TUTS presents The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, a hit about overachieving pubescent nerds.
TUTS presents The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, a hit about overachieving pubescent nerds.
Joan Marcus

Setting the Stage

Sweet summer nights might be coming to an end, but theater lovers have reason to rejoice. The upcoming 2007–2008 season promises a year of provocative productions. Just a quick glance at a few local venues delivers a bounty of reasons to reserve seats today.

The fall is full of drama. It starts off with Main Street Theater's headfirst leap into the muck of the upcoming campaign year with their opening of Gore Vidal's 1960 drama The Best Man at the end of August. Vidal certainly knows his way around the dirty business of politics — not only did he watch his cousin get smoked in bad politics in 2000, but the playwright himself made two unsuccessful bids for office. His play on the subject was a hit from the time it opened on Broadway. In The New York Times, Brooks Atkinson called it "a frisky political melodrama about an ethical candidate for the presidential nomination who is challenged by an unethical opportunist." The fact that these words were written four decades before the Al Gore debacle is creepily prescient, but the production sounds like it hasn't lost a bit of relevance in its ripening age.

Equally relevant is John Patrick Shanley's Pulitzer Prize-winning Doubt, which opens the new season at the Alley Theatre on the last day of August. Set in 1964, the story focuses on Sister Aloysius, who believes a priest is molesting a boy in her school. The young Father Flynn denies the charge, arguing that the church needs to develop a "familiar face" among the parishioners. When the firm Sister collides with the friendly Father, the encounter metastasizes into the sort of ending that could only come from a writer of the new millennium.


Othello, Ain't Misbehavin' , The 25th Annual Putnam County, The Drowsy Chaperone, The Lieutenant of Inishmore and Caroline, or Change

The holidays bring new ways to celebrate the season apart from the same old Dickensian drudgery. Theatre Under The Stars will offer families a musical version of Frank Capra's 1946 film classic It's a Wonderful Life. Written by Sheldon Harnick and Joe Raposo, the musical features "a plot that wrings tears from assorted audience members" according to The Washington Post, as well as "pretty ballads" and "angels on roller skates" — kids will be wowed. Over at Stages Repertory Theatre, the feel-good off-Broadway hit Altar Boyz will focus on a Christian boy band that makes it big. The thing is, the members aren't as squeaky-clean as they sound — between the gay kid and the Jewish boy, good "Christian" values never sounded so sweet or so funny. The send-up has gotten tons of good press from New York City to San Francisco, and now it's coming here just in time for office parties and out-of-town guests.

January offers a whole slew of bright spots. The first is Caroline, or Change at Main Street Theater. Written by Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori, the musical was nominated for six Tony Awards in 2004. The story focuses on a black maid to a Southern Jewish family at the height of the civil rights movement. But the powerful story isn't all seriousness — it also features singing appliances. At the end of January, The Ensemble opens the great August Wilson's Gem of the Ocean. Set in 1904, the play is the earliest in Wilson's Pittsburgh Cycle about African-American life in the 20th century. The script features, among other characters, a 285-year-old slave. Filled with "passages of transporting beauty" (New York Times), this important play was one of Wilson's last before his death in 2005. And downtown at the Alley, blood and guts and political terrorism will be splattered across the stage in The Lieutenant of Inishmore by Martin McDonagh (who wrote the fabulous Pillowman featured two seasons ago at the Alley). The dark comedy about a small Irish town was called "appallingly entertaining" by Ben Brantley when it opened in New York in 2006.

Spring blooms with a new production of Othello at the Alley in March. But some audience members will be most excited about all the terrific musicals that will end the season, starting with The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Theater Under The Stars. Wonderful, charming, joyful — all these easy-to-spell words have been used to describe this comedic hit about a handful of overachieving pubescent nerds. In May, the multiple Tony Award-winning homage to musicals of the jazz age, The Drowsy Chaperone, ends TUTS's 40th season. And over at The Ensemble, July's Ain't Misbehavin' brings Houston's season to a close with some of the best song-and-dance numbers ever written.

The new season is just weeks away, and the list above is just a sample of what's coming. Several smaller venues haven't even announced their seasons yet. But we have hopes that the next season will be one of Houston's best.


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