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 â€” witness the Shakespeare Theatre Companyâ€™s scheduling revivals of â€œPrivate Livesâ€ and â€œThe Importance of Being Earnestâ€ â€” 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, â€œIf/Then,â€ starring Idina Menzel at the National Theatre this fall.
And now, Signature Theatre â€” which took a bit of a breather this season, with a schedule heavy on musical revivals â€” 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, â€œMiss Saigon,â€ â€œGypsyâ€ and â€œThe Threepenny Opera.â€ Among the new musicals will be â€œBeaches,â€ 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.
â€œIt all just kind of worked out,â€ Eric Schaeffer, the Tony Award-winning companyâ€™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 â€™90s mega-musical â€œMiss Saigonâ€ â€”this time, without the famous helicopter dropping from the ceiling.
Opening the season with â€œMiss Saigonâ€ (Aug.15-Oct. 6) recalls the late fall of 2008, when Signature presented its winningly pared-down and full-throated staging of â€œLes Miserables.â€ Schaeffer has a long-standing relationship with â€œLes Mizâ€ and â€œMiss Saigonâ€ 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 Signatureâ€™s relatively minuscule 276-seat main stage.
â€œWeâ€™re going to do it environmentally,â€ Schaeffer said of the wartime love story between an American G.I. and a South Vietnamese woman. â€œThe audience is going to be immersed in the jungle, so that you really feel youâ€™re in the world of Vietnam.â€
Along with â€œMiss Saigon,â€ Schaefferâ€™s directorial duties in the Village at Shirlington will include the seasonâ€™s three world-premiere musicals. The first of them is â€œCrossingâ€ (Oct. 29-Nov. 24), by Conner and Grace Barnes, creators of the Edgar Allan Poe musical â€œNevermore.â€ The next is â€œBeachesâ€ (Feb. 18-March 30, 2014), with music by David Austin and lyrics by Iris Rainer Dart â€” upon whose novel the movie and musical are based â€” and a libretto by Dart and Thom Thomas. The final one is a musical spoof, â€œCloak and Daggerâ€ (June 12-July 6, 2014) by Dixon, who played the butler Max in Signatureâ€™s â€œ Sunset Boulevard .â€