The lush and lavish season opens Nov. 2 with “Stars of the American Ballet, ” which brings principal dancers and soloists from the New York City Ballet to the Mobile stage. The spectacular one-night-only performance includes Jerome Robbins’ “Fancy Free, ” which is set to a score by Leonard Bernstein, and excerpts from George Balanchine’s “Rubies, ” “Who Cares?” and “Stars and Stripes.” Principal dancer Daniel Ulbricht will perform with Tiler Peck, Teresa Reichlen, Amar Ramasar and
Robert Fairchild. Mobile Ballet dancers will also be showcased in an excerpt from artistic director Winthrop Corey’s work, “Snow White.”
Guest dancers Vilia Putrius and Mindaugas Bauzys, both from Festival Ballet Providence in Rhode Island, will headline “The Nutcracker, ” Dec. 14 and 15. What would Christmas in Mobile be without this classic performance?
The season will close March 15 (7:30 p.m.) and March 16 (2:30 p.m.) with “Coppelia, ” a comic story ballet featuring Mobile Ballet’s principal dancers Noel Hanley and Lauren Woods, as Swanilda, with Noah Hart of Alabama Ballet, as Franz, and David Beech of Mobile, as Dr. Coppelius.
Opera staffers call the second season of Mobile Opera’s Puccini Project “the season of the rising sun” — beginning and ending with masterworks set in Japan.
But almost as quickly as they say it, they laugh and say that although Gilbert and Sullivan’s beloved “The Mikado” (Oct. 25 and 27) is set in Japan, it’s really about Britain — the monarchy, politics and stereotypes, all captured with British humor. It’s just set in Japan to disguise the satire, says Mobile Opera artistic director Andy Anderson.
And don’t even think of denigrating the quality of the music, he adds. “Some people say its fluffy, but they’re not respecting the music, ” which he contends is as complex as the Puccini, just an entirely different style.
“The Mikado” was chosen to complement the Opera’s Puccini Project offering, “Madama Butterfly” (March 28 and 30), which executive director Scott Wright calls “one of the must powerful, most beautiful and best known” of all Puccini works.
“It’s an incredible story about love and dedication, ” he says, “the story of a woman facing a choice people should not ever have to make.”
Puccini wrote “Butterfly” in 1904 after seeing the legendary actress Sarah Bernhardt perform the role in a play by David Belasco — in Paris, in French, which he did not speak, Anderson says. Moved to tears by the story, even hearing it in an unknown language, he immediately contacted Belasco for permission to present it as an opera. Belasco refused, but after four revisions of the work, finally gave his permission. Anderson still marvels that Puccini almost gave up before that fourth revision, the one that produced one of the most beloved of all operas.
Think of the 2013 – 2014 season as “the yin and yang of opera, ” says Wright — from the pure comedy of “The Mikado” to “Madama Butterfly, ” “one of the most dramatic and tragic stories in opera literature.”
“They are polar opposites, ” Anderson says. “That’s why they work so well together.”
Only the first concert of the 2013 – 2014 Mobile Symphony season has the word Airbus in its name and a conscious selection of works about flying — Richard Wagner’s “Flying Dutchman Overture” — but in fact, says Music Director Scott Speck, the whole season is “a salute to this world-class organization coming to Mobile” because it’s a world-class season full of “some of the most difficult yet rewarding pieces ever written.”
“Every concert has at least one piece of music of the most exquisite beauty and most challenging virtuosity, ” Speck says. His example from the opening concert Sept. 14 and 15 is the Wagner. “You would not believe it if you looked at the cello part, ” he says, describing it as “a sea of notes.” A cellist friend of his delights in sharing a picture of the score — with a Five-Hour Energy drink atop it. “You have to dive in with all your wits, all your technique and all your feeling.”
“Flying Dutchman” is paired with the Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony that concludes with such a bombastic climax that “you can’t play anything else for a month.”
“It sneaks up on you, the first loud chord, ” he says. “It’s meant to take your breath away, and what the orchestra is able to do on top of that is an energy force field, like a third rail.”
“Beethoven and Blue Jeans, ” the symphony’s offering on Nov. 9 and 10, is a reunion of sorts for MSO as Mason Bates — not long ago the composer in residence here — returns to perform the electronics portion of his new work in tribute to water, “Liquid Interface.” The Bates work will be partnered with other water works — Beethoven’s “Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, ” Debussy’s “La Mer” and Respighi’s “The Fountains of Rome.”
Speck urges concert goers who may think their holiday schedule is too busy to look up the headliners, a capella group Pentatonix, and listen to their “Carol of the Bells.” Anyone who does that homework will be at the concerts (Dec. 14 and 15), he predicts.
“American Masters” (Jan. 25 and 26) features the work of Leonard Bernstein. Speck expects the audience to be comfortable with the familiar dances from “West Side Story, ” but also to discover a new favorite in the Bernstein “Serenade, ” a violin concerto that ranges from very heavy themes to lighthearted to “all-out jazzy.”
Gypsy themes will spin throughout an evening of Hungarian and Romanian music in “Csárdás!, ” slated for March 15 and 16. The Kálmán Bologh Gypsy Cimbalom Trio will be featured artists, playing the cimbalom — an instrument that’s played sort of like mallets on the strings of a piano, Speck says. It is “the most ubiquitous Gypsy instrument aside from the violin.” Music for the evening is sultry, mystical, fiery, effervescent, says Speck.
Again this season, the symphony closes with a Russian Festival, featuring Van Cliburn International Piano Competition winner Nobuyuki Tsujii. “He’s making a name around the world, and we’re lucky to get him early in his career, ” Speck says. The program (April 12 and 13) features Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 4, ” one of Speck’s favorites.
“Tchaikovsky wore his heart on his sleeve” in his writing, Speck says. “It’s like sitting with a best friend while he pours his heart out to you. His vulnerability shows through, and people are drawn to people who don’t put up a wall.”
That, plus Tchaikovsky’s unending fountain of catchy tunes — “he’s the John Williams of his time” — make this a wonderful draw.
This work is “a passionate meditation on fate and how fate absolutely ruined his life, the various ways he tried to overcome fate, eventually emerging supercharged and triumphant. You can’t put anything after it. It has what I might nominate for the best ending of any Russian symphony.”
Joe Jefferson Playhouse
The Joe Jefferson Players' season kicks off Sept. 6 – 12 with the zany comedy about a comedy, “Noises Off” by Michael Frayn. It’s a theater lover’s treat — a farce about staging a farce with doors, sardines and a massive revolving set. Timothy Guy is directing.
It’s just the first in an exciting season designed to compete in an entertainment world where people can choose from 150 channels without ever leaving home, says new JJP board president Ryan Northrup. “We’re looking for big and magical moments this season, ” says new JJP board president Ryan Northrup.
The JJP went to the movies for its next treasure — “Legally Blond” Nov. 8 – 24. It’s based on the hit film, but with even more music and dance as it tells the story of savvier-than-she-seems fashion major Elle Woods navigating her way through Harvard Law. Jeffrey Williamson will direct the colorful musical comedy.
“Cyrano de Bergerac” is the Jan. 17 – 26 offering, a classic that director Jim Faust promises will delight modern Mobile audiences. “It’s an epic show, ” Northrup says.
“The Bad Seed” (March 14 – 30) comes fourth on the JJP bill this year. The show has a local tie. William March, who wrote the novella on which Maxwell Anderson based this psychological thriller, is a Mobile native. James Boykin will make his directorial debut with this show.
Capping the season is “Spamalot” (May 30 – June 15), a musical by Eric Idle and John Du Prez, akin to “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” — an irreverent and funny take on the King Arthur story with showgirls, bawdy humor and tap dances. Jeffrey Williamson will also direct this show. “It’s big, ” says Northrup. “Big set, big costumes — good competition for cable television.”
“Night Watch, ” a classic whodunit with a twist, is the final show of the 2013 season at Theatre 98 in Fairhope, which operates on a calendar year instead of a fall to spring schedule. Leslie Johnson makes her directorial debut for this show (Oct. 17 – 20 and 23 – 27).
The lineup for the 2014 season is still tentative, says board president Brenda Hedstrom, but it reflects the opinions that the local theater goers have expressed in a recent survey.
“We pride ourselves on trying to find things that are a little bit different to try to push the envelope, ” Hedstrom says. “At Theatre 98, we tend to present a little more comedy than most may expect in one season, but our audiences want that.”
The season will open with the farce “Lend Me a Tenor” by Ken Ludwig. “It’s a fun show, a good way to kick things off, ” Hedstrom says. “Everybody’s ready to relax and be entertained.”
Later, the Theatre 98 season will take a darker turn in May with a sure-to-scare stage production of Jeffrey Hatcher’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” “It’s a captivating psychological thriller, ” Hedstrom adds.
For summer fare, Theatre 98 will offer “100 Lunches, ” by Leo Sears and Jack Sharkey. It’s a comedy for theater aficianados. In the plot, a critic asks a playwright she has often scorned to help her write her own play. It is a task that he agrees to only if they meet and work over lunch in New York’s priciest restaurants. Scotty White returns to the Fairhope playhouse to direct this one-of-a-kind show.
“Catch Me If You Can” by Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert rounds out the season. Timothy Guy will direct what Hedstrom describes as “a cheerful homicide” — a mystery in which an ad man takes his young bride to the boss’ mountain lodge where she promptly disappears. The final 15 minutes are incredibly rewarding.
Chickasaw Civic Theatre
Finally, the 50th anniversary season for CCT promises to be jam-packed with blockbusters.
“Les Miserables, ” right, will headline the golden season, Sept. 6 – 8, 13 – 15 and 20 – 22. The longest-running Broadway musical in history, it was released just this year for community theater presentation. Based on the novel by Victor Hugo and set against the sweeping drama of early 19th century Paris, the show won eight Tony awards. The local production is directed by Mary Jo Alsip, with musical direction by Scott Wright.
Agatha Christie mystery, “A Murder Is Announced, ” adapted by Leslie Darbon, is the Nov. 1 – 3 and 8 – 10 show. It’s a classic Miss Marple story — the elderly woman who delves into the human psyche happens to be visiting Chipping Cleghorn when the paper carries an ad stating that a murder will take place that evening.
Midseason, CCT presents Rodgers and Hammerstein favorite “The Sound of Music.” “It was the first show ever presented in the new playhouse, and it’s a treat to present this reprise in honor of our 50th anniversary, ” says board president Mike Box, who will also direct.
Then, there is “Arsenic and Old Lace” (March 28 – 30 and April 4 – 6), Joseph Kesselring’s murderously funny classic about two elderly sisters who offer the older gentlemen they meet a solution to their woes.
The main-stage season closes with the Andrew Lloyd Webber masterpiece “Cats” (May 9 – 11, 16 – 18 and 23 – 25). The second longest-running show on Broadway, “Cats” is a favorite at CCT and with the public.
In between main-stage offerings, CCT will present a variety of specials including Scott Morlock’s “Scrooge” (Dec. 13 – 15 and 20 – 22) and the premiere of a new musical by Mobile attorney Christopher Kern, “Riveting Rosie” (Oct. 12 and 13). Full of swing music and ’40s ballads, the musical romance looks at the women who came to Mobile’s shipyards in World War II.
Mobile Theatre Guild
The Guild welcomes back long-time director Mike McKee to open the season with the Broadway hit “God of Carnage.” MTG board president Barney March says the show (Sept. 13 – 15, 20 – 22) will be “the unquestionable highlight of this season.”
Perhaps not everyone will recognize the show’s title, March says, but the story should appeal to a large cross section, as it focuses on the parents of two school kids who get in a fight. The adults get together to try to find an amicable solution, only to end up showing us that they are bigger children than the kids, says March.
Next up comes “The Rocky Horror Show” (Oct. 25, 26, 31 and Nov. 1 and 2) in homage to McKee, who directed the U.S.’s first nonprofessional production of the cult classic in 1976. Jim Faust will direct, says March, but “with Mike in mind.”
On Jan. 17 – 19, 24 – 25 and Jan. 30 – Feb. 1, MTG opens its building for South of the Salt Line’s production of “When the Saints Go Marching in at Cockroach Hall, ” a comedy about Mardi Gras by local writer Tom Perez. While it’s not technically part of the MTG season, the Theatre Guild season ticket will be honored.
Eric Browne will direct “39 Steps” (March 14 – 16 and 21 – 23). It’s presented by a tiny cast playing multiple roles, jumping from character to character, sometimes playing men, sometimes women, sometimes clowns.
Timothy Guy will direct a reprise of “Pump Boys and Dinettes” (May 9 – 11 and 16 – 18), which features “country western music and down-home humor.”
MTG will cap its season with “Forbidden Broadway” (June 20 – 22 and 27 – 29) — a show that spoofs Broadway shows from “Annie” to “Les Mis.”
text by Nedra Bloom • photos by Jeff Kennedy Photography and Ashley Rowe