Was a time, way back when the Charlotte Repertory Theatre company was developing into a regional powerhouse, when summertime was the prime season in the Queen City. While Opera Carolina and N.C. Dance are done for the season — and Charlotte Symphony brings us orchestral lawn feed through the July 4 weekend — local and touring theater productions have the performing arts scene pretty much to themselves.
The mainstay of the season, CPCC Summer Theatre, celebrates it 40th season this year, and Blumenthal Performing Arts has also seen how green the pastures are for summer shows, bringing us three biggies in its Broadway Lights series between now and Labor Day. Smaller operations have colonized the void, including the Charlotte Shakespeare Festival and Citizens of the Universe.
And you may notice that Actor's Theatre of Charlotte and Carolina Actors Studio Theatre, celebrating 25 and 21 years respectively on the boards, have both inched backwards into August for a running start into their 2013-14 seasons. Adding up all the players, the celebrations, the festivals and the Broadway blockbusters, we have the best damn summer theater season the Q.C. has ever seen.
War Horse // Broadway Lights Series at Belk Theater — A young English lad follows his beloved Joey, the best horse anywhere, across the continent into the heart of World War I. You thought the Spielberg film was good? The Broadway version took five Tony Awards, including Best Play, featuring absolutely stunning puppetry and staging. Some pretty good music, too. (May 28)
Miles & Coltrane: Blue (.) // Concrete Generation at Duke Energy Theater — Charlotte's most travelled homegrown production gets a welcome revival before hitting the road again. Two of the greatest post-bop players, jazz trumpeter Miles Davis and saxophonist John Coltrane, are jointly profiled during the days when they fronted Miles' legendary quintet. Sultan Omar El-Amin and Quentin Talley started off astonishing in the title roles five years back, and they've only gotten better. (May 29)
Sonnets // Citizens of the Universe at UpStage — "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" We don't know how COTU plans to do it, thematically or in strict order by the book, but they're bringing the Bard's sonnets to the funky upstairs dive that was once Wine Up. Whenever fringe-to-the-bone James Cartee is involved, you can expect it to be wild. (May 29)
The Taming of the Shrew // Charlotte Shakespeare at The Green Uptown — With a heigh-ho, the wind and perhaps a modicum of rain, Charlotte Shakespeare Festival ventures into the outdoors for their eighth straight year, staging a lusty old comedy that may — or may not — get some attitude adjustment for these more gender-enlightened times. Either way with Kate and Petruchio, prepare for a bumpy ride. (May 30)
The Divine Sister // Actor's Theatre of Charlotte — Charles Busch, of Psycho Beach Party and Vampire Lesbians of Sodom fame, takes on the holy sisters of stage and screen. The mash-up of Agnes of God and The Sound of Music would be almost as hilarious without the cross-dressing Mother Superior, but Busch crafts a satisfying, intricate plot to complement the lampooning. (June 5)
Charlotte Squawks: Ninesense // Booth Playhouse — The usual suspects are stood up before the Squawks sharpshooters for mockery and satire, presumably our lame professional sports teams, our rancid politics, our pretensions to world class status, and the apotheosis of our former mayor. Will Mike Collins & Co. accept the blame for McCrory's gubernatorial triumph? After all, the videos Mr. Mayor did for past Squawks polished his telegenic game for the election. Or maybe he's filmed another winner for this year's revels, offering his thanks. (June 7)
Catch Me If You Can // Broadway Lights Series at Belk Theater — The true-life saga of con artist Frank Abagnale, turned into a boffo Spielberg/DiCaprio yarn for the silver screen, had a further change of garb in 2011 when it came to Broadway as a musical. Sports a book by Terrence McNally (The Full Monty), music by Marc Shaiman (Hairspray), and won a Tony for Norbert Leo Butz. Way to go, Javert! (June 7)
Dolly Parton's 9 to 5: The Musical // CPCC Summer Theatre — What's the recipe for a feminist flick that's sexist at the same time? Try casting a woman with maracas like the Queen of Dollywood's as one of a triumvirate of disgruntled female office workers leading a rebellion against a domineering, leering boss — and keep it light with a side order of rockabilly. CP has a surefire PC crowd pleaser to launch its 40th. (June 7)
Least Likely Friends // Donna Scott Productions & Civilized Films at Theatre Charlotte — With the writer/producer of Carrie Ann's Kiss, Tonya Bludsworth, supplying the script and direction, and Donna Scott, the evil adversary of that 2006 comedy, back in the cast and co-producing, repeat success is strongly predicted. Four college roomies are brought back together for the funeral of the one indispensable woman who was the glue holding the disparate group intact. Say hello, terrible long-suppressed secret, and maybe goodbye to the group. (June 12)
The Color Purple // Northwest School of the Arts at Ovens Auditorium — The astonishing NWSA production of the beloved musical, based on the Alice Walker novel and the Whoopi-Oprah-Spielberg film, wasn't merely lauded on these pages when it blazed into Halton Theater last September. It was one of just 10 high school productions invited to participate in the prestigious International Thespian Festival at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, June 24-29. They move into cavernous Ovens to do one last encore before they go. Talk about a happy ending. (June 16)
Assassins // Carolina Actors Studio Theatre — Stephen Sondheim assembled the unholiest chorus line ever to haunt the American stage in this 1990 musical that delved into the dark side of the American dream. Between the queasy opening and closing choruses, we encounter a cavalcade of men and women who assassinated — or tried to assassinate — Presidents of the United States. Of course they sing! How could you ask for a more fun evening? (June 20)
The Pajama Game // Davidson Community Players at Davidson College — It's a great week for unjustly neglected '50s musicals, starting with this 1955 Tony Award winner about Babe Williams, a labor activist who agitates for an hourly 7-1/2 cent raise at a Midwestern pajama factory. Last seen in Matthews in 1994, backed only by a pianist and a percussionist, the bodacious songlist — including "Hey There," "There Once Was a Man," "Steam Heat" and "Hernando's Hideaway" — hadn't lost its wallop then. Should still be there now, with more robust instrumentation. (June 20)
Damn Yankees // CPCC Summer Theatre — A year passes in a day as we get the 1956 Tony Award winner at Halton Theater in CP's professional production. Not only are we getting Best Musical from successive years, we're getting Best Choreography award winners by Bob Fosse on successive nights. Of course, in the mid-'50s, it seemed like divine intervention was necessary for anyone but the New York Yankees to win the American League pennant and the World Series. Joe Hardy is getting that help from the netherworld, while a devastating seductress, singing "Whatever Lola Wants," keeps him on his Faustian path. (June 21)
Titus Andronicus // Citizens of the Universe at Snug Harbor — Dating back to 1977, the year of its founding, the famously unadventurous North Carolina Shakespeare Festival has never done Titus Andronicus. Nor did Shakespeare, if you listen to some ardent Bardolaters — it's that gory and melodramatic. All the more reason for the COTU guerrillas to pick up the gauntlet (and perhaps a meat cleaver) and tackle this apocryphal tale of the waning days of the Roman Empire. Considering how the shit flew in COTU's version of Trainspotting, you may not wish to sit too close. (July 2)
Leading Ladies // Davidson Community Players at Davidson College — More earnestly anti-Shakespearean fare comes from Ken Ludwig, who has cranked out the Charlotte smashes Lend Me a Tenor, Moon Over Buffalo and Shakespeare in Hollywood. This little farce features two struggling Shakespearean actors who go off a-gold-digging for an unclaimed inheritance only to discover that the heirs, Max and Steve, are actually heiresses, Maxine and Stephanie. Plenty of drag, deception and infatuation ensue. (July 18)
Monty Python's Spamalot // CPCC Summer Theatre — You almost had to have Eric Idle aboard to sustain the full silliness of Monty Python and the Holy Grail in the film's musical adaptation. Truth is, the musical is better, jettisoning the less successful bits of the Arthurian lampoon and adding new objects to satirize — Broadway musicals and Vegas. Featuring a bumbling King Arthur, a gospelized Lady of the Lake and her inevitable Laker Girls, this is a great way to conclude CP's 40th. (July 19)
Narrow Daylight // Actor's Theatre of Charlotte — Sevan Kaloustian Greene's script was the audience and critics' choice in the inaugural nuVoices Festival last year, winning a fully staged production on the strength of the impact the drama had in two staged readings. It's a story about a survivor of the Iraqi War from a provocatively different viewpoint. Lena is the Iraqi wife of an American G.I. who was killed in battle, arriving on the doorstep of his Florida mom's home, carrying this stranger's grandchild in her womb. Lena was a Christian in the draft we saw last year, defusing some of the cultural friction, but it's still hot stuff. (July 24)
The Lion King // Broadway Lights Series at Belk Theater — R-r-r-roar! This Disney extravaganza, now in its 16th year on Broadway, is still the king of hand puppet spectacles, simmering in an African beat and stamped with the nobility of a plot very much akin to Hamlet. A few skeptics and detractors have arisen over the years, promulgating reasons why this coming-of-age story about Simba and his power struggle with his uncle Scar isn't worthy of its adulation. The simple enchantment of every child who sees this show is all the refutation you need. (Aug. 6)
2nd Annual nuVoices Festival // Actor's Theatre of Charlotte — A new Final Four has already been selected for the second go-round of staged readings and tightly structured audience feedback over the course of four exciting days. The festival was an admirably organized event in its maiden year, generating fevered excitement from audience and actors alike, with at least two scripts worthy of full productions. Fights may break out if it gets any more competitive. (Aug. 8)
Macbeth // Charlotte Shakespeare at the Booth Playhouse — No, this is not "a tale told by an idiot," not by a long shot. It's Shakespeare's most compact tragedy, a grimly cautionary tale about the ravages of ambition, ghosts and witchery running amok, and a fiendishly futile struggle against implacable fate. Auguring equally well, this is the Charlotte Shakespeare event that takes us indoors, where the wind can't uproot the scenery or wreak havoc with microphones. Production level is uncanny for the suggested-donation price. (Aug. 15)
Vanities // Stephen Seay Productions at UpStage — Now for something different from the house of Seay, which has alternated between demented satires such as Beyond Therapy and kooky Reduced Shakespeare knockoffs like All the Great Books (abridged). Three high school cheerleaders — and their vanity tables — are at the core of Jack Heifner's comical drama, and we follow these alpha females into their college sorority and then into their diverging careers, with a telling peep-in or two from history along the way. (Aug. 16)
Elemeno Pea // Carolina Actors Studio Theatre — Two sisters meet for a leisurely Labor Day weekend up in the Vineyard (Martha's, naturally). The younger Simone has caught the fast track to success, and the use of her boss's seaside cottage is one of her perks, while Devon has crash-landed back at mom's place in Buffalo, holding down a post at the prestigious Olive Garden. CAST is promising us plenty of mirth, with lessons on wealth, relationships and why not to wear white after Labor Day. (Aug. 29)
Is it necessary to use curse language when reviewing a children's musical?