Renovated ‘Our Town,’ ‘Mamma Mia!’ and more headed to KC

08/24/2014 4:00 AM

08/24/2014 9:00 AM

Plenty of interesting shows are coming down the pike, but in fact the fall theater season has already begun. There’s so much theater in this town that some companies now choose to rev up in August.

To wit: Kansas City Actors Theatre already has its season-opener up and running. The Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds,” directed by Kyle Hatley, opened last weekend and runs through Aug. 31 at the Living Room, 1818 McGee St. The cast features two veteran actresses — Melinda McCrary and Joicie Appell — and three young performers — Zoe London, Daria LeGrand and Hannah Freeman.

KCAT doesn’t even take a breather before launching one of its most ambitious undertakings: dual productions of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.” Shakespeare’s tragedy begins performances Tuesday, and the Stoppard piece kicks off Thursday.

Jake Walker stars as Hamlet, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern will be performed by frequent acting partners Vanessa Severo and Rusty Sneary. Also in the shows are Walter Coppage, Cinnamon Schultz, Dianne Yvette and Scott Cordes, among others. The plays will be performed in repertory through Sept. 28 at the H&R Block City Stage at Union Station.

For all KCAT shows, call 816-235-6222 or go to www.kcactors.org.

Spinning Tree Theatre, meanwhile, inaugurates its fourth season with the mystery-comedy “Ghost-Writer,” which runs through Sept. 7 at Quality Hill Playhouse, 303 W. 10th St. This is the first time Spinning Tree has staged a show at Quality Hill. Each of the impressive cast members — Robert Gibby Brand, Katie Kalahurka and Jeanne Blau — is making his or her Spinning Tree debut.

Spinning Tree will continue its fall season with the acclaimed musical “Violet,” slated to run Nov. 6-23 at the Just Off Broadway Theatre, 3051 Central Ave. This will be the Kansas City debut for this piece, which ran on Broadway earlier this year.

For tickets, call 816-569-5277 or visit www.spinningtreetheatre.com.

If the programming at these two theater companies, neither of which has a permanent home, suggests a season of new, different and challenging material, that’s because that’s exactly what theatergoers will choose from in the next few months.

Kansas City Repertory Theatre opens its season with two major productions by two very different playwrights. Award-winning New York director David Cromer, who staged the Rep’s excellent 2009 production of “The Glass Menagerie,” returns to direct Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” according to his own artistic vision.

Cromer first staged Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1938 drama about the microcosm of daily small-town life within the vastness of a limitless universe at the Barrow Street Theatre in New York. He has subsequently mounted it for several regional theaters. The show runs Sept. 5-28 at the Spencer Theatre in the James C. Olson Performing Arts Center on the UMKC campus.

Then artistic director Eric Rosen stages Ayad Akhtar’s “The Who & the What,” which was produced in New York in June. Akhtar claimed the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for “Disgraced,” which opens on Broadway next month.

Akhtar’s play at the Rep examines conflicts in a Pakistani-American family in Atlanta when a hard-working patriarch’s daughter writes a novel that focuses on the role of women in Islamic culture. The piece received near-universal praise from the New York critics. The show runs Oct. 17-Nov. 16 at Copaken Stage, the Rep’s downtown venue at 13th and Walnut streets.

Later the Rep unveils its annual production of “A Christmas Carol” (Nov. 21-Dec. 26) at Spencer Stage and the second edition of what may well become an annual show, the irreverent “The Santaland Diaries” (Dec. 6-24) at Copaken Stage.

For tickets to Rep shows, call 816-235-2700 or go to www.kcrep.org.

The KC premiere of “Hands on a Hardbody,” an offbeat musical that ran on Broadway last year, opens the season at the Unicorn Theatre, 3832 Main St. With a book by Doug Wright (“I Am My Own Wife”), music by Amanda Green (“Bring It On: The Musical”) and Trey Anastasio (Phish) and lyrics by Green, the show is a fact-based portrait of 10 Texans competing for a new truck by keeping at least one hand on the vehicle, no matter how long it takes. Last contestant touching wins.

Missy Koonce directs a big cast that includes, among others, Cathy Barnett, Martin Buchanan, Jessalyn Kincaid, Matt McAndrews, Julie Shaw and Francisco Javier Villegas. The show runs Sept. 3-28.

Also on the Unicorn’s fall schedule: “Bad Jews” by Joshua Harmon and directed by Cynthia Levin, Oct. 22-Nov. 16; “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” by Rajiv Joseph and featuring Theodore Swetz (a co-production with the UMKC theater department), Dec. 3-28; and “I’ll Eat You Last,” a one-woman show about Hollywood agent Sue Mengers featuring Donna Thomason, Dec. 11-28.

Call the Unicorn at 816-531-7529 or go to www.unicorntheatre.org.

The Living Room, 1818 McGee St., has only one production planned for the fall: the world premiere of “Columbus Day” by Forrest Attaway. Bryan Moses, the Living Room’s associate artistic director, will direct this dark drama about a young woman faced with an unwanted pregnancy and her struggle to keep the child.

Attaway, one of Kansas City’s multiple-threat theater artists, is well-known as an actor but for years has pursued a dual career as a playwright. Performances run Oct. 10-Nov. 2.

The Living Room also plans to continue its Writer’s Den series of readings of new plays by Kansas City writers.

Call 816-533-5857 or visit www.thelivingroomkc.com.

The New Theatre launches its 2014-15 season this week with “Murder Among Friends,” a comic mystery starring Morgan Fairchild, queen of daytime and prime-time soaps and well-known supporter of animal sanctuaries and other worthy causes.

The show begins performances Wednesday and runs through Nov. 2. Call 913-649-7469 or go to www.newtheatre.com. The theater is at 9229 Foster St., Overland Park.

The Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, at 36th and Main streets, kicks off its 10th anniversary season with Neil Simon’s autobiographical “Lost in Yonkers,” which claimed the 1991 Pulitzer Prize. The show depicts a quirky, blue-collar, WWII-era family from a boy’s point of view. The show runs Sept. 10-Oct. 5.

Continuing the season, the MET will stage Stephen MacDonald’sNot About Heroes,” Nov. 6-30. MacDonald’s play depicts the relationship between Siegfried Sassoon and Wildred Owen, two major World War I-era British poets.

For tickets, call 816-569-3226, visit www.metkc.org or send email to boxoffice@metkc.org.

The theme for the 2014-15 season at Quality Hill Playhouse is “Hooray for Hollywood.” The season opens with “Cheek to Cheek: The Songs of Fred Astaire,” Sept. 26-Oct. 26, followed by the company’s annual “Christmas in Song,” which runs Nov. 20-Dec. 24.

The playhouse is at 303 W. 10th. Call 816-421-1700 or go to www.qualityhillplayhouse.com.

Musical Theater Heritage, which today wraps up its concert production of “South Pacific,” has two more shows planned this year. “Jacques Brel: The Life & Music of a Legend,” conceived by MTH founder George Harter and Nathan Granner, will be performed Nov. 7-8 (three performances), followed by the big musical “Oliver!” scheduled to run Dec. 4-21. Kip Niven will play Fagan, and young Jordan Haas will perform the title role.

In addition, MTH will host a fundraiser with an all-star ensemble of singers, actors and musicians on Nov. 3.

All performances are at the Off Center Theatre on the third level of Crown Center. Call 816-545-6000 or go to www.mthkc.com.

The Fishtank Performance Studio, 1715 Wyandotte St., will offer a mix of original work and established plays, including an existential classic, Jean-Paul Sartre’s rarely staged “No Exit,” Tuesday through Saturday. Sartre’s 1944 piece depicts a cerebral version of hell, with three people trapped for eternity in one room.

The play was adapted and will be performed by Marianne McKenzie, Charlie Weitcamp, Anna Day and Ethan Zogge. Zogge directs.

Sidonie Garrett, artistic director of the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, will direct Lee Blessing’s “Eleemosynary,” Nov. 1-16. The 1985 play depicts three generations of women. The show features Katie Hall, Jan Rogge and Heidi Van. Also in November, the Fishtank unveils its “Fall Shorts” series of short plays each Sunday.

The Fishtank will close out the year with the second annual “12 Plays of Christmas,” Dec. 1-22.

Go to fishtanktheater.blogspot.com or call 816-809-7110.

Damron Russel Armstrong, one of Kansas City’s most respected actors, will perform James Stills’ one-actor docudrama, “Looking Over the President’s Shoulder,” Sept. 11-Oct. 19 at the Chestnut Fine Arts Center, 234 N. Chestnut, Olathe. The play tells the true story of Alonzo Fields, who was the White House chief butler through four presidential administrations.

The Chestnut follows up with “Goin’ to the Chapel,” a celebration of 1950s pop hits, Oct. 30-Dec. 14.

Call 913-764-2121 or go to www.chestnutfinearts.com.

Young audiences have a range of choices this fall. At the Coterie in Crown Center, the season opens with “Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott,” recalling a crucial moment in American civil rights history, Sept. 23-Oct. 19, followed by “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” Nov. 4 through Jan. 4. Call 816-474-6552 or visit www.thecoterie.org.

Theatre for Young America opens its season with the kid-noir play “Nate the Great,” Oct. 21-Nov. 15, followed by “Jingle Arrgh the Way,” Nov. 25-Dec. 27. TYA shows are performed at the H&R Block City Stage at Union Station. Call Union Station at 816-460-2020 or go to tya.org.

Paul Mesner Puppets performs an original production evoking the history of Kansas City Jazz with “Rag Swing Bop!” Bobby Watson contributed to the musical arrangements and jazz historian Chuck Haddix was a consultant. Four performances will be staged Friday and Saturday at the Gem Theatre in the 18th and Vine district.

The Mesner season continues with “Red Riding Hood,” Oct. 1-4 at the Glenwood Arts Theatre at the Metcalf South Shopping Center in Overland Park and Oct. 8-12 at the Mesner studio, 1006 Linwood Blvd.; and “The Best Pet of All,” Oct. 29-Nov. 9 at the studio and Nov. 12-22 at the Glenwood Arts. Tickets are available from the Central Ticket Office at 816-235-6222. Visit www.paulmesnerpuppets.org.

In the touring musical theater world, Starlight Theatre wraps up its season with “Blue Man Group,” Sept. 9-14. Call 816-363-7827 or go to www.kcstarlight.com.

The Kansas City Broadway Series, presented by Theater League and Broadway Across America, gets underway with “Motown the Musical,” Dec. 9-14 at the Music Hall. In addition, “Mamma Mia!” returns as a “special engagement” Oct. 7-12 at the Music Hall. And those in the market for a novelty may want to check out “The Price Is Right Live,” one night only on Nov. 15, also at the Music Hall. Call 800-745-3000 or go to www.theaterleague.com.

Bob Paisley of Central Standard Theatre has announced that his annual “British Invasion” will be moved from December to October this year. Details to be announced after Paisley returns from the Edinburgh Fringe, where he’s performing a new play, “Bill Clinton Hercules.” Keep any eye on cstkc.com.

To reach Robert Trussell, call 816-234-4765 or send email to rtrussell@kcstar.com.

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