Well, your humble theater correspondent always gets happy when a local company announces a season that includes a show he has been waiting decades to see.
The just-announced 2016-17 season from Spinning Tree Theatre, founded and run by Andy Parkhurst and Michael Grayman, includes such a show. But before we get to that, here is the season in chronological order:
▪ “Nine,” the 1982 winner of the Tony Award for best musical, makes its professional debut in Kansas City, Aug. 18-Sept. 3. The show has a book by Arthur Kopit (“Wings,” “Indians”) and music and lyrics by Maury Yeston (“Grand Hotel,” “Titanic”) and is based on filmmaker Federico Fellini’s 1963 classic “8 1/2 .” The central figure is a filmmaker in the grips of a midlife crisis who experiences a series of dreams and flashbacks.
▪ “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” by Lanie Robertson, Nov. 3-20. What was then called Missouri Repertory Theatre staged a magnificent production of this piece in the early ’90s. Audra McDonald claimed her sixth Tony Award for the 2014 Broadway production.
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Robertson’s play depicts a gig late in the career of Billie Holiday, performing with a jazz trio, who recounts a series of events from her life as she drifts into long, autobiographical monologues. Kansas City actress Nedra Dixon (seen in Spinning Tree’s 2014 production of “Black Pearl Sings”) plays the title role.
▪ The company opens 2017 with a reprise of “Shipwrecked! An Entertainment — The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (As Told By Himself).” Spinning Tree first staged the show in 2013. Charles Fugate will reprise the title role. The show is based on the self-proclaimed explorer’s fraudulent memoir, published in the 1890s, in which he claimed to have lived in the Australian outback for 30 years and witnessed flying wombats. The show runs Feb. 9-26, 2017.
▪ “Assassins,” with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by John Weidman. And, yes, this is the one I’ve been waiting for. I’ve never seen the show, but my CD of the 2004 Broadway production with Neil Patrick Harris, Denis O’Hare and Michael Cerveris has a way of staying in my car’s CD player for weeks at a time.
The boldly conceived show, first staged in 1990, offers a portrait of American history through a gallery of four presidential assassins and five wanna-bes. It’s a chance to spend some quality time with made-in-America sociopaths, including John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, Charles Guiteau, Leon Czolgosz, John Hinkley and Squeaky Fromme, among others.
The Spinning Tree production runs April 27-May 13, 2017, and will be the show’s first professional Kansas City production. Specific venues are yet to be announced.
Visit the theater company’s website at spinningtreetheatre.com.
The Invasion returns
Central Standard Theatre, actor/director Bob Paisley’s independent production company, will have a strong presence in midtown this summer.
The first order of business will be the Invasion, Paisley’s annual mini-festival of international theater artists performing solo and small-cast shows. This year the Invasion will run July 13-23. Some shows will be at Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, 3614 Main St., and others will be in a theater at Penn Valley Community College.
The lineup so far includes:
▪ “Warriors,” a multimedia dance performance by Arcos Dance of Austin, Texas. Paisley saw the show at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2014. He described it as an “absorbing piece with dance, video, physical theater and live music. thewarriorsalovestory.arcosdance.com.
▪ “The Submarine Show,” performed by Slater Penney and Jaron Hollander, both splendid mime performers. The duo, based in Oakland, Calif., has been part of the Invasion before. The show is always a hit.
▪ “Escape From the Planet of the Day That Time Forgot,” a bit of physical comic theater from the U.K. featuring Gavin Robertson, Katharine Hurst and Simon Nader. Robertson has performed here a number of times, and Hurst made her debut last year in “Mata Hari.”
▪ “Your Bard,” written and performed by Nicholas Collett. Collett, also from the U.K., is familiar to Invasion fans. This show imagines William Shakespeare giving advice in a pub. Collett is a smart actor, direct but understated.
▪ “Hamlet (the Notes)” is a reprise of a piece Invasion audiences first saw in 2014. Canadian actor John Fitzgerald Jay plays a half-mad stage director giving notes to his cast and crew after a five-hour performance of “Hamlet.” Some know-it-all critic pronounced it “satire of the highest order.”
▪ Nuala McKeever, who first performed here in 2014, returns with two pieces: “In the Window” and “Laugh After Death.” McKeever is from Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Paisley and Central Standard Theatre will also present several performances by Kansas City-area theater artists and writers during the KC Fringe Festival, which runs July 21-31. Those shows include:
▪ “Performing Annie Oakley: Shooting Is a Gentle Thing,” by John Gronbeck-Tedesco, a one-woman show starring Cheryl Weaver.
▪ “Crazy Horse,” written and performed by Sam Wright. Wright plans to perform the piece at the Brighton Fringe in England before the Kansas City debut.
▪ “The River’s Trembling Edge,” a one-woman show written by Denny Dey and featuring Marilyn Lynch.
▪ “Barrymore,” by William Luce, featuring Chuck Pulliam as the legendary actor.
▪ “Anne Boleyn,” written and performed by Megan Greenlee.
Other CST presentations planned for the KC Fringe Festival include “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Gavin Robertson’s three-actor adaptation of the Poe classic, to be directed by Robertson with local actors; and “Pretty Girls Make Graves” by Sam Landman, performed by the Loudmouth Collective of Minneapolis.