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John Aylward, Kristen Bush, Kevin O'Rourke and Jan Maxwell in "The City of Conversation" at Lincoln Center Theater in 2014; it will come "home" to its D.C. setting in the coming Arena season. (Photo by Stephanie Berger)

Arena Stage Slates Premieres, 1 Broadway-Bound Musical

Among a group of new plays, imports and revivals, the D.C. theatre’s next season includes two shows set amid its hometown political scene.

WASHINGTON, D.C.: Arena Stage‘s 2015–16 season at the Mead Center for American Theater will include a number of world premieres, including a musical headed for Broadway, as well as a slate of regional premieres of musicals and straight plays direct from Broadway, and coproductions with regional partners.

“Throughout my 17 years at Arena Stage, I have focused on a mission to engage our audiences in the range of complexity and beauty in American theatre,” said artistic director Molly Smith in a statement. “Our 66th season lineup boasts an adventurous balance of work that’s bound to get us talking….The season runs the gamut from the new to the timeless classic, producing big, politically charged and socially relevant dramas and showcasing partnerships with prominent theaters and artists from around the country.”

The season kicks off in the summer with the world premiere of Dear Evan Hansen, a Broadway-aimed musical from songwriting duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (DogfightA Christmas Story) and playwright Steven Levenson (The Language of Trees), about a private letter that goes public in a big way. The show runs July 9–Aug. 23 and will be directed by Michael Greif.

In the fall, as part of D.C.’s citywide Women’s Voices Theater Festival, Karen Zacarías’s world premiere comedy Destiny of Desire will debut under José Luis Valenzuela’s direction (Sept. 11–Oct. 18). The play involves a switched-at-birth premises, with two baby girls born on the same night in Bellarica, Mexico, and raised alternately in privilege and poverty.

Next is another world premiere offering geared for the Women’s Voices festival,  Allison Engel and Margaret Engel’s Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End, to be directed by David Esbjornson (Oct. 16–Nov. 8). This look at the vintage 1970s-era humorist follows on the success of the Engel twins’ Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins.

Following this past season’s success with a revival of Fiddler on the Roof, Molly Smith will direct a revival of Lionel Bart’s Dickensian classic Oliver!, Oct. 30–Jan. 3, 2016.

Next is an import from Minneapolis, of Children’s Theatre Company’s world-premiere adaptation of the popular film Akeelah and the Bee from playwright Cheryl L. West and director Charles Randolph-Wright. Running Nov. 13–Dec. 27, it’s the tale of an 11-year-old from the Chicago projects who becomes a contender in the national spelling bee. Arena will co-present the play with CTC.

Another world-premiere co-presentation, this time with Oregon Shakespeare Festival, is Lynn Nottage’s Sweat, directed by longtime Nottage associate Kate Whoriskey (Jan. 15–Feb. 21, 2016). It’s a play about a strained friendships and family relationships in a failing Pennsylvania steel town. The play is a co-commision between Arena and OSF.

Making a sort of homecoming is Anthony Giardina’s The City of Conversation, directed by Doug Hughes (Jan. 29–Mar. 6, 2016). The play, which premiered at New York’s Lincoln Center last year, is about a Georgetown hostess and her political and social elite circle, followed from the end of Carter administration up to Obama’s game-changing inauguration.

Another success from Off-Broadway, singer/songwriter Benjamin Scheuer’s autobiographical The Lion, is next (Feb. 26–Apr. 3, 2016).  Directed by Sean Daniels, in association with Eva Price, it’s a show for one man, six guitars and reminiscences of a father/son bond tested by time and disease.

Another D.C.-set show is next: Robert Schenkkan’s Tony-winning All the Way (Apr. 1–May 8, 2016), which traces president Lyndon Baines Johnson’s efforts to get the Civil Rights Act passed in the first 100 days of his unplanned administration. Rounding out the season is another show recently acclaimed on Broadway, Ayad Akhtar’s spiky drama of cultural misunderstanding, Disgraced (Apr. 22–May 29, 2016).

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