The Long Wharf Theatre has finalized five of the six shows in its 2018-19 season. Given that the institution lost its artistic director abruptly in January (when Gordon Edelstein was dismissed due to sexual misconduct allegations), it’s especially impressive that it’s the first of the state’s big regional theaters to announce its next season.
It’s an actor-friendly season, with some grand roles. Two of the scripts were fashioned by actors. Cast sizes range from one to five.
First up, Oct. 10 through Nov. 4, is “The Roommate” by Jen Silverman, who gets around. Her “The Moors” premiered at Yale Rep in 2016, and CT Rep did her “That Poor Girl and How He Killed Her” this past October. Long Wharf had a public reading of her play-with-music “All the Roads Home” at its 2017 Contemporary American Voices Festival, also in October. I saw “The Roommate” when it premiered at the Humana Festival in Louisville, Ky., in 2015. It’s an odd-couple comedy with dark underpinnings, about two middle-aged women sharing some life-changing moments in their lives while bonding over their love for their children and an unorthodox business opportunity. Long Wharf’s production of “The Roommate” will have the same director as it did at the Humana Festival, and at the Williamstown Theatre Festival last year: Mike Donahue.
Next is “Paradise Blue” by Dominique Morisseau, Nov. 21 through Dec. 16. The drama, by the author of “Sunset Baby” (which TheaterWorks staged last year) premiered at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2015 and was produced last year in New York by the Signature Theatre. “Paradise Blue” is set in 1949, at a jazz club in a neighborhood of Detroit that’s on the verge of gentrification.
The third show, and the first of the two that will be staged in the Long Wharf’s smaller Stage II space, will be “Miller, Mississippi” by Boo Killebrew, Jan. 9 through Feb. 3. The play had its premiere last year at the Dallas Theater Center. It’s about a family named Miller living in Jackson, Miss., when the Civil Rights movement hits that city in the 1960s. “Miller, Mississippi” will be directed by Lee Sunday Evans, who directed a reading of the play at Long Wharf’s Contemporary American Voices Festival in 2016.
Back on the mainstage, there’s “Tiny Beautiful Things,” adapted by Nia Vardalos (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding”) from the book by “Wild” memoirist Cheryl Strayed. The play, running at Long Wharf Feb. 13 through March 10 (2019), had a notable production in December of 2016 starring Vardalos herself. “Tiny Beautiful Things” concerns Strayed’s experiences as an online advice columnist.
The second Stage II show is “An Iliad,” a one-person show adapted from Homer (yes, that “Iliad”) by Denis O’Hare and Lisa Peterson, March 27 through April 21, 2019. O’Hare is better known as an actor; he played Macbeth at Hartford Stage in 2000 and may be best known as part of the ensemble cast of TV’s “American Horror Story.” Peterson is a revered regional theater director who recently became the associate artistic director of California’s Berkeley Rep. Peterson directed Julia Cho’s “Office Hour” at Long Wharf in January. O’Hare originally performed “An Iliad” himself, but will not be in it at Long Wharf.
The Long Wharf’s 2018-19 season will end with “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” May 1-26, 2019. Lucas Hnath’s play, which riffs off of Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 drama, was a hit on Broadway last year and is taking the regional theater realm by storm. (“Doll’s House, Part 2” made TheaterWorks’ short list for next season as well; TheaterWorks has yet to announce its season.) Long Wharf actually did Ibsen’s “Doll’s House,” in a present-day adaptation, in 2010.
Long Wharf offers subscription deals. Details at 203-787-4282, longwharf.org.
This item has been updated to include the addition of “Paradise Blue” to the 2018-19 Long Wharf season announcement, as well as information about who will be directing “The Roommate” and “Miller, Mississippi.” The performance dates of all the shows have also been added.
‘The Will Rogers Follies’ Is Cast
Goodspeed Musicals has announced the cast for its season-opening production of the underappreciated musical “The Will Rogers Follies — A Life in Revue,” which runs April 13 through June 21. It’s been known since the show was announced last fall that it would star David Lutken, who was Keith Carradine’s understudy during the original Broadway run in the early 1990s. Catherine Walker (the final Phoebe in “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” on Broadway) plays the cowboy philosopher’s devoted wife Betty Blake, while the great David Garrison (whose varied musical theater resume ranges from the Groucho role in “A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine” to Snoopy in “Snoopy! The Musical” and businessman J. Bruce Ismay in “Titanic The Musical”) is Will’s father Clem. Also along for the big brassy burlesque ride: Brooke Lacy as Ziegfeld’s Favorite and Dewey Caddell as the aviator Wiley Post. The god-like offstage “Voice of Ziegfeld” will be provided by Broadway icon (and Fairfield Country resident) James Naughton. Will and Betty’s children are Ben Stone-Zelman (the child actor who’s done “Bye Bye Birdie” and “A Wonderful Life” previously at Goodspeed and is a veteran of “A Christmas Carol” at Hartford Stage) as Will Jr., Riley Briggs as Mary, Brendan Reilly Harris as Jimmy and Nathan Horne as Freddy.
Ensemble members include Michael Biren, Aaron Burr, Sarah Fagan, Kaitlyn Frank, Brad Frenette, Emily Jeanne Phillips, Kelly Sheehan, Karilyn Ashley Surratt, Borris York and Hartt School grad Caitlin Wilayto.
“The Will Rogers Follies” reunites director Don Stephenson and scenic designer Walt Spangler from the rethought “The Roar of the Greasepaint — The Smell of the Crowd” at Goodspeed’s Norma Terris Theatre in 2016. Kelli Barclay will choreograph. And boy, did they find the right costume designer for this sumptuous showgirl fashion showcase: Ilona Somogyi, whose recent Connecticut credits include “Anything Goes” at Goodspeed, “Cloud 9” and “Romeo and Juliet” at Hartford Stage and “Assassins” at Yale Rep.
Hartford Stage Casts ‘Age Of Innocence’
Broadway star Boyd Gaines will star as the Old Gentleman in Douglas McGrath’s new adaptation of Edith Wharton’s “The Age of Innocence” at Hartford Stage April 5 through May 6. Gaines won a Tony for the 1994 Broadway revival of “She Loves Me.” In Connecticut, you might remember him from “The Good German” at Westport Playhouse in 2003 or “On the Verge” at Yale Rep in 1991.
“The Age of Innocence” is directed by Doug Hughes, the accomplished New York director best known hereabouts for his five years as artistic director of the Long Wharf Theatre back in the late ’90s and early ’00s.
Sierra Boggess (from Broadway’s “The Little Mermaid” and “Princesses” at Goodspeed’s Norma Terris Theatre) will play Countess Ellen Olenska; Helen Cespedes (who’s worked with Hughes previously) will play May Welland. Andrew Veenstra (from the national tour of “War Horse”) will be Newland Archer. Haviland Morris (the “Sixteen Candles” film actress who starred in “Bad Dates” at Long Wharf) is Mrs. Archer.
Also in the cast are Darrie Lawrence as Mrs. Manson Mingott; Deirdre Madigan (from “As a Nightingale Sang” at Westport Playhouse) as Mrs. Welland/Mrs. Van Der Luyden/florist; Josh Salt as Thorley/Riviere/Dallas; Tony Ward as Mr. Van Der Luyden/Larry Lefferts/Letterblair; Nick Wyman as Julius Beaufort/Sillerton Jackson/Mr. Hickey. Most of the performers have extensive Broadway or off-Broadway credits. So does the playwright McGrath, who wrote the book for the musicals “Beautiful.”
There are also four Hartt students in “The Age of Innocence,” handling various small roles: Sara Norton, Daniel Owens, Sara Schwab and Alessandro Gian Viviano.
That’s 14 people in the cast — large for a stage play, but not for one that’s adapting a Wharton novel where a thriving society is required. Details at hartfordstage.org.
Jerry Rojo R.I.P.
Jerry Rojo, a nationally renowned set designer and professor emeritus of drama at the University of Connecticut, passed away Feb. 27. During his long tenure at UConn, he served as head of the drama department from 1978 to 1985. He began teaching at the university in 1961. He was 83.
In collaborations with the experimental director Richard Schechner, Rojo was a pioneer in “environmental theater,” which blurred the boundaries between the stage and the audience.
He co-authored a seminal book on modern theater design, “Theaters, Spaces, Environments” with Schechner and Brooks McNamara.
Besides designing and/or directing numerous shows for UConn’s Nutmeg Theater (now called Connecticut Repertory Theatre), Rojo oversaw both the school-year and summer shows at the Nutmeg while he was department head. He designed sets for many other Connecticut theaters as well, including Stamford Theatre Works, The Producing Guild, Trinity College, Judy Dworin Dance Company, Wesleyan University, SummerStage and Silhouette Dinner Theater.
Rojo’s most famous set was for The Performance Group’s historic immersive-theater 1969 New York production of “Dionysus in 69,” which consisted of two wooden towers, with the actors and audiences coexisting on the towers’ platforms. That set was recreated in full for a 2009 revival of the show by Texas theater troupe Rude Mechs. “Dionysus in 69.” Another of Rojo’s influential Performance Group designs was for Sam Shepard’s “Tooth of Crime” in 1973 — the set was made to be taken apart and reassembled for each scene, with the audience following the actors around the space.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, Rojo designed a dozen shows for the progressive Wilma Theater in Philadelphia.
Rojo’s designs were included in gallery exhibitions. He received an Obie Award, a Drama Desk Award, a Barrymore Award and other honors.