Season Preview 2015: RI’s Can’t-Miss Picks
Another summer, another embarrassment of riches when it comes to performing arts in the Rural Intelligence region. As usual, there’s enough theater, music and dance (and just about everything else) to go around. Though we know the winter months offer their own pleasures, the arrival of the long-awaited spring weather provides the perfect excuse to start mapping out our own summer schedules. There are the events you anchor a night (or a week, or a month, or a season) around, and the ones you slip in to your schedule spontaneously, or as part of a decadent double-header. Fortunately there’s plenty to choose from. Here’s our annual list of 30(ish) can’t-miss picks from around the region. Now that you’ve dug out from the winter, it’s time to dig in. —Jeremy D. Goodwin
Man of La Mancha at Barrington Stage Company
June 10 - July 11
Barrington Stage’s season-opening musical has become an event not to miss, particularly after the celebrated New York run of the production of On the Town that delighted us two seasons ago. Julianne Boyd directs this musical take on Cervantes’ Don Quixote, starring BSC’s Jeff McCarthy, who is equally able to knock us dead as a cross-dressing southerner (Southern Comfort) or the demon barber of Fleet Street. Boyd-Quinson Mainstage, Pittsfield, MA.
Thoreau or, Return to Walden at Berkshire Theatre Group
June 18 - July 11
David Adkins has earned his place as one of our perennial favorites, with too many memorable roles at BTG to count. Adkins wrote this brand new, one-man play about the great Massachusetts individualist and nature-lover. It’s sure to go well with a leisurely hike in the Berkshire hills… but don’t worry, if you head back home afterward and turn the air-conditioning on, we won’t say anything to Mr. Thoreau. The Unicorn Theatre, Stockbridge, MA.
You Are Nowhere at Mass Live Arts
July 9 - 11
We were happy to see the arrival of this company two years ago, providing a Berkshire pipeline for selected plays pulled right from the burbling New York City underground. This is a co-commission by MLA, coming after its January premiere in PS122’s influential COIL festival. This piece is by Andrew Schneider, a multimedia artist who has been known to spin theater, video, sound, dance and inventive devices (see: the Solar Bikini) into a unique, immersive experience. The Daniel Arts Center, Bard College at Simon’s Rock, Great Barrington, MA.
Kinship at Williamstown Theatre Festival
July 15 - 25
With a penchant for new works and old classics and the juice to lure stars of stage and screen, WTF always stirs up a fascinating mix. So here comes the festival debuts of Cynthia Nixon—who hopefully will forgive us for always thinking of her as Miranda, though she has a Tony award for best actress (Rabbit Hole) in addition to her Grammy and two Emmys — and fellow Emmy-winner Penny Fuller. This American premiere looks at the politics of love and journalism. Nikos Stage, ‘62 Center for Theatre and Dance, Williamstown, MA.
Mother of the Maid at Shakespeare & Company
July 30 - September 6
Everbody’s buzzing lately about Tina Packer’s book, Women of Will, which follows up on the theatrical version we caught in Lenox before it went to New York. But she’s back onstage for this story about the mother of Joan of Arc. (And given Packer’s status as a force of nature, it’s likely to make us see Joan as a chip off the old block.) Emmy winner Jane Anderson, a veteran of Mad Men and Olive Kitteridge, penned this intriguing new work that Berkshire Playwrights Lab first brought to the area with a reading last summer. Bernstein Theatre, Lenox, MA.
A Moon for the Misbegotten at Williamstown Theatre Festival
August 5 - 23
We love when the great concert singers of our time swing by this neck of the woods to multitask. Last year, opera star Renée Fleming sang with the Boston Pops while preparing for her theatrical debut at WTF. This year, none other than Audra McDonald will be in town for a concert at Tanglewood and a role in this classic by Eugene O’Neill. With six Tony Awards to her credit though, McDonald is no newcomer. With a terrific cast and design team on board, this take on O’Neill’s late work is music to our ears. Main Stage, ‘62 Center for Theatre and Dance, Williamstown, MA.
Red Velvet at Shakespeare & Company
August 6 - September 13
Since John Douglas Thompson caught the attention of the theater world with his Othello at Shakespeare & Company in 2008, we’ve watched carefully to see how the company would feature him each season. He’s back in town this year for the regional premiere of this imaginative telling of the story of Ira Aldridge, who in 1833 became the first African-American actor to play the Moor of Venice in England. Talk about the perfect combination of actor and role. Packer Playhouse, Lenox, MA.
Engagements at Barrington Stage Company
August 13 - September 6
This looks to be an intriguing way to round out the summer season. Described as a pitch-black comedy, it examines the all-too-familiar plight of the defiantly single gal who is surrounded on all sides by the engagement parties of her friends. The world premiere treads this familiar ground from a decidedly Millennial point of view. St. Germain Stage at the Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center, Pittsfield, MA.
Art Garfunkel at Infinity Hall
We were crushed when Simon and Garfunkel canceled their 2010 date at Tanglewood, when Garfunkel was in the midst of some protracted throat issues. He’s back on the road though, and the Rural Intelligence region is soon to get a double dose—before his November show at the Mahaiwe, he’ll be at this even more intimate space. Hey, we’re not complaining. (I promised myself I wouldn’t include any puns about “Bridge Over Troubles Water” here, but you get the picture.) Norfolk, CT.
Boston Pops: Simply Sondheim at Tanglewood
Though some fans of the Pops will no doubt plan around its appearances at Tanglewood on Parade or the epically popular Film Night, this early season treat is a boon for theater lovers as well as Pops fanatics and their families. We love hearing the Pops take a spin with classics from the Great American Songbook, so an evening dedicated to Sondheim looks delectable. Koussevitzky Music Shed, Lenox, MA.
Mark Morris Dance Group at Tanglewood
June 25 - 26
This appearance became a favorite early-season activity, so we’re glad to see it return after a year off in 2014. The exciting program this year looks forward and back (but still kinda forward), with the world premiere of a BSO/Tanglewood Music Center commission, plus Cargo, which made its world premiere on the same stage ten years ago. Tanglewood Music Fellows will accompany the dancers with compositions by J. S. Bach and Darius Milhaud, respectively. (Though, with respect, we don’t expect Mr. Morris to dress up for the occasion.) Ozawa Hall, Lenox, MA.
Dressing and Dancing at the court of Louis XIV at Aston Magna Festival
June 26 - 27
Though we loved the chance to hear a commissioned work by red-hot composer Nico Muhly for Aston Magna’s anniversary season last year, we’re also intrigued when it presents wheelhouse programs like this one. Though this early music festival keeps a lower profile than others in the RI region, it’s well worth a visit even if you don’t know your harpsichord from your forte piano. (But you do, right?) Olin Hall, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY and Daniel Arts Center, Bard College at Simon’s Rock, Great Barrington, MA.
Solid Sound Festival at MASS MoCA
June 26 - 28
How fortunate we are to be the home base for Wilco’s biannual summer festival. Well, given how well MASS MoCA runs these things (additional festival facilities are even built into its big-deal expansion in the works), the good fortune runs both ways. This is something to build your weekend around, with two headlining shows by the Chicago band and a deep, deep undercard. Not least, the festival also shows North Adams at its best, with local restaurants, galleries and everybody else getting in on the fun one way or another. (My favorite extracurricular Solid Sound-related event from past years might be DJ Spooky spinning a set under the marquee of the Mohawk Theatre.) North Adams, MA.
Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga at Tanglewood
“What do you want to do this weekend, honey?”
“Let’s go see Lady Gaga at Tanglewood.”
Yes, it’s true. While the incomparable Lenox venue has hosted Tony Bennett in the past (his show last August was a winner), this will mark the local debut of Lady Gaga. While she’s not likely to put her “Poker Face” on, her standards collaboration with Tony is no bluff. They launched the project at the Montreal Jazz Festival last year, released an album, and we’re happy to see they’re back on the road and heading this way. As of this writing there are a handful of (obstructed view) seats available inside the Shed, but lawn tickets can be had for $30. Koussevitzky Music Shed, Lenox, MA.
Toshi Reagon at MASS MoCA
Reagon has a great lineage — she’s the daughter of two co-founders of the Freedom Singers and Sweet Honey in the Rock, and her godmother and namesake is the late Pete Seeger’s wife. But her sights on this evening will be on the love songs of Prince and Michael Jackson. This program was assembled for an appearance at Joe’s Pub in New York, so we’re glad for the chance to experience it out in MASS MoCA’s courtyard. North Adams, MA.
Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra at Tanglewood
Though its once-familiar jazz festival is no more, Tanglewood sets its sights on booking a few high-profile jazz shows throughout the summer. Wynton and the JLCO are the perfect match for this venue. He stopped off at Symphony Hall two years ago for his terrific devotional program (complete with gospel choir), but this Ozawa Hall appearance will be a much cozier affair. Don’t sleep on this ticket. Ozawa Hall, Lenox, MA.
Yo-Yo Ma with Mike Block, Monika Leskovar, Giovanni Sollima and the Boston Cello Quartet, cellos at Tanglewood
Yo-Yo Ma is not only the most uproariously popular guest soloist with the BSO, but perhaps the biggest gentleman as well—check him out taking photos with the young music students and fans when he’s on the grounds as an audience member. He uses Tanglewood as a laboratory for his wide-ranging musical interests, be it the Silk Road Project or this celebration of the cello. We don’t know quite what to expect from this all-cello program, but can’t wait to find out. Ozawa Hall, Lenox, MA.
Graham Nash at Mahaiwe
Nash is a believer in second careers—he’s a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee twice over, with The Hollies as well as Crosby, Stills and Nash. This puts him somewhere in the “legendary” category, so it should be a particular treat to stroll down Great Barrington’s Main Street (with no shade from the now-departed pear trees, alas!) and catch his distinctive tenor at the Mahaiwe. Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Great Barrington, MA.
Harlem Quartet at Music Mountain
Harlem Quintet showed its versatility when it was a very welcome guest with jazz great Chick Corea at Tanglewood a few summers ago. Here, the young group on the rise gets back to its roots, presenting a fascinating program that ranges from Beethoven to Dvorak to a 1925 piece by the Spanish composer Turina. A great excuse to visit this somewhat tucked-away gem of a venue. Falls Village, CT.
Bang on a Can Marathon at MASS MoCA
An annual highlight of the season, this 12-hour event caps three weeks of music making by the best and brightest young players in new-music, working with some of the most accomplished composers and bandleaders in the field. Recent years have included visits from forward-looking musicians ranging from Steve Reich to Wilco’s Glenn Kotche. Though the Marathon is the most boisterous and accessible way to take a dip into “contemporary classical” music, do yourself a favor and visit the museum during the weeks prior to catch gallery recitals by BOAC fellows and faculty.
The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord at Chester Theatre Company
June 24 – July 5
Over at Barrington Stage Company, Mark St. Germain has given us a taste for probing one-act plays (Freud’s Last Session, Scott and Hem in the Garden of Allah) that imagine meetings between historical contemporaries. This piece by Scott Carter, longtime producer of HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher, goes a step further, riffing off Sartre’s No Exit by planting Jefferson, Dickens and Tolstoy in a hell of their own making. Each of the three writers penned an alternative version of Biblical stories, and now they’re stuck in one room with all the time in the world to sort out their different perspectives on life, love and God. Chester, MA.
The Wreckers at Bard SummerScape
July 24 – August 2
This French-language opera, written in the early 20th century, borrows for its source material the little-remarked-upon stories of poor English villages whose residents made a practice of extinguishing seacoast beacons and thereby prompting ships to wreck upon the rocky shore. (The part-time pirates would steal the cargo and murder the crew, apparently. With the American Symphony Orchestra on board, this is an intriguing choice for the summer series at Bard—though it probably won’t inspire you taking to any seaborne vessels anytime soon. Sosnoff Theater, Fisher Center at Bard, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY.
Audra McDonald at Tanglewood
The chance to see Broadway legend and Grammy winner Audra McDonald onstage at Ozawa, performing a hand-selected program of tunes and accompanied by her intimate combo? Yes, please. McDonald is also in town to star onstage at Williamstown Theatre Festival, but does us a solid by booking this concert as well. It’ll be just like cabaret… where the singer has won 6 Tony Awards and the venue is one of the most beautiful on the continent. Ozawa Hall, Lenox, MA.
Paul Taylor at Mahaiwe
July 9 - 12
How great is it that a residence by the world renowned Paul Taylor at the Mahaiwe is now a no-biggie annual event? This year’s schedule offers a veritable orgy of dance, with five performances and six different pieces, including “Company B,” “Eventide” and “Esplanade,” three dances from different points in Taylor’s career that meditate upon American life. And there’s plenty of time to wash up and recover from your July 4 barbecues before heading on down. Mahaiwe Center for the Performing Arts, Great Barrington, MA.
Big Dance Theater in Alan Smithee Directed This Play: Triple Feature at Jacob’s Pillow
July 8 - 12
Fresh from its U.S. debut at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival, this piece by rock-star choreographer Annie-B Parson (directed by Parson and Paul Lazar, the directors of Big Dance Theater) takes a postmodern view of 20th century history and the creative process, with fragments of film scripts, novels and other found text assembled into what the company calls a “kinetic collage of political rhetoric, pathos, paranoia and suburban love.” Please sir, may I have some more? Doris Duke Theatre, Becket, MA.
Daniil Simkin’s INTENSIO at Jacob’s Pillow
July 22 - 26
This startling program boasts four world premieres by four noted choreographers, performed by ballet heroes from the American Ballet Theatre and Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal including the great Daniil Simkin. Expect to elbow your way past plenty of pilgrims from out of town when you pick up your tickets to this one. Ted Shawn Theatre, Becket, MA.
La Otra Orilla at Jacob’s Pillow
This world premiere dance comes courtesy of a Montreal company with a deep love of traditional flamenco, seasoned by music from the mountainous Andalusa region of southern Spain. No mere traditionalists, though, La Otra Orilla present this electric, crowd-pleasing style through a contemporary lens. Doris Duke Theatre, Becket, MA.
Lar Lubovitch Dance Company at Kaatsbaan
This New York-based company, perhaps best known for the Othello-based dance it crafted in collaboration with American Ballet Theatre and San Francisco Ballet, has been going strong for nearly 50 years. Though the program on this evening is yet to be announced, we look forward to what Lubovitch has in store for this visit to the Hudson Valley. Tivoli, NY.
Pam Tanowitz and FLUX Quartet at Bard SummerScape
This Bessie Award-winning choreographer is known for combining classical dance styles with contemporary forms of movement. The program this evening includes a piece for nine dancers with live string-quartet accompaniment, and the world premiere of a solo to be performed en pointe by former American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Ashley Tuttle. A full meal indeed. Sosnoff Theater, Fisher Center at Bard, Annandale-on-Hudson.
Man of La Mancha: Courtesy Barrington Stage Co.
Shakespeare & Company: Kevin Sprague
Audra McDonald: Autumn DeWilde
Mark Morris: Amber Star Merkens
Wynton Marsalis: Danny Clinch
Boston Cello Quartet: Jesse Weiner
Yo-Yo Ma: Todd Rosenberg
Harlem Quartet: Paul Wiancko
The Wreckers: Todd Norwood
Big Dance Theater: Mike VanSleen
Daniel Simkin: Ken Browar and Deborah Ory
La Otra Orilla and Pam Tanowitz Dance: Christopher Duggan
Lar Lubovitch: Yi-Chun Wu