Connecticut's 2016 Stage Productions Featuring Small Casts, Big Ideas

Special to The Courant
2016 will be an intimate year at Connecticut theaters

It'll be an intimate New Year at local theaters. The shows opening this month at Hartford Stage, TheaterWorks and New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre have a grand total of four actors among them.

Dan O'Brien's "The Body of an American," continuing through Feb. 7 at Hartford Stage, is a two-character war drama based on events in the life of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Paul Watson. "The Lion," at Long Wharf through Feb. 7, is a heartfelt monologue with abundant guitar music, written and performed by Benjamin Scheuer. "Buyer and Cellar," continuing through Feb. 14 at TheaterWorks, is a comedy about a giddy fan charged with organizing all the stuff in Barbra Streisand's basement.

In March, TheaterWorks — an old hand at two-handers — will stage Laura Eason's two-person Internet drama "Sex With Strangers" March 11 through April 17. That same month, the Long Wharf and Hartford Stage are co-producing "Having Our Say," the two-woman show about the effervescent century-old Delany Sisters. The play is in New Haven Feb. 17 through March 13 and in Hartford March 31 through April 24.

The Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury world-premieres the one-woman confessional "Born Fat," based on the weight-loss experiences of Waterbury resident and entrepreneur Elizabeth Petruccione (portrayed by April Woodall), through Jan. 31. It's followed at Seven Angels by "Burning Desire" (Feb. 18 through March 13), which has a whopping three characters in it. One of them is the devil incarnate Lucifer, played by movie star Lou Diamond Phillips, who also wrote the play.

The Yale Repertory Theatre ends its season April 29 through May 21 with Samuel Beckett's "Happy Days," a two-person show centered on a woman buried up to her waist in a mountain of dirt. At the Rep, that woman is played by Dianne Wiest.

The biggest theater going the small-cast route is Hartford's Bushnell, which hosts Ali McGraw and Ryan O'Neal of the '70s romance "Love Story" in a touring production of the unrelated romance "Love Letters" by A.R. Gurney, Feb. 9 to 14.

The Westport Country Playhouse opens its spring-to-fall 2016 season with two resilient three-character plays about the visual arts, performed in repertory May 3-29. The plays are Yasmina Reza's arch comedy "Art" and John Logan's Mark Rothko biodrama "Red."

Dead celebrities make for engrossing solo shows. Frank Ferrante conjures "An Evening With Groucho" March 19 at the Ridgefield Playhouse, followed there April 29 by George Burns impersonator Alan Safier in "Say Goodnight Gracie." Hal Holbrook dons the waistcoat once again to become "Mark Twain Tonight," May 14 at the Garde Arts Center in New London.

Dancing and More

In other parts of the state, it's party time, with much larger groups of folks orating and emoting and even singing and dancing. "Annie" is at the Shubert in New Haven March 29 through April 3, while a whole different crowd of loud children are at the Bushnell April 26 through May 1 for the first national tour of "Matilda the Musical."

Goodspeed Musicals' Norma Terris Theatre in Chester offers the most intriguing musical revival of the season, Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse's "The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd," May 20 through June 26. The 1964 social-status song cycle is presented in the form of an old British Music Hall revue. The Goodspeed Opera House opens its 2016 season with the classic Cole Porter shipboard show "Anything Goes" April 8 through June 16.

Hartford Stage, which squired "Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder" to Broadway, world-premieres "Anastasia," a musical based on both the 1997 animated film and the live-action 1956 Ingrid Bergman movie about the lost daughter of Russian Emperor Nicholas II. It runs May 12 through June 12.

The Long Wharf, too, is ending its season with a new musical: "My Paris," with songs by French pop star Charles Aznavour and a script by Alfred Uhry.

New nonmusical plays on the boards range from a new Samuel D. Hunter small-town family drama, "Lewiston," at the Long Wharf April 6 through May 1, to the latest Hartbeat Ensemble community creation, "Gross Domestic Product," April 7 through May 1.

Some dramas have literary roots: Jen Silverman's new play "The Moors" (Jan. 29 through Feb. 20 at the Yale Repertory Theatre) is loosely based on the life and work of the Brontë sisters, while "The Chosen" (at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford Jan. 27 through Feb. 14) is adapted from a Chaim Potok novel. Bridgeport's Downtown Cabaret has a stage version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" Feb. 12-21.

William Shakespeare rules, with "Romeo and Juliet" at Hartford Stage Feb. 11 through March 20, the Oddfellows Playhouse children's theater in Middletown presenting "A Comedy of Errors" March 10-19 and the romance "Cymbeline" at the Yale Rep from March 25 through April 15. "I Hate Hamlet," Paul Rudnick's comedy about the ghost of an irascible Shakespearean actor, is at Playhouse on Park from Feb. 24 through March 13.

Concerts by showtune-savvy singers include Jane Monheit at Hartford's Infinity Hall Jan. 15, while the Ridgefield Playhouse has "An Evening With Joel Grey" on Feb. 19, Broadway diva Betty Buckley on May 7 and composer Stephen Schwartz on May 14. The Hartford Symphony Orchestra and the Goodspeed join up to "Celebrate the Best of Broadway" Feb. 20 at the Bushnell.

Large or small, acoustic or symphonic, live theater resonates loudly in Connecticut this year.

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