Players and painted stage

Fall on the Boston boards  
By CAROLYN CLAY  |  September 13, 2006


THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE: “Can you spell i-r-r-e-s-i-s-t-i-b-l-e?”, at the Wilbur Theatre.
It seems the fall theater season was shot from a gun this year, barely after the Labor Day picnic baskets had been packed away. Already the Huntington Theatre Company has mounted the area premiere of RADIO GOLF, the last play in the late August Wilson’s bluesy, ambitious cycle chronicling the African-American experience of the 20th century; American Repertory Theatre has pulled the cloth off Charles L. Mee’s kaleidoscopic homage to Robert Rauschenberg, BOBRAUSCHENBERGAMERICA; ART stalwart Thomas Derrah has donned Charlotte von Mahlsdorf’s little black dress and pearls in Doug Wright’s Pulitzer winner, I AM MY OWN WIFE, for Boston Theatre Works; and New Repertory Theatre has mounted the New England premiere of Martin McDonagh’s unsettling Tony winner, THE PILLOWMAN. All these are still playing. There are the eternal verities:BLUE MAN GROUP and SHEAR MADNESS, at the Charles Playhouse. And there’s more to come in a season that runs the gamut from Ireland (DUBLIN CAROL) to Iraq (NINE PARTS OF DESIRE), Elvis (ALL SHOOK UP) to Aretha (RESPECT, A MUSICAL JOURNEY), Hamlet to Nick Hornby.

Downtown
The most exciting thing on the downtown horizon is that nostalgia-evoking rarity, a pre-Broadway tryout. HIGH FIDELITY (Colonial Theatre, September 26–October 22) is a new musical based on Brit writer Nick Hornby’s novel (which became a Stephen Frears film) about a young record-store owner who knows all there is to know about pop music but whose love life is a Top Five list of failed relationships. With book by Southie native David Lindsay-Abaire and score by Tom Kitt and Amanda Green (daughter of Broadway icon Adolph Green), the show is being billed as “a socially acute contemporary love story about people who are obsessed with, and define themselves by, pop music and culture.” But if the pop music that obsesses you is from 50 years ago, you might choose ALL SHOOK UP (Opera House, September 26–October 8), a “romantic tale of how a young girl’s dream comes true when a guitar-playin’ roustabout rides into a square state and turns the town upside down with his unique musical style” — which is uniquely Elvis. The book is by Joe (I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change) DiPietro, but the score is made up of 24 classic Presley hits. Also a trip down musical memory lane is RESPECT, A MUSICAL JOURNEY (Stuart Street Playhouse, from September 21), pop-music scholar Dorothy Marcic’s look at four women and the songs they were listening to at life’s milestones, from “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ ” to the spelled-out anthem of the title.

Speaking of spelling: erstwhile Bostonian Jon B. Platt, now a producer of the flyaway hit musical Wicked, gallops back to town to rescue the landmark Wilbur Theatre, whose lease Broadway Across America/Boston declined to renew. Platt will produce an open-ended run (from September 26) of the Tony-winning William Finn musical THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE, which began life in Western Massachusetts at Barrington Stage Company before going on to Broadway success. “Can you spell i-r-r-e-s-i-s-t-i-b-l-e?” queried the New York Times of the show, which chronicles the sweaty-palmed experience of six quirky kids (played by adults) competing in the event of the title. Also on the docket are ALTAR BOYZ (Colonial, October 31–November 5), the long-running, Outer Critics Circle Award–winning Off Broadway song-and-dance show that spoofs a Christian boy band, and the national tour of the 2005 Drama Desk Award–winning revival of Reginald Rose’s jury-room drama TWELVE ANGRY MEN (Colonial, November 7-19), starring Richard Thomas and George Wendt.

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