It's the 2022-23 Season for Houston's Stages theater and as Artistic Director Kenn McLaughlin makes clear, they are looking forward to filling seats in all their three stages in the coming year with offerings both light-hearted and exceedingly ambitious in scope.
Ready to step out from the shadow of the last two years of pandemic, Stages kicks things off in July with a musical Dream: The Story of The Everly Brothers about the massive influence the duo had on other musicians by Ben Hope and Eric Anthony. McLaughlin says Hope came to him with a general idea about musical influences on himself and other musicians and after a year refined it to be about the music of the Everly Brothers saying they were a milestone group and something he could readily personalize through his own experiences.
Next up is Plumshuga: The Rise of Lauren Anderson, the story of the first Black promoted to principal dancer at Houston Ballet. Dancers from the Houston Ballet will perform to original choreography by Houston Ballet Artistic Director Stanton Welch and Urban Souls Dance Company Harrison Guy, featuring dancers from Houston Ballet.
According to Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton, Houston's poet laureate emeritus who wrote Plumshuga, the word Plumshuga "is a way to capture both the Sugarplum spirit and Lauren's cultural identity as a southern Black woman. Lauren's mark for so long was wrapped in becoming the Sugarplum. It was the last role she danced before retiring and she marks that it is the role that got to see her through the biggest changes of her life. But being a classic ballerina isn't her whole identity. Her existence as a Black woman in a classic space is one that has yet to be explored. Plumshuga wants to pull out the sweet balance of both of those identities into the light."
McLaughlin says that Anderson "has been involved in every step of the way and she approved that Deborah could do this writing," McLaughlin says.
In Roe, Stages treads on admittedly sensitive ground, particularly given recent developments as regards a woman's right to an abortion in Texas and the United States.
"I don’t go after overtly political things because I think people shut down," McLaughlin says. But he felt that something needed to be said about what was going on and after he read the play, he decided to produce it.
"The reason is this play gets past the political side of this conversation and gets deep into the human side. Here are these women. Here is the story of these women and it is not the story you think it is. The play really is about how commodified has become. And thus we've lost the story of the women at the center. This story reclaims the voices of women in this core debate. It is women on both sides of the issue and it allows the women to speak. The most powerful part of the play is the story of Norma McCorvey and the story of Sarah Weddington and at the end you actually hear the Supreme Court decision with the justices reading it and it's all the men. It's stunning that all of this gets talked about with women wrestling it out as women together but men make the decision."
In 2021, cullud wattah won the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, awarded to female and nonbinary writers of English-language plays. Its playwright, Erika Dickerson-Despenza writes about how the lead poisoning from the Flint water crisis affects a family there. "The play looks at it through three generations of women living there — the impact of the way they've lived in the community and the way the community is changing, it's all offered in an incredibly poetic package.
"It doesn't assault us. It talks about what's the human price of the choices we make as a society," McLaughlin says.
On the lighter side is The Legend of Georgia McBride, which McLaughlin says has been very popular in theaters across America and on his wish list for more than five years. It's the story of an entertainer having a rough go of it as an Elvis impersonator who reluctantly switches to drag because he has a wife and child to support. "It asks questions about the way in we as individuals perform every day, the kind of masks that we put on. These are all things that we are adopting and amplifying in navigating the world."
In turn, this spurred McLaughlin to the next step, which was to find another show to do in repertory with it.
"If we're going to take all the time to set up a drag stage and dig down in drag culture, we need to do a late night drag show, So somebody said 'Why don't we do The Wonderettes in drag?' We'd been talking about it for years." McLaughlin called Roger Bean, playwright for the Wonderettes, proposed the idea and the result was Drag Wonderettes which will alternate with Georgia McBride. The Wonderettes will be singing the usual pop songs of the '50s and '60s but in drag.
In 2023, Stages will mount the sixth year of its Sin Muros (Without Walls): A Borderless Teatro Festival. McLaughlin says the caliber of the plays has improved every year and now Stages is in a deeper discussion of how to nurture these plays and their authors. "We've got an audience building and now we can start to dig in more deeply into how we make sure these plays have an on-ramp into the larger community. I feel like we are at the dawn of the next step."
The season crescendos with a bluesy offering, Thunder Knockin' on the Door by Keith Glover Words and music by Keb’ Mo’ and Anthony Glover — a project near and dear to McLaughlin's heart.
"I have been trying to produce this play for 20 years. I love this play so much," McLaughlin says. "I was part of its world premiere development in the late '90s peripherally. I did education programs for one of the theaters — before I came here — when it was being developed. It is the play that I have seen more than any other play in my whole life. I went every single time it played in Great Lakes. Then it went on to Broadway, 9/11 happened and it never got the traction on Broadway. Then Keith Glover, who wrote it, pulled the rights and it wasn't in the world.
"Just before COVID, I saw a production of it pop up in Minneapolis and I thought 'the rights to Thunder are available ,' and then COVID happened. And then this year I was like 'I'm going after that play' and this year we were able to procure it. It is the most beautiful love story, exciting musical classic sell-your-soul-to-the-Devil-for-love and I love it. And the music, 20 years later the songs still play in my head. Keb' Mo' is such as genius."
McLaughlin, like other artistic directors throughout Houston knows building back audiences to their previous strengths will not occur overnight. The 2021-22 season is still ongoing with Sunrise Coven opening this Thursday, followed by You Are Cordially Invited to Sit In (April 7), Black Super Hero Magic Mama (April 28) and Song of Me (June 2).
"From my perspective on this we have to stay the course; we have to keep doing extraordinary work. We have to keep creating safe spaces for all people. And we have to keep inviting people in. I do think it's going to take a lot of us to literally bring, invite, hold by the hand, people back through the doors. Like the whole world, we're not seeing the same kind of behaviors we saw pre-pandemic. Part of it is naming the kind of community that we are and continuing to work to build that community together."
Stages’ 2022-2023 Season
Dream: The Story of The Everly Brothers
By Ben Hope and Eric Anthony
July 22 – September 4, 2022
Previews: July 22 - 27, 2022
One of the first ten artists inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Everly Brothers were pioneers of country rock, known for tight harmonies and steel-string acoustic guitar. Ben Hope and Eric Anthony pay homage to these legends as they share the music and stories of the Everly Brothers weaved among their own tales of influences, music making, and family. With over 25 songs, from Number 1s to deep tracks, Dream showcases the full humanity of the Everly Brothers and the rich legacy.
Plumshuga: The Rise of Lauren Anderson
By Deborah D.E.E.P Mouton
Music by Jasmine Barnes
Original choreography by Stanton Welch and Harrison Guy
Featuring dancers from Houston Ballet
October 7 – November 13, 2022
Previews: October 7 - 12, 2022
This innovative new work blends spoken word, dance, music, and theater for a vivid and intimate look into Lauren Anderson’s rise to ballet royalty and her eventual triumphant rise to accept her authentic self. In 1990, Lauren Anderson became one of the first Black principal ballerinas of a major ballet company when she ascended to Principal Dancer of the Houston Ballet. Unknown to her adoring audiences, she brought with her on stage the weight of her own tumultuous relationships, abuse, and battles with addiction. In Plumshuga, you’ll share a conversation with Lauren at home, where she breaks the fourth wall to discuss her greatest trials and successes by reliving them in memories painted by music and dance. This is Lauren Anderson’s story in her words, for the first time ever.
Houston For the Holidays With DeQuina Moore
November 4 - December 24, 2021
Previews: November 4 - 9, 2022
Join Stages as we welcome DeQuina Moore, one of Houston’s most talented souls, home for the holidays in this cabaret-style performance. With holiday hits spanning decades, this is the evening to get you in the holiday spirit. From nostalgic stories to memories backstage on Broadway, this cabaret will deck your halls with nostalgia, joy, and cheer.
Panto Snow White and the Seven Dorks
Book, music and lyrics by Adam Howard
November 25 – December 24, 2022
Previews: November 25 - 30, 2022
This classic Brothers Grimm tale gets a Panto twist as Snow White finds herself banished by the Evil Queen and her high-tech virtual assistant mirror. As she fumbles through Silicon Valley in search of help, she finds a team of dorky hackers. Together, they overthrow and outcode the forces of tech tyranny using brains, algorithms, and some Panto-magic. And did we mention Buttons gets a reboot as he is reinvented as head of Tech Support for the Evil Queen - perhaps he’ll find redemption in the end?
By Lisa Loomer
January 20 – March 5, 2023
Previews: January 20 - 25, 2023
In this incisive play, acclaimed playwright Lisa Loomer cuts through the pithy headlines and explosive rhetoric to illuminate the human stories behind Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that legalized abortion. In turns shocking, humorous, and poignant—but always balanced—the play reveals the divergent private journeys of two Texas natives in the years following the court’s monumental ruling: attorney Sarah Weddington, who argued the case at the Supreme Court at the age of 26, and plaintiff Norma McCorvey (“Jane Roe”). Sprinkled with original archival audio from the Supreme Court and infused with the fervor of all sides of the case, Roe holds up a microphone to the voices of vastly different Americas, where the verdict has echoed from hushed conversations to primetime news for decades.
By Erika Dickerson-Dispenza
February 10 – April 2, 2023
Previews: February 10 - 15, 2023
After appearing at The Public to widespread acclaim, this gorgeous, emotional play makes one of its first appearances outside of New York at Stages. Winner of the 2021 Smith Blackburn Prize, cullud wattah follows three generations of Black women living through the current water crisis in Flint, Michigan. It’s been 936 days since Flint has had clean water. Marion, a third-generation General Motors employee, is consumed by layoffs at the engine plant.
When her sister, Ainee, seeks justice and restitution for lead poisoning, her plan reveals the toxic entanglements between the city and its most powerful industry, forcing their family to confront the past-present-future cost of survival. As lead seeps into their home and their bodies, corrosive memories and secrets rise among them. Will this family ever be able to filter out the truth?
Denise Fennell Returns to Stages!
March 10 – May 14, 2023
Previews: March 10 - 15, 2023
The charm, wit, and humor of Denise Fennell will take center stage next spring in an all-new adventure. With her signature humor and storytelling, we know this will be a not-to-miss moment for our audiences who have grown to love her.
The Legend of Georgia McBride
By Matthew Lopez
May 5 – July 2, 2023
Previews: May 5 - 10, 2023
Casey is desperate to be the best Elvis impersonator, complete with his flashy sequin jumpsuit. But just like that, his audiences lose interest and his act is replaced by the new drag show in town. With rent overdue and a baby on the way, “The King” takes the plunge and transforms into an all-out queen with the help of his new friends who teach Casey what it’s like to walk in someone else’s heels. But how will he reveal his newfound love of drag to his wife? With snappy zingers and dance-worthy numbers, this wildly entertaining story challenges our perceptions of identity and classic gender roles with extraordinary humor and depth.
By Roger Bean
May 19 – July 2, 2023
Previews: May 19 - 24, 2023
You know and love The Marvelous Wonderettes – it’s time for a new twist! Re-imagined as a high drag performance, you’ll hear the same '50s and '60s songs like “Stupid Cupid”, “Lollipop”, and “It’s My Party” and get a whole new view of how friendship can be truly marvelous. RuPaul has nothing on these queens!
Sin Muros (Without Walls): A Borderless Teatro Festival
May 25 – 28, 2023
Year six of this celebration of Latinx artists will breathe new life into this community event. As we continue to grow and explore ways to heighten this teatro festival, look for changes that elevate and add excitement to this week.
Thunder Knockin' on the Door
By Keith Glover
Words and music by Keb’ Mo’ and Anthony Glover
June 16 – August 6, 2023
Previews: June 16 - 21, 2023
This bluesy show is an intoxicating musical fable filled with humor, heart, and the extraordinary music of three-time Grammy Award winner Keb’ Mo’. In a small Alabama town, a mysterious blues guitar-playing stranger arrives at the door of the Dupree family, bringing a challenge for the offspring of his late rival. The stranger’s bargain pits family legacy against a tempting future. But what started as a deal with the devil turns into a love story for the ages. Part family reckoning, part epic love, and all blues, Thunder Knockin' on the Door brings soul to Stages.