TheaterWorks’ 2018 gala fundraiser on June 16 will celebrate Rob Ruggiero’s 25th year with the theater. Ruggiero, now TheaterWorks’ producing artistic director, began there as a director. The star of his first show there — “Imagining Brad” — was Connie Shulman, now known for playing Yoga Jones on “Orange Is the New Black.” Shulman will be a special guest at the gala.
Another special guest will be Christiane Noll, who starred in TheaterWorks’ 2016 production of the musical “Next to Normal.” The evening is billed as “an intimate musical evening celebrating Rob (featuring songs Rob wants to hear).”
The 8 p.m. concert is preceded by “VIP cocktails and dinner” in TheaterWorks’ Hoffman Studio space and followed by a 9:30 p.m. afterparty “with great desserts,” according to the theater. Tickets range from $75 to $250. Details at 860-986-7457 or dina@ theaterworkshartford.org.
New Season At Playhouse On Park
West Hartford’s Playhouse on Park has announced its 2018-19 season, and it’s as diverse and well-attuned to West Hartford tastes as ever.
In recent seasons, the playhouse has reliably programmed a deft mix of contemporary dramas and comedies, 20th century classics and musicals.
As it did this season, Playhouse on Park will open and close its 2018-19 season with musicals. "Peter and the Starcatcher" — technically a play with music, based on the Peter Pan prequel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson — will fly Sept.12 through Oct. 14, directed by the Playhouse's Co-Artistic Director Sean Harris. Harris will also direct, and Co-Artistic Director Darlene Zoller will choreograph, the season-ending "The Scottsboro Boys," Kander and Ebb's dark musical based on a true incident of extreme racial injustice in 1930s Alabama, June 26 through Aug. 4, 2019.
In between those two music-filled shows are the classic mental health drama "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," directed by Ezra Barnes Oct. 31 through Nov. 18; the piano-bound two-person musical comedy mystery "Murder for Two," directed by Kyle Metzger Jan. 16 through Feb. 3; the Reign of Terror comedy "The Revolutionists" by Laura Gunderson Feb. 20 through March 10; stop/time dance theater's annual spring dance show, with a movie theme this year, March 27 through April 7; and "My Name is Asher Lev," Aaron Posner's adaptation of the Chaim Potok novel, April 24 through May 12.
Directors for "The Revolutionists" and "Asher Lev" haven't been announced. Gunderson has been the most produced playwright in U.S. regional theaters for the past two seasons, but has been woefully underproduced in Connecticut. Playhouse on Park staged a different Aaron Posner adaptation of a Potok novel, "The Chosen," in 2016. The frolicsome tour-de-force "Murder for Two" was previously seen in Connecticut at the Long Wharf Theatre in the summer of 2015.
Details of the 2018-19 Playhouse on Park season are at 860-523-5900 and playhouseonpark.org.
Where Are They Now?
George Salazar, who played the amiable DJ Skillit in “Raging Skillet” at TheaterWorks last year, has a great new album out. Based on a New York concert held last year, “Two-Player Game” finds Salazar singing a range of songs by composer Joe Iconis, who plays keyboards and sings back-up.
Salazar and Iconis worked together in the 2015 premiere of the musical “Be More Chill” at Two River Theater in New Jersey. (“Be More Chill” has become a cult sensation and is getting an off-Broadway production in July.) “Two-Player Game”’s title song is a “Be More Chill” tune, and “Michael in the Bathroom” and “I Love Play Rehearsal” are also on there. But so are Iconis’ two contributions to the TV series “Smash” (“Broadway, Here I Come!” and “The Goodbye Song”), “The Answer” from the recent garage-band musical “Black Suits” plus numbers from shows that haven’t even been staged yet. Salazar is a delightful singer, an excellent conduit for Iconis’ comical yet touching songs.
Derek Klena, who played Dmitry in “Anastasia” at Hartford Stage — and, until two months ago, on Broadway as well — is at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Mass., this month, starring in a new musical based on the Alanis Morissette album “Jagged Little Pill.” ART Artistic Director Diane Paulus is directing. Some musicals that premiered at the ART have gone on to Broadway, including “Waitress” and “Finding Neverland.”
John Doyle’s enchanting chair-and-basket Broadway revival of “The Color Purple,” which visited The Bushnell on tour this year, is getting seen again in September at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse. It replaces the new Andrew Lloyd Webber retrospective “Unmasked,” co-created by Doyle, which had “unforeseen scheduling issues.”
Tough that the TV series “Rise” has been canceled by NBC. That was a pretty sharp locally themed high school production of “Spring Awakening” they were working on, and I was hoping for them to do “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” or “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” in season two. If you want to see “Spring Awakening” in Connecticut, the Warner Theatre in Torrington is doing that Steven Sater/Duncan Sheik show June 16 to 24.
Frost Feted At Goodspeed
Theater producer Sue Frost will receive the Goodspeed Award for Outstanding Contribution to Musical Theatre, in a ceremony held as part of the Goodspeed Gala fundraising event June 9 at The Riverhouse at Goodspeed Station in Haddam.
Frost worked at Goodspeed Musicals from 1985 to 2005, originally as its line producer, then production coordinator and ultimately as its associate producer. She left the theater to co-found Junkyard Dog Productions, which has developed and produced the award-winning musicals “Memphis” and “Come From Away,” among others. (“Come From Away”’s national tour will be at The Bushnell in the spring of 2019.)
The Goodspeed Award has gone to producers (and to Goodspeed administrators) before; Gerald Schoenfeld and Michael Price each have one. But they’ve most often been given to writers and performers, from Ira Gershwin and Thomas Meehan and Stephen Schwartz to Tommy Tune, Chita Rivera and Kristin Chenoweth. For details on the gala, email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 860-873-8664 x368.
Where There’s A Will
Funny anecdote from Andy Propst’s 2015 biography of composer Cy Coleman, “You Fascinate Me So,” about when “The Will Rogers Follies” (currently being revived at the Goodspeed Opera House through June 21) was first getting written:
Originally announced as “Ziegfeld Presents Will Rogers,” the musical became known as “Ziegfeld Presents the Will Rogers Follies in early 1991; then a few months later, it was officially rechristened “The Will Rogers Follies.”
As [director Tommy] Tune recalled, ‘[book writer Peter Stone]’s original title just sounded so dry to me. I wanted to call it “At the Will Rogers Follies,” because I wanted it to be higher up in the ABCs”— the theater listings in The New York Times that alphabetize based on the first letter of a show’s title. “I also like it because it gave the title movement. And then Betty [Comden, the lyricist] said, in that dry way of hers, ‘Why not “During the Will Rogers Follies”?’ I laughed so hard I gave it up.”
The relationship between Will Rogers and god-like producer Florenz Ziegfeld in “The Will Rogers Follies” seems cantankerous. But when Ziegfeld passed away in July 1932, Rogers wrote (in papers later compiled as “The Autobiography of Will Rogers”): “Scores of comedians are not funny, hundreds of ‘America’s most beautiful girls’ are not gay. Our benefactor has passed away. He picked us from all walks of life, he led us into what little fame we achieved. He remained our friend regardless of our usefulness to him as an entertainer.”