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Stage Notes Connecticut Theater News & Reviews

Choate, Jorgensen Announce Seasons; 'I Hate Musicals' Cast

Among the countless buildings damaged in Texas by Hurricane Harvey was the renowned Alley Theatre in downtown Houston. The theater underwent a $46.5 million renovation just two years ago.

The Alley has numerous connections to theaters in Connecticut. Its longtime Artistic Director Greg Boyd (who has a home in Fairfield County) directed the pre-Broadway tryouts of Frank Wildhorn's "Jekyll & Hyde" and "The Civil War" at the Shubert in New Haven in the 1990s, brilliant productions of "Dear Brutus" and "Journey's End" at Westport Playhouse and "Travesties" at the Long Wharf (all in 2005), "Our Town" at Hartford Stage in 2007, and the Ryan O'Neal/Ali MacGraw tour of "Love Letters" that played The Bushnell last year.

Michael Wilson's adaptation of "A Christmas Carol" premiered at the Alley in 1990; Wilson brought it to Hartford Stage when he became artistic director there in 1992. The Alley Theatre website is alleytheatre.org.

Who Hates Musicals?

"I Hate Musicals — The Musical," the latest theater project by "Simpsons" writer/producer Mike Reiss to have its premiere in Connecticut, has a cast. It includes people who love musicals. The lead role of Alvin, a comedy writer, will be played by Stephen Wallem, known hereabouts for playing Judas/Padre in "Man of La Mancha" at the Long Wharf in 2007, Bob in "Beyond Therapy" at Westport Playhouse in 2011, and (getting obscure here, but Wallem was great in this) the captain in a reading of "Mighty Five's Infinite Funk Odyssey" at the Yale Institute of Music Theatre in 2012. On TV, Wallem was Thor Lundgren on "Nurse Jackie" and Randall on Louis C.K.'s "Horace and Pete."

The cast also includes the frequent Ivoryton Playhouse performer R. Bruce Connelly as well as Will Clark, Sam Given, Amanda Huxtable and Ryan Knowles.

The show features music by Walter Murphy — yes, the guy who turned Beethoven's Fifth Symphony into the disco hit "A Fifth of Beethoven" and now regularly contributes to the cartoon shows of Seth MacFarlane. "I Hate Musicals — The Musical" runs at the Ivoryton Playhouse Sept. 27 through Oct. 15. 860-767-7318 and ivorytonplayhouse.org.

About Jerry Lewis

Turner Classic Movies marathon notwithstanding, it's a sad Labor Day without Jerry Lewis, who died last month at the age of 91.

I saw Lewis onstage several times and met him twice. I had a memorably awful interview experience with him in Boston when he was on tour with "Damn Yankees," which you can read about at my old blog New Haven Theater Jerk. I watched his MDA telethon in its entirety every year, but partly to see how he would embarrass himself with some ill-chosen old-world sexist remark or out-of-touch patter.

I was outside Lewis' dressing room once at the Shubert in New Haven when the executive director of the theater was trying to convince his handlers to let me meet him by holding up a New Haven Advocate cover story I'd done titled "Jerry Lewis Is God." She used her thumb to cover up the article's subtitle, "Why Has He Forsaken Us?" At that performance, the backstage crew told me Lewis bet them that he do a tricky toss-and-catch bit with his walking stick. He missed the catch deliberately, then gave each of the crew members a $50 bill.

I learned at the New Haven stop on the "Damn Yankees" tour that Lewis would not attend a post-show reception unless he was presented with an award.

Unfortunately, attempts to capture Lewis' life for posterity fell short. (Dean Martin fared far better with Nick Tosches' world-class bio "Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams.") Lewis reportedly physically threatened his biographer Shawn Levy. Even a session with eminent podcast interviewer Marc Maron was cut cruelly short last year; the ailing Lewis bailed while the talk had barely begun to touch on his solo career. The best Jerry Lewis books remain his own: "The Total Filmmaker," "Jerry Lewis in Person" and "Dean and Me (A Love Story)."

Someone please do a Jerry Lewis stage tribute show now — he started the Rat Pack, you know, and how many live shows have been based on its other members?

Coming To Jorgensen

UConn's Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts has redesigned its website, and its 2017-18 season can be found on it. There are lots of concert events, too, but let's just mention some of the theater-friendly stuff here.

There's pianist/vocalist/musical theater encyclopedia Michael Feinstein with his Big Band Oct. 21, illusionist Jason Bishop Oct. 28, mezzo-soprano Joyce Didonato March 20, Broadway diva Kristin Chenoweth March 24 and Moscow Festival Ballet's touring production of "Giselle" April 5.

Dance events include Compagnie Herve Koubi Oct. 24 (less than a week after the troupe plays the Quick Center in Fairfield) and Dorrance Dance Nov. 15. Comedians Billy Gardell (Oct. 7) and John Mulaney (Nov. 30) are coming in the fall. Touring children's theater shows include "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood Live!" Oct. 8, "Mr. Popper's Penguins" Feb. 25 and "Erth's Dinosaur Zoo Live" March 18. 860-486-4226, jorgensen.uconn.edu.

Choate Season

Theater shows coming to Choate Rosemary Hall's Paul Mellon Arts Center during the 2017-18 season include an Oct. 13 appearance by Theatre of the Oppressed NYC. The company, founded by New Haven native Katy Rubin, was part of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas this past summer. They do activist theater about social issues, based on the techniques of Augusto Boal.

On the dance tip, there's the Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE troupe returning to Choate Jan. 19.

For kids, there's the TheatreWorks USA rave-up of "Pete the Cat" Oct. 7 (the tour will also play the Warner Theatre in Torrington May 30) and the ArtsPower adaptation of "Harry the Dirty Dog" March 25. The Wallingford Symphony Orchestra is doing a showtunes concert, "On Broadway!" March 4.

School shows at Choate this season include two that were scripted by Tony Kushner: "The Illusion" (an adaptation of Pierre Corneille's "L'Illusion Comique") and his translation of Adolf Hoffmeister's libretto for Hans Krasa's Holocaust-era children's opera "Brundibar." The premiere of Kushner's version of "Brundibar," with a design by Maurice Sendak, was at the Yale Repertory Theatre in 2006.

The "Fringe Festival" of student-created plays and films is Feb. 8 and 9. The spring musical is "Bring It On: The Musical," May 17 to 19. (If you don't remember it, this was the stage version of the popular cheerleader movie series, concocted by an all-star musical theater team of Jeff Whitty, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Tom Kitt and Amanda Green.) Details at 203-697-2423, choate.edu/artscenter/

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