Stage Notes Connecticut Theater News & Reviews

The Goodspeed Announces Shows For 2017 Season

The Goodspeed Opera House season began with a musical written in the 1930s ("Anything Goes"), ends with a musical set during the 1920s and '30s ("Chasing Rainbows"), and had a show composed by Charles Strouse ("Bye Bye Birdie") in between.

Knowing a good programming strategy when it sees one, Goodspeed Musicals has just announced the six shows for its 2017 season. The main Opera House venue will have the 1920s-set "Thoroughly Modern Millie" April 21 through July 2, the 1943 Rodgers & Hammerstein classic "Oklahoma!" July 14 through Sept. 28 and "Rags" — the 1986 musical about Ellis Island immigrants by Strouse, Joseph Stein and Stephen Schwartz — Oct. 6 through Nov. 17, 2017.

The Norma Terris space in Chester (where the Goodspeed tries out new works) will be busier than it has been lately, with three shows scheduled: Zack Zadek's "Deathless," which muses on the concept of eternal life, June 2 through July 2; Daniel Zaitchik's "Darling Grenadine," which blends golden-age Hollywood musical styles with modern concerns, Aug. 18 through Sept. 17; and the new local-themed holiday show "A Connecticut Christmas Carol" by L.J. Fecho and Michael O'Flaherty Nov. 17 through Dec. 24, 2017. Interesting that two of the three Norma Terris shows are by triple-threat composer/lyricist/book-writer types.

Directors and casts have not yet been announced, but we have it on good authority that Rob Ruggiero is back at the Goodspeed after a season off to direct "Rags." Ruggiero, who's also the producing artistic director of TheaterWorks, will work with a new version of Stein's book for the show, adapted by David Thompson. Thompson's previous experiences as book-reviser include the long-running Broadway revival of "Chicago" and the Goodspeed's production of "Dear World" in 2000.

Goodspeed subscription packages are on sale. Details at 860-873-8668, goodspeed.org.

Too Cool For School

Dramatics magazine has published its annual list of the most produced high school musicals of the 2015-16 school year. The Educational Theatre Association surveyed 1,200 schools and arrived at this Top 10 list (actually a Top 11 list due to ties): "The Addams Family," "Mary Poppins," "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," "Cinderella," "Legally Blonde the Musical," "Grease," "Into the Woods," "The Little Mermaid," "Little Shop of Horrors," "Beauty and the Beast" and — for the literally minded — "High School Musical." Most of these shows have sanitized-for-schools scripts available ("Grease Jr.," "Legally Blonde Jr." et al.). The youth version of "Into the Woods" jettisons the original show's second act altogether. Still, kudos to those producing edgier fare such as "Little Shop" and "Putnam County Spelling Bee" (assuming they haven't cut the song "My Unfortunate Erection"). Connecticut's seen school productions of all these shows. Let's not forget, though, that intriguing choices by a few schools, such as "American Idiot" and "Rent," have gotten challenged and even canceled.

Where Are They Now?

Playwright Caroline V. McGraw, who graduated from the Yale School of Drama in 2012, is world-premiering "Ultimate Beauty Bible," at New York's New Ohio Theatre Oct. 25 through Nov. 19. The play, which follows the adventures of three employees of an upscale nightlife magazine, is directed by Stephen Brackett, who helmed numerous productions of Jonathan Tolins' "Buyer and Cellar" (including at Westport Country Playhouse). "Ultimate Beauty Bible" is presented by Page 73, a theater company that caters to "early-career" playwrights. Details at page73.org.

Hello Mabel

What do Julie Andrews, John Lithgow, Bernadette Peters, Steve Martin, Whoopi Goldberg and Nathan Lane all have in common? They've all written children's books. (What? They're all award-winning actors as well? What are the odds?!)

"Naughty Mabel Sees It All," co-written by Nathan Lane and his husband Devlin Elliott and illustrated by Dan Krall, was published this week by Simon & Schuster. The adventure, in which a cute little dog gets scared during a sleepover, is a sequel to last year's "Naughty Mabel." Nice that Lane got a little typing practice in, prior to appearing in "The Front Page" on Broadway.

Disenchantment Sets In

Connecticut has a theater venue for virtually every type of performance, but still tends to come up short in the "cabaret room" department. The state's casino's have smaller theaters that they put comedy acts in. New Haven's historic Lyric Hall is a lush, beautifully restored small theater in the classic cabaret style. Ridgefield Playhouse gets a lot of the solo concerts by Broadway stars.

But the lack of appropriate locations for certain types of shows remains clear when something like "Disenchanted" comes to town. The Bushnell put the show — a saucy, adult-minded parody of the Disney princesses phenomenon — in its smaller Belding Theater. Size-wise, it worked, though there was still a disconnect between the lush Bushnell surroundings and the bawdy, rumpled, raucous demeanor of "Disenchanted!"

The Bushnell was the very first stop on the first national tour for "Disenchanted!", which crisscrosses the country and finishes up in Elmira, N.Y., at the end of April. Firmly in the "girls night out" genre of shows marketed to groups of women who've just been out to a fun dinner and are ready to laugh and clap together, "Disenchanted!" is an aggressively styled takedown of Disney cartoon tropes. It's populated with princesses who have been given modern attitudes, sexual identities and foul mouths.

Some numbers were overly outrageous in how they swore and drew attention to female physical attributes. But there were also some profound, if occasionally perverse, social commentary to be had here, not to mention some big laughs. It was enchanting and illuminating to see a show that satirizes the exploitation and idealization of women during a week that was dominated by a certain presidential candidate's comments about a certain Miss Universe, not to mention a certain female comedian/TV host.

This is what cabaret-size shows do well — hit us where we live. May the Bushnell, and Connecticut, find more room for them.

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