer-musician-actor Henry Rollins will give spoken-word performances Sept. 14 and 15, at 7:30 p.m.. It will be one of only a few shows that he is doing this year and the only one east of Chicago. (The Sept. 15 show is sold out.)
After performing for the short-lived Washington D.C.-based band State of Alert in 1980, Rollins fronted the California hard core punk band Black Flag until 1986. Since Black Flag disbanded, Rollins has hosted numerous radio and television shows. He had recurring dramatic roles in the second season of "Sons of Anarchy," in the final seasons of the animated series "The Legend of Korra" as Zaheer, and has had roles in several films. Tickets are $45. Information: www.marktwainhouse.org and 860- 280-3130.
Young Shakespearean Company
Young members of the 2015 Imaginary Forces Ensemble of Shakespeare Academy @Stratford will perform in repertory their adaptations of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" and "Henry V" Aug.1-9 at 8 p.m. on the grounds of the former American Shakespeare Theater in Stratford. The performances mark the culmination of the theater training program's second season. A project of the Stratford-based charity The Mighty Quinn Foundation, Shakespeare Academy @ Stratford is headquartered on the grounds of the Shakespeare theater property in Stratford. Shows are performed in rep at 8 p.m.. On Saturday, Aug. 8, both shows will be presented in one day: "Henry V" will be presented at 3 p.m. and "Twelfth Night" at 8 p.m.
Graduates of last year's inaugural program, who have formed the 2015 Alumni Company, will perform a four-person "Romeo and Juliet" Aug. 8 at 6 p.m.
Sad news about the death of Oscar- and Tony Award-nominated actor-musician-singer Theodore Bikel, who died July 21 at the age of 91 in Los Angeles. Bikel originated the role of Captain von Trapp in "The Sound of Music" on Broadway and earned an Oscar nomination for Stanley Kramer's 1958 film, "The Defiant Ones." His first Tony nomination was in 1958 for "The Rope Dancers," and his second two years later was for "The Sound of Music."
In 2000, I interviewed Bikel in advance of the tour of "Fiddler on the Roof" that was headed to the Bushnell and I began by noting that the actor had played Tevye in "Fiddler" more than any other actor in a professional company, with more than 1,600 performances over the decades on Broadway and on tours around the world. (The number would finally add up to more than 2,000 performances.)
Here's an excerpt from the published story:
"I know America is very interested in numbers usually,'' says the 76-year-old. "But it's not how often you've done something or how many people have seen it. It's the quality rather than the quantity that I tend to emphasize. It's a bit of a disservice to just focus on the numbers.''
Still, it is informative for audiences to learn how an actor keeps a performance fresh under the pressure of constant touring.
"But that's what distinguishes a professional from an amateur,'' says Bikel, who lives in western Connecticut. "Amateurs can be good from time to time, but they don't maintain it. The key in keeping a performance fresh and alive is in putting yourself into a frame of what I call `first-ness.' It has to seem first, be first and be fresh. It's not the audience's fault that you've said the words before.''
Bikel played Tevye for the first time in 1967 on the musical's first national tour. "I felt then it was a role I was born to play,'' says Bikel. "Since that time, it has not materially changed at all.''
"I always felt Tevye was very much like my own grandfather Simon,'' he says, "so basically, I am playing him. My grandfather lived in a part of Eastern Europe that changed hands a lot. When my parents were born it was Greater Austria, then it became Romania, then it became Russia and now it's Ukraine. I used to visit him in the summers, and he died when I was about 9. My grandfather was in turn reverent and irreverent. His curiosity drove him to read books that were frowned upon by the religious community at the time. However, he was very much a traditional person as well. He managed to both keep tradition and break tradition.''
>>The U.S. House and Senate Appropriations Committees approved funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year — at $146 million, the same figure it has had for the past four years. The status of all appropriations bills is uncertain as Congress approaches its August recess.
>>Valerie Harper, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer more than two years ago, will perform in the musical "Nice Work If You Can Get It" at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Ogunquit, Maine, this month. But after Harper was admitted to a hospital on this week, the theater released a statement: “Valerie Harper was taken to a local hospital as a precaution before her July 29 evening performance.... after reporting that she was not feeling well. She is resting comfortably and will remain in the hospital for observation for the time being.”
Harper is expected play the supporting role of wealthy matron Millicent Winter who enters the production in the final scene. On Broadway, the role was played by Estelle Parsons. Sally Struthers, Joey Sorge, Amanda Lea LaVergne and James Beaman also star in the show. The run goes through Aug. 15.
>>Hartford Stage will hold local non-Equity auditions for non-speaking parts in the world premiere of "Rear Window" on Tuesday, Aug. 4, from 1 to 4 p.m. at Hartford Stage Rehearsal Studios, 942 Main St. in Hartford. Actors must be available for the full rehearsal and performance schedule beginning Sept. 26 and ending Nov. 15. Those interested in auditioning should email firstname.lastname@example.org/auditions for information and an appointment.
>>Danny Gardner, who was terrific in A Broken Umbrella Theatre production of the musical "Seen Change!" at New Haven's Shubert Theatre earlier this year, is cast in the Broadway revival of "Dames at Sea." Previews begin Sept. 24 and it opens Oct. 22 at the Helen Hayes Theatre. Randy Skinner directs and choreographs.
>>John Douglas Thompson (Hartford Stage's "Antony and Cleopatra") will star in the U.S. premiere of "Red Velvet" at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Mass., running Aug. 6 to Sept. 13. Lolita Chakrabarti's play, directed by Daniela Varon, centers on Ira Aldridge, who in 1833 was the first black man to play "Othello" as Parliament considered the Slavery Abolition Act. Recent performances for the Obie Award-winning Thompson include off-Broadway's "Tamburlaine" and "The Iceman Cometh." He also played Louis Armstrong in "Satchmo at the Waldorf" at Long Wharf Theatre. Information: www.shakespeare.org or 413-637-3353.
>>Connecticut Free Shakespeare will present an adaptation of "Mornings of April and May," a lighthearted, music-filled, cloak-and-sword comedy by Spain's Pedro Calderon de la Barca at Bridgeport's Beardsley Zoo's Peacock Pavilion Aug. 5 to 9 at 6 p.m. Admission is free. The zoo closes to visitors at 4 p.m, but will reopen at 5:15 before shows. The audience is advised to bring a blanket or chairs. Information: 203-232-8805 or 203-916-8066; or ctfreeshakespeare.org.
>>The National Theatre of the Deaf will perform an adaptation of Mark Twain's humorous short story "The Experience of the McWilliamses" on Sunday, Aug. 16, at 6 p.m. at the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford. The National Theatre of the Deaf will also perform with the actors from the Theatre Immersion Program, in the original show "The W-5: Stories Behind Who, What, Where, When, & Why." The Theatre Immersion Program is a new initiative from the National Theatre of the Deaf to provide equivalent theater training to deaf and hearing high school students. Tickets are $10. Information: 860-280-3130 and www.marktwainhouse.org.
>>Greg Reiner is the new director of theater and musical theater for the National Endowment for the Arts managing grants in theater and musical theater and representing the agency to the field. Most recently, Reiner was executive director of off-Broadway's Classic Stage Company, where he launched CSC's Musical Theater Initiative, the organization's largest fundraising campaign, and implemented new education programs such as a Teen Council and a Shakespeare scene and monologue competition. Before that, Reiner was founding executive director of Tectonic Theater Project in New York City.
Editor's Note: This story was changed from an earlier vision to reflect more information on Valerie Harper's condition.