The Washington Post
Betting on next season, Signature plays a full house
By Peter Marks, Monday, March 4, 5:28 PM
As plans for the new Washington theater season take shape, the lineup across the region is looking ever nervier. Although an occasional company is going for the tried-and-true — witness the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s scheduling revivals of “Private Lives” and “The Importance of Being Earnest” — the prevailing trend for 2013-14 seems to be in the more exhilarating vein of go-for-broke.
Or, if not quite that extreme, the seasons being unveiled suggest that the fever for giving theatergoers rich menus has not come close to breaking. It shows up in the lists of nonprofit troupes as varied as Round House Theatre, Forum Theatre and Arena Stage, as well as in the enticing announcement of a world premiere commercial venture, “If/Then,” starring Idina Menzel at the National Theatre this fall.
And now, Signature Theatre — which took a bit of a breather this season, with a schedule heavy on musical revivals — is bouncing back at what looks like full force. In an extraordinarily ambitious rollout of nine productions, the company says it will produce three world-premiere musicals, one world-premiere play, the regional debut of a new British play, a developmental run of yet another world-premiere musical and revivals of, gulp, “Miss Saigon,” “Gypsy” and “The Threepenny Opera.” Among the new musicals will be “Beaches,” based on the novel that also spawned the 1988 Bette Midler-Barbara Hershey movie weepie of that title, and other musicals by Signature composer Matt Conner and Signature actor Ed Dixon.
“It all just kind of worked out,” Eric Schaeffer, the Tony Award-winning company’s longtime artistic director, said matter-of-factly. He will be directing all four of the new musicals, as well as the revival of the early ’90s mega-musical “Miss Saigon” —this time, without the famous helicopter dropping from the ceiling.
Opening the season with “Miss Saigon” (Aug.15-Oct. 6) recalls the late fall of 2008, when Signature presented its winningly pared-down and full-throated staging of “Les Miserables.” Schaeffer has a long-standing relationship with “Les Miz” and “Miss Saigon” producer Cameron Mackintosh , so remounting a second show by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil is not surprising. What is always a risk, of course, is re-conceiving a musical built for big houses into one for Signature’s relatively minuscule 276-seat main stage.
“We’re going to do it environmentally,” Schaeffer said of the wartime love story between an American G.I. and a South Vietnamese woman. “The audience is going to be immersed in the jungle, so that you really feel you’re in the world of Vietnam.”
Along with “Miss Saigon,” Schaeffer’s directorial duties in the Village at Shirlington will include the season’s three world-premiere musicals. The first of them is “Crossing” (Oct. 29-Nov. 24), by Conner and Grace Barnes, creators of the Edgar Allan Poe musical “Nevermore.” The next is “Beaches” (Feb. 18-March 30, 2014), with music by David Austin and lyrics by Iris Rainer Dart — upon whose novel the movie and musical are based — and a libretto by Dart and Thom Thomas. The final one is a musical spoof, “Cloak and Dagger” (June 12-July 6, 2014) by Dixon, who played the butler Max in Signature’s “ Sunset Boulevard .”