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"Heathers: The Musical" Off-Broadway. (Photo by Chad Batka)

Front & Center for May/June 2016

Cult-favorite musicals, murder mysteries, film adaptations, and more take the stage this month.

Staff Picks

The national tour of "Murder for Two." (Photo by Joan Marcus)
The national tour of “Murder for Two.” (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Agatha Christie may have minted the form, but others have taken the stage mystery into new territory. At Centre Stage in Greenville, S.C., A Party to Murder (May 5–21), penned by Marcia Kash and Douglas E. Hughes, brings a group of six socialites together for a quaint murder mystery dinner; but when a rich tycoon Elwood wins the game, he refuses the prize, instead threatening each of the players to act out his personal whims. Things also heat up at  TheatreSquared in Fayetteville, Ark., with Murder for Two (May 12–29), featuring book and songs by Kellen Blair and Joe Kinosian. When a surprise birthday soirée ends with the birthday celebrant dead, the musical comically unravels, with one actor playing the investigator and another actor portraying the 13 possible subjects—and ­playing the piano.  —­Allison Considine

If you grew up in the ’90s, like me, you probably sang along to “Once Upon a December” from the animated movie Anastasia in your bedroom…Anyone? Well, we may get another chance when Connecticut’s ­Hartford Stage presents a world premiere adaptation of the tale of the mysterious Russian foundling who may or may not be the last remaining Romanov royal heir (May 12–June 12). Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, who wrote the film score, rejoin their Ragtime book writer, Terrence McNally, for the stage version, to be helmed by Darko Tresnjak. Da, chert voz’mi! (that’s Russian for “hell yes,” more or less).

Meanwhile Anaïs Mitchell’s Hadestown, based on her concept album, opens this month at New York Theatre Workshop (May 6–July 3). Directed by Rachel Chavkin, the show filters the myth of Eurydice through the Great Depression. As Mitchell told me for a profile I wrote on Chavkin (AT, Oct. ’15), they’re both “interested in how myth can be draped in the toga, or the miniskirt, or both.” —Diep Tran

While classic musicals are about to hit the summer stock stages, there are plenty of lesser-known cult favorites worth a look. First up is Violet, May 3–22 at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati. Brian Crawley and Jeanine Tesori’s chamber musical, based on the Doris Betts story “The Ugliest Pilgrim,” follows a young girl with a terrible facial scar on a quest for a healer. Better known but also small-scale is Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s The ­Fantasticks, which plays May 13–29 at Great Lakes Theater in Cleveland.

Meanwhile Bat Boy’s Laurence O’Keefe has two off-the-beaten-path musicals going up in the heartland: Not only will Griffin Theatre Company give the blood-sucking cult classic he wrote with Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming its long-overdue Chicago premiere at the Den Theatre June 4–July 24, but his similarly sanguine musicalization of Heathers with Kevin Murphy is also getting two stagings this summer: June 1–26 at Kansas City, Mo.’s Unicorn Theatre, and May 19–June 19 at Omaha, Nebr.’s BLUEBARN Theatre. Lick it up, baby.  —Suzy Evans

"The Ghosts of Lote Bravo" at Borderlands Theater. (Photo by Marc David Pinate)
“The Ghosts of Lote Bravo” at Borderlands Theater. (Photo by Marc David Pinate)

For some May is the heart of spring’s season of renewal. But for a few shows in the Rockies and Southwest, it’s time to contend with death and injustice. First is Hilary Bettis’s The Ghosts of Lote Bravo at Tucson, Ariz.’s Borderlands Theater April 14–May 1. Part of a National New Play Network rolling premiere, the play follows a mother in Mexico’s Ciudad Juarez as she grapples with the murder of her teenage daughter. Next, Denver Center for the Performing Arts reprises ­Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s musical thriller Sweeney Todd April 8–May 15. And nearby, at Colorado’s Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities April 22–May 15, is Maury Yeston, Peter Stone, and Thomas Meehan’s musical adaptation of Death Takes a Holiday, in which the Grim Reaper takes the form of a Russian prince to learn more about the ­living.  —Russell M. Dembin

 Design Corner


Marie Antoinette and high fashion are virtually synonymous. But for David Adjmi’s surrealist play Marie Antoinette at Cleveland Heights’s Dobama Theatre (April 22–May 22), costume designer Tesia Dugan Benson has made the fashion serve the story, in an approach that’s part period, part modern. “Through the use of period shapes constructed out of modern textiles, as well modern garments, we are seeking to create a fresh and exciting view of Marie’s world,” she said. “Marie’s sartorial journey through the play starts large and decorated and continues throughout to become more simplified and closer to the body, until she is in nothing but a simple shift, therefore rendering her exposed and vulnerable to the world at large.”

News in Brief

MINNEAPOLIS: The playwright-run Workhaus Collective will disband this spring, saying it has accomplished its mission after 10 years and 25 plays. Established in 2006, the company’s member playwrights each took turns as artistic director when the troupe produced their play. The final production is Carson Kreitzer’s Lasso of Truth (April 15–May 1).

NEW YORK CITY: In a response to a survey from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs that demonstrated a lag in ethnic diversity on the staffs of 1,000 New York nonprofit arts groups relative to the city’s demographics, the Theater Subdistrict Council has announced a new diversity grant program. It will award up to $2 million in grants to theatre organizations looking to increase the diversity of their administrative and non-performing creative staff. Organizations are invited to submit an intent-to-apply form by May 11.

NEW YORK CITY, WASHINGTON, D.C., and CHICAGO: You’ll notice a number of Middle East/North Africa–themed stories in the May/June ’16 issue and more online. Also of note: In NYC, the Lark is holding its third Middle East America convening May 18–19, in partnership with San Francisco’s Golden Thread Productions and Chicago’s Silk Road Rising. The conference will address lack of representation and stereotypes of people of Middle Eastern descent on U.S. stages. Also in Gotham, New York Live Arts’s spring Live Ideas Festival (Feb. 8–April 3) was themed “MENA/Future: Cultural Transformations in the Middle East North Africa Region.”

Meanwhile, in D.C., Mosaic Theater Company just wrapped up its Voices From a Changing Middle East Festival with Leila Buck’s Hkeelee (Talk to Me), April 30–May 1. The festival began in January; this is its first iteration at Mosaic, the new company Ari Roth formed  in late 2014 when he left ­Theater J, where he’d previously produced the festival.

And in Chicago, Silk Road Rising’s world premiere of Jamil Khoury’s unfortunately timely Mosque Alert plays March 24–May 1, following years of workshopping in various Midwest communities.

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