The theater scene’s summer months are typically serenaded by well-worn “sure thing” musicals. Early fall repertory, meanwhile, marks a turn away from such dependable hot-weather fare. But this September, three of our top rep companies are offering a slight twist on that seasonal formula: musicals new, substantial or reimagined. The not-quite-so-sure thing.
The new comes first: the American Repertory’s Waitress, a world-premiere. Considering that this production is already slated for a Broadway run next spring, and that the music is composed by pop star Sara Bareilles––a Grammy nominee for the hit Love Song and a celebrity judge on NBC’s The Sing-Off ––you’d think this show fits the very definition of a theatrical sure thing. On top of that, it’s directed by Diane Paulus, a Tony winner for Pippin.
Yet it’s also true that Bareilles has never written for a play before, and that Waitress is based on an intimate indy 2007 dramedy by the late Adrienne Shelly––a successful little heart-tugging film, but no blockbuster.
Any world-premiere musical is bound to have some kinks to work out, so the ART wisely scheduled more than two weeks of previews. The press opening was August 19, and the production, starring Tony-winner Jessie Mueller, runs now through September 27.
The Huntington Theatre Company kicks off the fall off with A Little Night Music, Stephen Sondheim’s musically-audacious retelling of Ingmar Bergman’s romantic comedy, “Smiles of a Summer Night.”
It’s not as if there haven’t been frequent revivals of Sondheim ‘s multiple Tony winner. Yet it is such thorny musical to pull off. The Mozart-inspired score –– with its complex meters, polyphony and the like –– is, to put it lightly, demanding. In the words of New York Times critic Clive Barnes, in 1973: “the music is a celebration of 3/4 time, an orgy of plaintively memorable waltzes, all talking of past loves and lost worlds.” Send in the Clowns is the famous hit.
Despite the Bergman source, and a Sondheim song called Everyday a Little Death, there’ll be no chess-games with the grim reaper at the B.U. Theater this fall. Night Music runs from September 11 to October 11.
The Lyric Stage is starting its season with My Fair Lady. The Lerner & Loewe classic, one of the greatest musicals of the 20th century, is practically a warhorse after 59 years, but here’s the novelty: the Lyric has a small stage, and this is one of the biggest, most scenic, majestic musicals in Broadway history. To fit this play into an intimate space, with a pared-down cast, is no mean feat. From the dingy slums of turn-of-the-century London to the hauteur of Ascot Racecourse, the sets of this Lady make more changes than Eliza Doolittle’s elocution. The Lyric has turned this kind of theatrical shrinking trick before, with Sondheim’s Into the Woods and Sweeney Todd.
This time around, veteran director Scott Edmiston has placed the musical not at the turn of the 20th century, but in the 1930s, the time of the Hollywood film version of “Pygmalion,” the George Bernard Shaw play that is “Lady’s” source. The Lyric production runs from September 4 to October 10.
Among September’s non-musical offerings, all at the Boston Center for the Arts: The Zeitgeist Theater revives Mart Crowley’s 1970 gay classic The Boys in the Band, (9/11 to 10/3). The play, once considered daring, now may be seen as a rare window into a distant world. Speakeasy is presenting last year’s Obie winning drama Appropriate, (9/12 to 10/10.) And Centastage is trodding the boards with a world-premiere, Academy Fight Song, (9/10 to 9/26). It’s set in the blood-thirsty jungles of American academia.