This was supposed to be the first post-COVID theater season in South Florida, but the delta variant took care of that wishful thinking. Most stage companies are optimistic that they can produce something this season. Whether the audience will show up is another story.
If all goes well, it could be an exciting year at the theater, with a new artistic director at GableStage, a new moniker for Primal Forces that sounds more like a theater company and clues us in to where it performs, MNM Theatre Company leaves the Kravis’s Rinker Playhouse for more expansive digs in Lauderhill, and a handful or two of world premieres are promised.
Here is what is ahead, company by company, from the top of Palm Beach County downward to Coral Gables:
Maltz Jupiter Theatre – Thinking conservatively, the Maltz devoted all of last season to constructing its anything-but-conservative $36 million renovation project. They expect to unveil it in February, but have two shows in offbeat venues before that. The Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons show, Jersey Boys, will be staged on the field of Roger Dean Stadium (Jan. 11-20), followed by I Hate Hamlet, about the ghost of John Barrymore coaching a TV actor in how to play Shakespeare, at the theater of The Benjamin School (Feb. 8-20).
Then the Maltz opens its new Broadway scale playhouse with two Broadway-sized musicals, Sweet Charity (Feb. 20-Mar. 9) and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Mar. 22-April 10), both based on popular movies.
Kravis Center on Broadway – Also spiffed up during the pandemic, the West Palm Beach performing arts complex returns with seven Broadway shows, available in several subscription permutations. They are Come From Away (Nov. 16-21); Dear Evan Hansen (Dec. 15-19); Summer: The Donna Summer Musical (Jan. 5-9); Cats (Feb. 8-13); Anastasia (Mar. 9-13); My Fair Lady (April 19-24) and An Officer and a Gentleman (May 3-8). This last is a new show about triumph over adversity, a jukebox musical featuring pop hits from the 1980s.
Palm Beach Dramaworks – The “theater to think about” kicks off with a world premiere by Michael McKeever, The People Downstairs (Dec. 3-19), looking at plucky Anne Frank and her cloistered family, but from the viewpoint of the people who hid them. It is followed by Almost, Maine (Jan. 14-30), a series of vignettes on romance in a remote fictional town in winter. World premiere number two for the company is Bruce Graham’s The Duration (Feb. 18-March 6), about a young woman trying to solve the mystery of her mother’s disappearance. Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage’s most popular play, Intimate Apparel (April 1-17), looks at an African-American seamstress who engages in a correspondence in order to find love. Dramaworks season ends with an encore presentation of The Belle of Amherst (May 20- June 5), a biography of poet Emily Dickinson, as played by Margery Lowe in a much-acclaimed performance.
Boca Stage – That’s the new, more conventional name of Primal Forces, but from the sound of its season lineup, the company still hopes to offer five offbeat rides. Warrior Class (Nov. 4-21) is a political thriller about a new operative caught up in D.C. intrigue. Subtitled “Confessions of a Hollywood Icon,” The Unremarkable Death of Marilyn Monroe (Dec. 3-21), sees a drugged-up Monroe looking back on the famous loves of her life.
The aptly named Rx (Jan. 21-Feb. 6) is a satire that takes on Big Pharma. Dark pasts and family secrets surface when an overworked social worker tries to help an innocent baby in Luna Gale (Feb. 25- Mar. 13). Boca Stage’s season wraps with Ben Butler (Mar. 25-April 8), a look at the lunacy of military bureaucracy centered on a real-life Civil War.
Boca’s Wick Theatre continues its revivals of popular musicals, Mamma Mia (Oct. 7 -Nov. 14), Gypsy (Jan. 6- Feb. 13) and Damn Yankees (Mar. 3-April 3), as well as a holiday special, A Winter Spectacular (Nov. 26-Dec. 19) starring 93-year-old cabaret and concert sensation Marilyn Maye. The season wraps with a Neil Sedaka jukebox musical, Breaking Up Is Hard to Do (April 21-May 3).
The professional theater on the campus of Florida Atlantic University, FAU Theatre Lab, opens its season with the play it almost produced last year, an inquiry of whether one can fall in love by answering a questionnaire. It’s To Fall in Love (Nov. 20-Dec. 12), a two-hander featuring the company’s artistic director Matt Stabile and his real-life wife, Carbonell winner Niki Fridh. Play two is a world premiere by Alix Sobler, Last Night in Inwood (Feb. 5-27) looking at the end of the world. Theater Lab’s season ends with another world premiere, Overactive Letdown (Mar. 26-April 10), a darkly comedic thriller to be directed by Margaret Ledford.
MNM Theatre Company is moving up in the world by moving south to the Lauderhill Performing Arts Center with a trio of mainstream musicals, Grease (Jan. 14-30), Sister Act (Feb. 18-March 6) and Guys and Dolls (April 1-17).
COVID may have scuttled Slow Burn Theatre Company’s plans to produce the extravagant Ragtime, but its planned season is anything but shabby. It opened with the Jason Robert Brown song cycle, Songs for a New World, which ran from Oct. 12 to 24. Next is the Tony winner from Cyndi Lauper, Kinky Boots (Dec. 17 -Jan. 2), then the Caribbean fable Once on This Island (Feb. 4-20) and the Brit Lit tots fantasy, Matilda (March 25-April 10). Perhaps least well-known is Head Over Heels (June 10-26), a jukebox musical based on the pop songs of the girl group, The Go-Gos, somewhat anachronistically set in the 16th century.
Across the plaza from Slow Burn is the Broward Center’s Au-Rene Theater, where its Broadway series plays. Three of this year’s shows are first-timers in South Florida: Ain’t Too Proud (Feb. 8-20), the Temptations tribute show, Frozen (March 9-20) and the Cinderella update, Pretty Woman (May 4-15), Also on the menu are the 9/11 musical set in tiny Gander, Newfoundland, Come From Away (Nov. 3-14), The Prom (Dec. 14 -19) and that perennial feline show, Cats (April 5-10).
Across town in Fort Lauderdale at Empire Stage are two scripts ideas for Pigs Do Fly, a company dedicated to putting the spotlight on actors over 50. (In South Florida, how hard could that be?) First is 2 Across, which ran from Oct. 8 to 24, about a crossword romance played out on an early morning BART train. The second is a comedy, Helen on Wheels (Dec. 3-19), about a feisty granny who may have met her match.
Moving down to Miami-Dade, we encounter the third performing arts center in the region, the Adrienne Arsht Center and its Broadway series. That’s where you have to go if you want to see the 2019 Tony winner, Hadestown (Dec. 6-11), a retelling of the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, but set in New Orleans to a zydeco beat. Also on the bill are Hairspray (Dec. 28-Jan. 2), Dear Evan Hansen (Feb. 15-20), Anastasia (March 22-27) and Jesus Chris Superstar (May 31-June 5).
In the Arsht’s intimate Studio space is the residence of Zoetic Stage. It kick starts its season with a new version of Frankenstein by British playwright Nick Dear, exploring the nature of good and evil (now playing through Halloween). Either warned or promised is the prospect of nudity. Hannah Benetez has the world premiere of her Gringolandia (Jan. 13-30), about a Cuban man returning to the homeland he left 50 years ago to recover a precious family heirloom. Zoetic excels at the musicals of Stephen Sondheim, so we look forward to A Little Night Music (Mar. 17-April 10), based on Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night, And in Alexis Scheer’s Our Dear Dead Drug Lord (May 5-22), four teen girls try to summon the ghost of cartel kingpin Pablo Escobar.
In Coral Gables, one of the region’s strongest companies is at a crossroads. In April of this year, GableStage’s founding producing artistic director, Joe Adler, succumbed to cancer. A nationwide search was initiated for his replacement, which led to Bari Newport, former artistic director of the Penobscot Theater Company in Bangor, Maine.
All eyes are on Coral Gables to see what Newport will do with the company and what her taste is in plays, Some of the new season was obviously already set in motion by Adler, like the season opener, Arthur Miller’s The Price (Nov. 12-Dec. 12) about a pair of brothers dividing the artifacts of their father’s estate. Next up is a world premiere, Joe Papp at the Ballroom (Dec. 17-31), with Avi Hoffman as the great impresario, recreating his public lecture in 1978. Poet/playwright Claudia Rankine’s first published play, The White Card (Jan. 14 -Feb. 13), asks an essential question: Can American society progress if whiteness remains invisible?
Next is a two-character musical with songs by Grammy winner Kristian Bush, Me Before You (Feb. 25-Mar. 7), exploring how the politics of a nation can impact the politics of a marriage. The savvy Newport ends the season on a light note, Jessica Provenz’s Boca (April 22-May 22), set amid four retirees with time on their hands.