Stage Notes Connecticut Theater News & Reviews

Stage Notes: 'Madea's Farewell' coming to Oakdale; Westport announces 'In the Heights'

‘Madea’s Farewell Play Tour” is coming to the Oakdale in Wallingford March 19.

Tyler Perry announced in October that he would be retiring his best-known creation, the outspoken sexagenarian Madea. Since Madea originated in a 1999 stage play, “I Can Do Bad All by Myself,” and Perry has since written 20 other plays for the character, the farewell couldn’t just consist of a final Madea movie. (That film, “Madea’s Family Funeral,” will be in cinemas in March.)

Tyler Perry’s stage plays have been a major theater phenomenon. Previous Madea plays have been seen at The Bushnell as well as the Oakdale. This tour will hit 40 huge theaters, some for multiple nights, between mid-January and mid-May.

Besides Tyler Perry in his signature role, “Madea’s Farewell Play” stars Tamela Mann, David Mann and Cassi Davis Patton. Tickets can be found at oakdale.com.

‘In the Heights’

Westport Country Playhouse announced all but one of the shows in its 2019 season a few weeks ago. That remaining show — the one that will open the season April 23 through May 11 — will be “In the Heights.” The Lin-Manuel Miranda/Quiara Alegria Hudes musical will be directed and choreographed by Marcos Santana, who performed in “In the Heights” on Broadway in 2008. Santana was recently in the Broadway production of “On Your Feet!”

“In the Heights”’ national tour passed through Connecticut a few times. Once the performance rights trickled down to small theaters and school theaters, it was performed throughout the state, including at many high schools. Playhouse on Park staged it earlier this year, and Bridgeport’s Downtown Cabaret Theatre did it in 2017.

Lin-Manuel Miranda was writing “In the Heights” while he was attending Wesleyan University in Middletown. The show’s original director, Thomas Kail, also went to Wesleyan. Hudes was brought onto the project to help structure the book; while “In the Heights” was enjoying Broadway success in 2008, Hudes became the Aetna New Voices playwright-in-residence at Hartford Stage. In 2011, Hartford Stage premiered Hudes’ “Water by the Spoonful,” which went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Westport Country Playhouse has done a number of musicals since Mark Lamos (formerly of Hartford Stage) became its artistic director in 2009, including “Camelot” in 2016 and “Man of La Mancha” this past September. “In the Heights” is the “youngest” musical the theater has attempted during Lamos’ tenure. Details at westportplayhouse.org.

Long Wharf variety

Long Wharf Theatre has several comedy and children’s theater events on its schedule besides its five remaining mainstage shows. There are three touring shows from the TheaterWorks USA children’s theater company: “A Christmas Carol” Dec. 8, “Freedom Train” Jan. 17 and “The Cat in the Hat” April 6. New Haven-based cabaret performer/teacher Anne Tofflemire performs a “Midwinter Night’s Dream” holiday cabaret show Dec. 13 to 16. The Second City touring company is at the Long Wharf April 11 to 13, followed by a younger comedy institution, the Upright Citizens Brigade Touring Co., June 7 and 8.

Those Second City and UCB tours can be worth catching. A Second City stop at the Long Wharf in 2011 featured Cecily Strong a year before she joined the cast of “Saturday Night Live.” longwharf.org

Pre-show announcement of the week

“Power down your devices completely. Every actor in the show is wearing a pacemaker.” — a prerecorded Jenn Harris, setting the manic mood for “Christmas on the Rocks” at TheaterWorks

Federal showtunes

In honor of “Hamilton” opening at The Bushnell Dec. 11, the Dec. 9 episode of Stuart Brown’s “On Broadway” radio show will be “all-presidential,” featuring showtunes from “1776,” “How to Steal an Election,” Garry Trudeau’s “Rap Master Ronnie,” “Clinton the Musical,” and other shows associated with U.S. presidents. Brown intends to remind us that presidents pop up in all kinds of shows: FDR is in “Annie,” Teddy Roosevelt is in “Newsies” and Irving Berlin put a song called “I Like Ike” in his musical “Call Me Madam.”

Brown notes that “Alexander Hamilton may not have reached the presidency, but a number of characters in the musical ‘Hamilton,” such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe did ascend to our nation’s highest office.” The Dec. 9 program is similar to one Brown did in Nov. 2016, just prior to the presidential election.

The prospect of a prez-song radio show had me scouring my own theater archives for obscurities. There’s a president onstage in Connecticut right now: Abraham Lincoln in the play-with-music “A Civil War Christmas” currently at Connecticut Repertory Theatre, but no soundtrack for that show has ever been released. Strangely, Frank Wildhorn’s musical “The Civil War” does not let Lincoln sing. There was a Kennedy musical (“JFK: A Musical Drama”) in 1997, not to mention the song “Bobby and Jackie and Jack” in Stephen Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along.” Does “Trump the Musical,” an off Broadway show from 2007, when The Donald did not yet have political aspirations, count?

Read: Here’s exactly how the ‘Hamilton’ ticket lottery works »

The most important —and funniest — musicals about presidents have to be “Of Thee I Sing,” the first musical to win the Pulitzer Prize, and its sequel “Let Them Eat Cake.” But the president in those is fictional.

Will Stuart Brown dare play songs from “Assassins?” Stay tuned. “On Broadway” airs Sunday evenings from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on WRTC, 89.3FM. The episodes are archived at broadwayradioprograms.com/podcasts.html.

The ‘Come From Away’ tour cast

“Come From Away” began its national tour in October and is now in the midst of a six-week engagement in Los Angeles. The tour comes to The Bushnell April 30 through May 5.

There are a few familiar faces in the cast: Emily Walton from “Darling Grenadine” at the Goodspeed’s Norma Terris Theatre and “The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls” at Yale Rep, Danielle K. Thomas from “Crowns” at Long Wharf, Adam Halpin from “The Last Five Years” at Long Wharf, Kevin Carolan (Roosevelt in the national tour of “Newsies”), Becky Gulsvig from the first national tour “Beautiful,” Harter Clingman from the first national tour of “Peter and the Starcatcher”) and Julie Johnson from the national tour of “Memphis.” (Nice to have “Come From Away” cast members who are used to traveling.) Also in the cast: Nick Duckart, Chamblee Ferguson, Christine Toy Johnson, James Earl Jones II, Megan McGinnis, Marika Aubrey, Jane Bunting, Michael Brian Dunn, Julie Garnyé, and Aaron Michael Ray.

“Come From Away” was developed in Canada but had a significant early reading at the Goodspeed Festival of New Artists in 2013. bushnell.org/ComeFromAway

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