Onstage Front & Center
Billy (Marcel Cavalier) and Older Billy (Kirk Gagnon) from the cast of“Billy Elliot,” produced by Rivertown Theatres in February.
Blockbuster slated at Saenger
The 2016-17 musical season is in the home stretch at the Saenger Theater, with the 20th anniversary tour of “Rent” and Grammy-nominated musical “Waitress” scheduled in April and June, respectively. But big news about the next season has already leaked, with word that “Hamilton” will be in the lineup.
The Saenger says current-season subscribers will have first access to “Hamilton” tickets, which have been in extraordinarily tight supply during the blockbuster’s long run on Broadway. Dates and times for the New Orleans production of “Hamilton” were not yet available at press time. Check the Saenger’s website for up-to-date information about next season’s schedule
Opera widens its reach
After wrapping up a masterful performance of “Sweeney Todd” in February, the New Orleans Opera prepared for this month’s production of the ever-compelling story of selling one’s soul to the devil. The opera presents “Faust” on March 31 and April 2, starring local favorites Paul Groves and Sarah Jane McMahon.
A bonus for opera fans comes in June, when the production “As One” takes the stage of the Marigny Opera House. The new chamber opera, commissioned and produced by American Opera Projects, features a transgender protagonist as she struggles to achieve a sense of tranquility with the world around her. Two singers, a baritone and a mezzo-soprano, portray the character Hannah, June 2-4. Call 504-529-3000 for more information.
New Orleans Opera presented “Sweeney Todd” in February.
Home from the wars
A poignant and insightful ensemble-built performance is headed to the Contemporary Arts Center this spring, courtesy of socially conscious Goat in the Road Productions. Based on historical research and the scientific study of human trauma, the production entitled “Foreign to Myself” examines the shifting identity of a returning military veteran.
Dozens of interviews with post-deployment military personnel who served in Iraq and Afghanistan form the foundation for a rich performance tapestry that explores the inherent difficulties of re-entering a normal, non-warring society. See the work at the CAC, 900 Camp St., May 18-21.
Led by co-artistic director Shannon Flaherty, Goat in the Road also continues its eight-year-old play-write program, which puts teaching artists into residencies in local schools and showcases student works. In May 2017, participating schools, will include St. Mary’s Academy, Success Preparatory Academy, The International School of Louisiana, Young Audiences Charter School and Warren Easton High School.
Social issues out front
Cripple Creek Theatre Company continues to demonstrate both its social conscience and superior sense of timing with an upcoming production of “Caligula,” centered on Rome’s most infamous Caesar who is often portrayed as a power-hungry tyrant.
Artistic Director Andrew Vaught describes “Caligula,” which the company will present in August, as a “free-to-the-public music experience” accessible to audiences of all ages. He terms Albert Camus’ masterwork “a scandalous romp through the dark urges that govern our bodies and lay siege to our society.” The work is the sort of psychological exploration of human tendencies that Cripple Creek has become known for during the past decade.
This summer the company will also collaborate with the Shakespeare Festival at Tulane to present “The Taming of the Shrew,” June 2-18. Check the Cripple Creek website – http://www.cripplecreektheatre.org – for updated details.
Troupes show staying power
Now in its 12th season, the post-Hurricane Katrina startup called The NOLA Project has shown its endurance and dedication to local theatre. After wrapping up the demanding production, “A Few Good Men,” in February, the company continues its current-season theme of survival with “The Spider Queen,” which will have its world premiere in May at the Sidney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden in City Park.
“The Spider Queen” will feature NOLA Project ensemble members James Bartelle and Alex Martinez Wallace. In this imaginative new play, two teenage siblings become lost in the woods and encounter a kingdom in peril, filled with fantastical creatures, nefarious villains and a giant Spider Queen. Director Jon Greene, who describes the work as “The Goonies” meets “The Chronicles of Narnia,” says it aims to awaken the adventurous spirit in audiences as its young heroes befriend elves and trolls, battle ogres and learn lessons of courage and sacrifice.
In June, NOLA Project will team up with Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré to present the hilarious love letter to theatre, “It’s Only a Play,” by Terrence McNally. See NolaProject.com for details.
Southern Repertory Theatre, a driving force in the local theater community, soon will present its annual tribute to one of New Orleans’ best-known dramatists with a production of “Sweet Bird of Youth” by Tennessee Williams. Leslie Castay will take on the role of Blanche Dubois, a fading star caught up in a race against time and one of the great characters of Southern stage writing.
Southern Rep presents one of Williams’ plays each year in conjunction with the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival. “We continue our commitment to Williams as a vital part of every season,” Hayes says.
“Whether we offer a traditional view into his master works or explore how his texts resonate in today’s world, Tennessee is a voice we believe in sharing,” she says. The work will take the stage at Loyola University’s Marquette Theatre March 22-April 16.
Hayes also touts Southern Rep’s dedication to producing regional premieres of contemporary plays. She points to “Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3),” by Suzan-Lori-Parks, a playwright Hayes describes as having a “penchant for wit” and a “unique perspective on the human condition.” The work is slated for the stage May 31-June 25, at Loyola.
Southern Rep, which has produced on various stages around New Orleans for the past several years, looks forward to relocating next year to a permanent home on Bayou Road, just off Gentilly Boulevard. The organization has joined with Alembic Community Development to renovate the former St Rose de Lima Church into a hub for the performing arts, to include a complex of theatre spaces operated by Southern Rep.
Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts also continues a rigorous and energetic season this spring with “The 39 Steps,” a comedic spoof of the 1935 Alfred Hitchock film classic, with just four actors portraying dozens of characters.
The brilliant madcap (running through March 26) leads up to Rivertown’s production of “Schoolhouse Rock Live Jr.,” for the younger set, and then on to “Hello, Dawlin’,” another zany comedy by the inimitable Ricky Graham.
“Bye Bye Birdie” takes the Rivertown stage in May. And family audiences won’t want to miss “The Little Mermaid” in July. See http://www.rivertowntheaters.com for details.
LEFT: Ballet girls from the cast of “Billy Elliot,” produced by Rivertown Theatres in February. RIGHT: Billy Elliot (Marcel Cavalier) in Angry Dance
‘Debt’ takes center stage at Art Klub
Two years ago, New Orleans performance artist Reese Johanson came across a building in need of love, located in a reviving St. Roch neighborhood. The founder of theatre producer Artists Inc. knew that she had found a home for her latest idea. The building that had formerly housed a bakery and garage would become the headquarters for Art Klub, an art and culture community center where artists of varying types could gather and collaborate.
A year of renovations later, Art Klub opened its doors at the corner of Arts and North Johnson streets.
Johanson’s aim was to engage communities through artist residencies, performances, affordable rehearsal and meeting spaces, along with offering workshops and programs for the community. Today, she says Art Klub’s mission is to be “a resource for emerging and seasoned artists,” to help meet their production needs and expand opportunities to gain exposure for their work.
Recently, Johanson announced the arrival of Elizabeth Wautlet as Art Klub’s latest artist in residence. Currently an acting instructor at the Cours Florent acting center in Paris, Wautlet has led theatre workshops in locations throughout France. In 2011 she wrote and performed original work for the Inside Stories International Performance Festival in Madison, Wisc. And she became familiar with the New Orleans arts scene while working with the nonprofit initiative Arts Experiences in Schools.
During her March tenure at Art Klub, Wautlet is preparing her one-person show entitled “Jubilee,” an unlikely but intriguing exploration of the impact of financial indebtedness. “From ‘The Merchant of Venice’ to ‘Faust,’ from Greece to subprime mortgages, debt is a timeless theme anchored within time-based repayment plans,” Wautlet says in describing the work.
In “Jubilee,” a woman named Liza, the play’s protagonist, strives to repay her deceased father’s debts and save the home he left to her from demolition. But to do so she must navigate systems she does not understand, which causes things to become “very weird,” Wautlet says.
The lines between what is actually happening and visions that exist only in Liza’s head are blurred, but her journey is real. Wautlet will perform the work at Art Klub during the weekend of March 17.
Also on tap is a series of performances by MOVEment for Change, a platform for socially conscious artists to share their vision for bettering the world through art. Hosted by ARTavisim Dance Theatre and led by Artistic Director Sophia Rabinovitz, the performances will bring together artists from dance, theatre, poetry and standup comedy to begin a dialogue around pertinent social issues.
“I believe that art, and dance specifically, has the potential to speak to significant world matters in a way that words often cannot capture,” Rabinovitz says.
The MOVEment for Change events are scheduled at Art Klub, 1941 Arts St., April 20-23, and 7:30 to 9 p.m. See ArtKlub.org for more details.
Also on tap at Art Klub are gatherings for Gulf Coast playwrights, where writers have a chance to introduce their works-in-progress and receive feedback on readings. A meet-and-greet is scheduled on March 14, 7 to 9 p.m. Check the website for additional events.
LEFT: Art Klub’s headquarters RIGHT: Elizabeth Wautlet is artist-in-residence during March.