Two Lancaster theater companies had audience joy in mind as they planned 2022-23 seasons that kick off this month and next. The three different series of shows happening in the Fulton Theatre, which started up its new season last week, and Prima Theatre, which opens its season in mid-October, both have a fair number of shows aimed at uplifting their ticketholders.
Part of the inspiration for that is the COVID-19 pandemic experience we’ve all shared, which has kept some people away from live theater for a couple of years, and has resulted in canceled performances.
“In picking the season, as an arc, I wanted to do something that was celebratory and grand, energetic — it’s not eclectic — but it will hopefully make people say, ‘Yes, I’m going to go to the theater and I’m going to have a great time, and I’m going to be lost in these stories,’” the Fulton’s executive artistic producer, Marc Robin says.
“What we were recognizing, going into the new season, is we’ve all been through these collective experiences of the last few years,” says Mitch Nugent, Prima Theatre’s executive artistic producer. “So much loss and change. And this season really was an opportunity to remind us what joy feels like again, and help us reflect on our times and ultimately celebrate all that weaves humanity together.”
Here’s a rundown of the two theater companies’ 2022-23 offerings.
One of the things the Fulton staff learned as it came back last season after its pandemic closure was how to communicate quickly with ticketholders when illnesses in a cast — governed by Equity union contracts — caused a last-minute cancellation.
“As much as everybody wants to think we’re on the other side (of COVID-19), we’re not,” Robin says. “And no matter what plans you make, you still have to be ready to change them at a moment’s notice.” Attendance has been down somewhat because of the pandemic, Robin says. But the new season is designed to give audiences something to come back for.
Starting with the second main-stage show of the season, “White Christmas,” there will be a new location for the box office before performances, Robin says. While the box office will operate where it is during the week, before matinee and evening shows it will stand where the Stroopwafel counter is now located in the lobby; Stroopies will be sold in the main bar area instead.
That’s to allow those coming in either the old doors or the newer ones in the renovated theater to have convenient access to the box office.
— “Kinky Boots,” Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.
This musical, about a young man who seeks to save his family’s shoe factory and finds the answer in niche footwear after he meets a drag performer named Lola, was the show the Fulton had to close suddenly in March 2020 because of the pandemic.
“Being able to bring ‘Kinky Boots’ back is huge for us,” Robin says, “because when the pandemic happened, it’s the show we thought we’d be reopening. But after a while, you lose the rights.”
This time around, the show “is a co-production with Maine State Music Theatre (in Brunswick, Maine), our 10th, actually,” Robin says. “Usually we send our shows to Maine and only once before have we ever started the co-production in Maine to come to us.
“It’s going to be that full-circle thing for us,” Robin says. ”It’s the most incredible show.”
At 5 p.m. Monday, Sept. 26, at the S. Dale High Leadership Center at Greenfield, 1861 William Penn Way, Lancaster, there will be discussion of the issues of identity, sexuality and acceptance raised by the show, with “Kinky Boots” cast members. It’s a collaboration between Greenfield and the Fulton’s IDEA initiative (its Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility committee). Register at lanc.news/GreenfieldIDEASeries.
— “White Christmas,” Nov. 17 to Dec. 31. Robin says this show, based on the 1954 movie featuring Danny Kaye, Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen, has been requested by audiences since the Fulton staged it 10 years ago.
The show follows two showbiz war veterans and a sister act as they work to create a show that will help out their former commanding officer who owns an inn; the couples fall for each other in the process.
It’ll be “a big, huge song-and-dance show,” Robin says. “We haven’t done a dance show since we reopened.”
— “The Play That Goes Wrong,” Jan. 19 to Feb. 12. This play, which is currently running in New York, is about “a theater society putting on a murder mystery,” Robin says. “But nothing works. Everything that can go wrong literally goes wrong.” Doors break. A main character faints, and, without an understudy, the stage manager must step in.
Robin compares the laughs from the show to those he’s experienced watching the film “Airplane!” or “The Carol Burnett Show.”
“It’s a title nobody knows, but it’s probably going to be that sort of sleeper hit of the season, because it’s just so funny,” Robin says. “And who doesn’t want to have a good time?”
— “The Wiz,” March 2-26. This musical, a retelling of L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” through the lens of Black culture, will be directed by E. Faye Butler, who played Oda Mae Brown in the Fulton’s 2016 version of the musical “Ghost.”
“All I can say about it is, if we get the cast we want, it’s going to be one of the most electric performances on our stage — the singing, the dancing, the spectacle of it,” Robin says. “It isn’t the classic ‘Wizard of Oz,’ and it isn’t the Diana Ross movie. … The score is out of this world. It’s as close to a musical theater rock opera as you can have.”
— “Titanic,” April 20 to May 21. The musical tells the story of the people aboard the doomed ocean liner in 1912.
“It’s just sweeping and epic and important and stunning and operatic and heartbreaking,” Robin says. “You get caught into it the way you did with the movie. … It makes you care about the people.
“Interestingly enough, we’ll be doing it on the anniversary of the sinking,” Robin says. The Fulton is doing a more intimate, 20-person version of the show, in contrast with the 46-person spectacle people may have seen on Broadway.
— “Grease,” June 15 to July 16. Since the last time the Fulton staged the show in 2006, Robin says, audiences have been asking for the return of this popular musical about the romance of Danny and Sandy set amid male and female high school gangs in the late 1950s.
“ ‘Grease’ is done a lot,” Robin says. “It’s the right time for us. And especially this season. It was supposed to close the season when we had COVID, so to be able to bring it back, because I know people were really disappointed.”
The Ellen Groff Studio Series
Robin notes two changes to the Ellen Arnold Groff Studio Series of plays presented in the smaller Tell Studio Theatre upstairs at the Fulton. Weeknight performances will be at 7:30 p.m. (with Friday and Saturday shows remaining at 8 p.m.), “and this year it’s assigned seats just like the main stage.”
— The season started Thursday with the premiere of “For Colored Boyz on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown When Freedom Ain’t Enuff,” running through Sept. 25. This play by Bryan-Keyth Wilson, which won the Fulton’s 2021 Festival of New Works: Stories of Diversity competition, was supposed to only get a one-night workshop this year. It’s a “choreopoem” through which five African American men talk about their lives as they navigate issues such as disenfranchisement and racism.
Robin says the play was so good and well received that it deserved a full production.
“The play is just so important and necessary,” Robin says. “For me, it’s required reading. … It will provoke very serious conversations, hard conversations and necessary conversations.”
“Doubt,” Feb. 9 to 26. The play by John Patrick Shanley, set in the 1960s, tells of a nun who suspects a progressive new parish priest of child abuse. The play was previously performed on the main stage, Robin says, “but we’re doing it doing it … in a 99-seat space where you can’t get away from it. You’re going to be in it. It’s going to be the Groff series directing debut of Jeff Coon,” who is a development staffer and frequent performer at the Fulton. Coon previously played the priest in a production of “Doubt” in Philadelphia.
— “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” March 23 to April 16. Robin calls this Edward Albee play, about a professor and his wife whose dirty laundry is aired in front of a younger couple on a boozy night at home, “one of the greatest classic American pieces in our canon. And sadly it’s just as timely today as when it was written all those years ago. And I think the opportunity for our audiences to go through the journey of ‘For Colored Boyz…’ and ‘Doubt’ and ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,’ they should feel empowered, enlightened, angry, all of that.”
— “Shear Madness,” May 18 to June 11. This comedy is the antidote to the first three Groff series offerings, Robin says. “It has nothing to do with the other three. … It’s fun, it’s engaging, it’s a murder mystery that takes place differently every night based on the audience; they vote on who the killer is, and I think there’s seven different endings.” The mystery takes place in a beauty parlor.
These musicals are all an hour long, mostly presented on Saturday mornings and are aimed at kids and their families.
— “A Christmas Carol,” Nov. 26 to Dec. 23. “We rotate our Christmas titles every three years, so we’re bringing back ‘A Christmas Carol,’ ” Robin says. “It’s very, very close to the original (Charles Dickens) story, very faithful.”
— “Rapunzel,” March 11 to March 25. This is the latest musical adaptation by Robin and his husband, Curt Dale Clark, artistic director of Maine State Music Theatre. “It’s very diverse, not at all Brothers Grimm, based literally on the Greek mythology which inspired it,” Robin says. “It’s very empowering; there’s no damsels in distress. … It’s whimsical and a huge comedy.”
— “The Very Fractured Fairy Tale of Robin Hood,” April 29 to May 20. This new adaptation of the Robin Hood legend, by frequent Fulton performer Randall Frizado, had a recent tryout at the Maine theater, “and it was terrific,” Robin says. “It’s a Pennsylvania and Fulton premiere.”
— “The Wizard of Oz,” June 24 to July 15. This is a one-hour version of the classic MGM musical movie, Robin says.
The Fulton performs in the Ed and Jeannie Arnold Center for the Performing Arts, at 12 N. Prince St., Lancaster.
For information and tickets, visit thefulton.org or call 717-397-7425.
The theater company’s season of four shows includes concert experiences, a cabaret-style musical and a Stephen Sondheim favorite.
The season had previously followed the regular calendar year, Nugent says. “We had talked for years about going to a standard regional theater schedule but really never had the timing to do it.” Because of changes forced by the pandemic, he adds, the company took the opportunity to make the change to a fall-to-summer model.
One new item at the theater this year is that all ticketholders will get a complimentary beverage at the bar.
The offerings this season are:
— “Here Comes the Sun: A Timely Beatles Tribute Concert,” Oct. 14-15, 21-22 and 28-29.
“We’re getting further clarity of what audiences want from Prima and what our place is in the community, amidst the rich diversity of offerings that Lancaster now has,” Nugent says. At Prima, audiences want “experiential concerts and boutique musicals.”
“ ‘Here Comes the Sun’ is in that experiential concerts model,” he says. “It’s something we’re developing, where we’re using this timeless music that all of us know and love — The Beatles — and utilizing it as perhaps a foundation and a catalyst for reflections on current events. So there are video projections related to what’s going on in our world, and using ‘Yesterday’ to ‘Imagine’ tomorrow. There are great tunes that are about revolution and pain and strife, and there are tunes from them that point to what the world could look if we put it through the filter of love.”
“It’s an antidote to the darkness of the past few years,” Nugent says. “It’ll have a full band and (its singers will be) some of the region’s beloved local talent.”
— “Illumination: An Immersive Holiday Concert,” Dec. 2-3, 9-10 and 16-17.
Planning this show “helped us reflect on how can we immerse folks in an experience that is not just Instagrammable, but not necessarily following the mold of (fitting into) the box of theater or the box of concert,” Nugent says.
“ ‘Illumination’ came from imagining a room filled with hundreds of candles in the round, with a baby grand piano at the center of the room, Pentatonix-style caroling, moving instrumental solos and to be immersed in all of that in this sophisticated holiday experience,” he says.
The evening will offer a mix of solo and group numbers, with fresh arrangements and a cappella singing, featuring singers including “American Idol” finalist Alyssa Wray, and musicians including Washington, D.C., pianist Ellington Carthan.
— Also, on select dates in December, Prima’s LanCarolers can be booked to come to people’s homes or workplaces on a trolley, with singers performing holiday music — again, a cappella Pentatonix style — with lights and amplification.
“As simple it may seem, for folks who can’t get out to theaters,” such as some in retirement communities, Nugent says, the singers can be sort of a secret surprise in their lives.
— “Into the Woods,” March 10-11, 17-18 and 24-25. This popular show, with music and lyrics by Sondheim and a book by Franklin & Marshall College alumnus James Lapine, the show explores what happens to Brothers Grimm fairy tale characters after they think they’ve gotten their “happily ever after” — marrying the prince, climbing the beanstalk for treasure and more.
“With all that’s going on in our world, and the success of the (recent) Broadway revival” of the show, Nugent says, “it just seemed so dang timely.” The stripped-down version of the show Prima is planning is an exploration of “what it could look like if it was brought to its core essence of great storytelling, those gorgeous lyrics, some powerhouse singers and some intimate direction.”
— “The Mom Show,” May 5-6, 12-13 and 19-20. Prima is creating this show to “explore all that is being a woman in this world,” Nugent says.
“We’re talking to numerous female writers and creatives, and we’re exploring some of those true stories (of motherhood), with songs that work in tandem with these stories that are heartfelt and hilarious about one of the hardest jobs in the world,” he says. “We’re calling it a cabaret of matriarchal proportions.”
— In addition, Prima’s “Stage Brawl,” a good-natured performance competition among local civic leaders — stepping outside their comfort zones to perform songs or stage or movie scenes — returns on Feb. 4, 2023.
Prima is at 941 Wheatland Ave. in Lancaster.
For information, visit primatheatre.org or call the box office at 717-327-5124 or email email@example.com.
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