What's Next For Stages Repertory Theatre in the 2018-19 Season

Opening ceremony of Stages Repertory Theatre's 2018 inaugural Sin Muros (Without Walls) Latina/o Theatre Festival.
Opening ceremony of Stages Repertory Theatre's 2018 inaugural Sin Muros (Without Walls) Latina/o Theatre Festival. Photo courtesy of Stages Repertory Theatre
When Stages Repertory Theatre announced its 2018-19 season a few things were immediately clear: it is not backing down from its commitment to Latinx plays, it's still going to take chances on new sometimes edgy works and it holds its returning standards like Always ... Patsy Cline and Panto holiday programming close to its heart and makes no apologies for that.

What may be changing, as Artistic Director Kenn McLaughlin puts it, is "a whole new set of casting protocols. Opening up casting in as many areas as I can get it. That means to not only color, race and background but taking into consideration if the play will support gender changing. I’m excited about how we might look at things. I'm working with a lot of the playwrights. The playwrights are giving us important feedback in terms of casting. But generally people writing today are more open to full considerations of how things are cast."

For example, Stages will be mounting only the second production in the country of Swimming While Drowning."  It's a beautiful play about two 15-year-old boys in an LGBTQ homeless shelter and the friendship they develop over a period of a few weeks together. It's a coming of age story and a story about hope."

As the centerpiece of the Sin Muros Festival, Stages will present The River Bride, which McLaughlin describes as "a beautiful poem really, a folk tale about two sisters who have love in their lives but cross wires. They each love a person the other is attracted to. One of them is about to be married. It's a play about taking a chance on life and what happens if in fact you don’t each reach with all your heart to love. It's a little bit of a cautionary fairy tale.  It's got this kind of whimsical, mystical question at its center. "

The first year of Sin Muros was the bones, McLaughlin says and they've been working on the second year for months now, already reviewing 18 scripts submitted to them. They intend to commit to it for a very long time, he says.

Stages is bringing back Little Shop of Horrors, a musical that McLaughlin says changed his life when he first saw it and decided theater was what he wanted to do. "People forget that Little Shop of Horrors is about disenfranchised people being seduced by celebrity. And it's also joyful and fun. I'm really excited about putting Little Shop of Horrors in a modern context and seeing what we can do with that."

McLaughlin is very excited about NSFW by Lucy Kirkwood who won the Susan Smith Blackburn Award for Chimerica.  "With everything going on in the world with the way women are finding an incredibly powerful voice., and finally being heard by that voice it felt like this is a moment to really look at this play." He says the play explores the root causes of pervasive insidious sexism.

"This play looks at not only role of men in perpetuating their own power base but how women serve to ensure that power base is perpetuated as well. I continue to be fascinated when women speak out against other women. I don't get it."

Sex with Strangers is really about an empowered woman, McLaughlin says. "She knows what she wants sexually; she knows what she wants for her career. And she ends up falling for this 20 something blogger, who has made his reputation by having sex with a woman a day for a year. That was his blog identity. What I love about the play is that it kind of upends a whole bunch of conventions. But at the core is a very sweet little love story, a quirky sweet little love story."

In terms of holiday programming, McLaughlin says "The Panto has become something our audiences expect. It has become a signature family tradition." Also up is The Ultimate Christmas Show (abridged) which is family friendly and employs three actors, stretching their muscles to the utmost,  essentially do everything.

On alternative nights and weekends they will be  doing Who’s Holiday – the opposite of family friendly offering a very adult version of Cindy Hoo as a grownup. "She’s an alcoholic. Her experience as a child when the Grinch broke into her house was certainly seminal in her development as an individual," McLaughlin says. "The entire play is told in verse. It is a true parody of Dr. Seuss. In fact, the Dr. Seuss estate sued to have the play shut it down in New York and the producers and the playwright won the lawsuit. It's completely adult humor. But at the end of the day there is redemption."

Here's the lineup from Stages Repertory Theatre:

The Great American Trailer Park Musical
music and lyrics by David Nehls
book by Betsy Kelso
Extended through July 22, 2018

One of the most requested musicals in Stages history, The Great American Trailer Park Musical is back! There's a new tenant at Armadillo Acres, and she's wreaking havoc all over Florida's most exclusive trailer park. The double-wide divas of this fine housing establishment have survived everything from kidnapping to no-good men to bad perms! But when Pippi, a “stripper on the run,” comes between agoraphobic housewife Jeannie and her tollbooth collector husband, a storm begins to brew that will shake these manufactured homes right down to their foundations!

The Great American Trailer Park Musical will be held over from Stages’ 2017-2018 Season.

Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash
created by Richard Maltby, Jr.
conceived by William Meade
adapted from the Broadway Production by Richard Maltby, Jr. and Jason Edwards
July 11 – September 2, 2018

The iconic songbook of Johnny Cash comes to life in this unique musical about struggle and success, love and faith, rowdiness and redemption, home and family. Featuring more than two dozen classic hits—including “I Walk The Line,” “A Boy Named Sue,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” and “Ring of Fire”, this remarkable hit musical brings actors Ben Hope and Katie Barton (Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams: Lost Highway) back to Houston for a foot-stompin’, crowd-pleasin’ musical portrait of The Man in Black.

Husband-and-wife duo Ben Hope and Katie Barton have both previously appeared at Stages in Hank Williams: Lost Highway and last season’s Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie. Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash recently received a new re-conception featuring a cast of five actor/musicians.

Sister’s Summer School Catechism: God Never Takes A Vacation
written by Maripat Donovan and Marc Silvia
August 1 - September 9, 2018

Denise Fennell returns as Sister this summer! The diocese has decided to offer summer school for those who need additional classroom time. Sister leads hysterical discussions about whether Jesus had to go to summer school and appropriate summer vacations for practicing Catholics. Classroom participation is a must, but being Catholic is not! Beat the Houston heat with Sister’s Summer School: God Never Takes A Vacation.

Denise Fennell is a Stages fan favorite previously seen in other installments of the Catechism series, Shear Madness and The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe.

Always…Patsy Cline
created and originally directed by Ted Swindley
based on a true story
September 7 & 8, 2018
at Miller Outdoor Theatre

Join us at Miller Outdoor Theatre for a celebration of Always...Patsy Cline's 30th Anniversary! First premiered at Stages in 1988, this internationally acclaimed hit musical written by Stages Founding Artistic Director Ted Swindley is based on a true story of the surprising friendship between the beloved country singer and a devoted Houston fan. 27 of Cline’s unforgettable hits make this an event that audiences clamor for year after year. Stages favorites Kelley Peters (The Honky Tonk Angels series and Marie Antoinette) and Susan Koozin (The Trailer Park series, Grey Gardens and Steel Magnolias) return for this boot-scootin’ Houston tradition!

This important investment in community engagement allows more than 10,000 Houstonians to experience Stages’ work completely free of charge.

Swimming While Drowning
by Emilio Rodriguez
October 3 - 21, 2018

Angelo and Mila are 15 and homeless. Angelo is a dreamer and Mila is a street-wise hustler, but when they become roommates at a shelter for LGBTQ teens, they build a fragile bond that inspires them to reach for understanding and self-acceptance. Emilio Rodriguez’s poetic coming-of-age story celebrates the healing power of hope and the beautiful mystery of being a teenager.

Stages’ production currently is slated to be just the second professional production in this play’s history. It had its world premiere at Milagro Theatre in Portland, OR, in 2016.

Emilio Rodriguez and his work have been a part of various festivals including the inaugural 2015 Latino Theatre Common’s Carnaval of New Works (Swimming While Drowning), the inaugural Activate Midwest Festival at Western Michigan University (Spin), and the Austin Latino New Play Festival (Mamacita and the Negrito).

The Ultimate Christmas Show (abridged)
by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor
November 7 - December 23, 2018

It’s the Annual Holiday Variety Show and Christmas Pageant at St. Everybody's Non-Denominational Universalist Church—where all faiths are welcome because we’ll believe anything! There’s just one minor problem: none of the acts scheduled to perform have arrived. Now it’s up to three quick-witted church members to perform the ENTIRE Variety Show and Christmas Pageant by themselves! An irreverent yet heartwarming romp through tradition, The Ultimate Christmas Show (abridged) bursts with festive, slapstick fun as these cheerfully ridiculous clowns celebrate all of our favorite holiday traditions—at once.

This production, the first to open of Stages’ three holiday shows, will be performed in repertory with Who’s Holiday, with the two shows sharing the same theater with different sets and performance times. General performance times for The Ultimate Christmas Show (abridged) are Wednesdays-Fridays 7 p.m., Saturdays 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Sundays 2 p.m.

The Ultimate Christmas Show (abridged) had its world premiere at Merrimack Repertory Theatre in 2011, where it broke box-office records. Creators Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor are two of the writers behind the famous “abridged” series, including plays like The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) and The Complete History of America (abridged), which was produced at Stages in 2010.

Panto Star Force
by Ryan Schabach and Elizabeth A. M. Keel
November 21 - December 30, 2018

Panto Star Force is an adventurous, cosmic blast of blockbuster hilarity! Jed, a farm boy from the planet Cypress, joins forces with a zany band of space rebels, robots, and furry bartenders (and Buttons, of course!) to stop the powerful Emperor Snorkelfish and Dark Tater from taking over the galaxy. Come ready to laugh, cheer and boo in true Panto style, with plenty of toe-tapping music and intergalactic fun for the whole family!

Co-author Ryan Schabach is no stranger to Panto at Stages, having appeared as the beloved character Buttons in most of the Pantos for the past 10 years, and having directed Panto Mother Goose in 2012. Local playwright Elizabeth Keel, whose work has been seen at several theatres around Houston, joins Schabach as part of the duo bringing Stages’ latest Panto to life.

General performance times for Panto Star Force are Wednesdays-Fridays 7 p.m., Saturdays 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., and Sundays 2 p.m.

Who’s Holiday!
by Matthew Lombardo
December 5 – 30, 2018

It’s Christmas Eve and the now 40-year-old Cindy Lou Who lives in her shoddy trailer home on Mount Crumpit, former hideout of the infamous Grinch. While she awaits her Christmas party guests, she regales listeners with the bizarre journey her life has taken since that fateful night in Whoville when a certain Grinch tried to steal Christmas. This hysterical and wild parody is a must-see for mischievous ADULT theatre-goers this holiday season! Not suitable for those easily offended.

The third production in Stages’ 2018 holiday season, Who’s Holiday will play in repertory with The Ultimate Christmas Show (abridged). General performance times for Who’s Holiday are Wednesdays-Fridays 7pm, Saturdays 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., and Sundays 2 p.m., with additional 9:30 p.m. performances available on some weekend dates.

The play premiered off-Broadway in November 2017. Stages’ incarnation will be one of the first productions outside New York.

This show is for adults only!

The River Bride
by Marisela Treviño Orta
January 23 - February 10, 2019

Two sisters in a Brazilian fishing village struggle to find their own happily-ever-after while bound to family honor and tradition. Helena is in love with her sister Belmira’s betrothed; meanwhile Belmira only wants to escape the Amazonian river life for an exciting adventure in the city. Days before the wedding, a mysterious stranger is pulled from the river, offering a tantalizing future that may change both their lives. Brazilian folklore and lyrical storytelling combine to weave a magical tale of love, fate and transformation.

The River Bride will be produced in conjunction with Stages’ 2nd annual Sin Muros Latina/o Theatre Festival.

Premiered at Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2016, The River Bride is part of a cycle of fairy tales author Marisela Treviño Orta is writing inspired by Latino folklore and mythology.

Sin Muros (Without Walls): A Latina/o Theatre Festival
January 31 – February 3, 2019

Stages Repertory Theatre will celebrate Latina/o voices and stories reflecting the diversity of local Texas communities during the second annual Sin Muros (Without Walls) Theatre Festival. The weekend will be filled with free public events for audiences and local theatre-makers, including workshops, play and poetry readings, and much more!

Performances and/or play readings will be:

Thursday, January 31 at 7:30 p.m.
Friday, February 1 at 8 p.m.
Saturday, February 2 at 2:30 p.m.
Saturday, February 2 at 8 p.m.
Sunday, February 3 at 2:30 p.m.

by Lucy Kirkwood
February 13 – March 3, 2019

Money, sex, and Photoshop! After Sam loses his job at Doghouse, a men’s magazine where the men always behave badly, he interviews at Electra, a glossy women’s magazine where the women objectify each other. NSFW is a satirical look at the cut-throat media world where jobs are scarce, beauty standards are savage and personal integrity is a luxury.

NSFW premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 2012, and has rarely been produced in the U.S. Kirkwood is a multi-award-winning playwright and screenwriter whose play Chimerica won the Critics’ Circle, Evening Standard and Olivier Awards for Best New Play and the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for best play in the English language by a female writer.

Little Shop of Horrors
book and lyrics by Howard Ashman
music by Alan Menken
March 6 – April 28, 2019

This smash sci-fi musical has devoured the hearts of theatre-goers for over 30 years! A nerdy flower shop clerk named Seymour stumbles across a new breed of plant which he affectionately names after his secret crush, Audrey. The exotic bloom offers the promise of fame and fortune, but Seymour soon discovers that the mysterious “Audrey II” also has a taste for blood, ominous origins and an insatiable appetite for power!

The original off-Broadway production of Little Shop of Horrors opened in 1982 and ran for five years before being adapted into a major motion picture starring Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene and Steve Martin. Little Shop of Horrors was the second collaboration between Menken and Ashman, who later went on to write the scores to Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid and Aladdin. Stages previously produced Little Shop of Horrors in 1990.

Murder for Two
book and music by Joe Kinosian
book and lyrics by Kellen Blair
April 24 – June 16, 2019

The hit show that is selling out across the country is now coming to Houston! Everyone is a suspect in Murder for Two, a hilarious murder mystery with a twist. One actor plays the investigator, the other plays all 13 suspects, and both play the piano throughout! A zany blend of classic musical comedy and madcap mystery, this whodunit is a highly theatrical duet loaded with killer laughs.

Murder for Two
was developed at The Adirondack Theatre Festival and 42nd Street Moon. Chicago Shakespeare Theater presented the World Premiere Production in May 2011, which was extended four times and ran for more than six months. Kinosian and Blair were recognized with a 2011 Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Musical.

Sex With Strangers
by Laura Eason
May 22 – June 9, 2019

A sly comedy about lust, love and personal identity in the tell-all internet age! Snowbound at a remote writer’s retreat, Olivia struggles to find inspiration after her first novel was a flop. She receives an unexpected visit from Ethan, an admirer and online “sexcapade” blogger who offers to promote her book to his massive digital fan base. However, their instant attraction turns to uncertainty as Olivia begins to question whether Ethan is her true love or just a hot brand with a hotter body.

Laura Eason is a playwright and screenwriter best known for four seasons on the Netflix drama House of Cards. Eason has more than 20 produced plays and adaptations as a playwright, including the international hit Sex with Strangers, that saw its World Premiere in 2011 at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, Eason's hometown and went on to become one of the most produced plays in the U.S. in the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 theatre seasons. Her work has been produced internationally in England, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, and Finland.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing