2017-18 NJ Theater Season preview: A Top 20

Simpatico

MICHAEL BROSILOW

Guy Van Swearingen, left, and Michael Shannon c0-star in “Simpatico,” which will be at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton through Oct. 15.

Not all of New Jersey’s theater companies follow a September-May format when it comes to their venues’ seasons. But many do, so now is a good time to look ahead to some of the most notable offerings on the calendar.

So here they are — 20 plays, musicals and special events — arranged in chronological order, by starting date. The list begins with three plays whose runs have already started, or start today:

Through Oct. 15: “Simpatico” at the Berlind Theatre at the McCarter Theater Center in Princeton.

Michael Shannon, who has been nominated for a Tony (for “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” in 2016) as well as two Oscars (for “Revolutionary Road,” in 2008, and “Nocturnal Animals,” in 2016), will star this dark drama. Written by Sam Shepard, who died less than two months ago at the age of 73, it was first produced in 1994, then made into a movie co-starring Nick Nolte, Jeff Bridges and Sharon Stone in 1999.
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Through Oct. 8: “A Raisin in the Sun” at Two River Theater, Red Bank.

This production of Lorraine Hansberry’s ground-breaking 1959 family drama — whose title was inspired by the lines of Langston Hughes poetry, “What happens to a dream deferred?/Does it dry up/Like a raisin in the sun?” —  will feature veteran Two River actors Brandon J. Dirden, Crystal A. Dickinson and Brenda Pressley playing he roles of Walter Lee, Ruth and Lena Younger.

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Through Sept. 24: “Foster Mom” at Zella Fry Theatre at Kean University, Union. Premiere Stages series.

I just saw this play last night — full review to come — and was very moved by Chris Cragin-Day’s writing and actress Ariel Woodiwiss’ portrayal of a 39-year-old single woman, struggling with the decision over whether or not to become a foster parent.

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Sept. 19-Oct. 1: “The Merchant of Venice” at Kasser Theater at Montclair State University.

Montclair State’s Peak Performances series kicks off its 2017-18 season, which is devoted to works by women, with a production of Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice,” directed by Karin Coonrod, in which the Jewish money-lender Shylock is played by five actors of both genders and varying races and ethnicities. The play will be performed by the New York-based but internationally active Compagnia de’ Colombari, which Coonrod founded.

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Sept. 28: “Shostakovich and The Black Monk: A Russian Fantasy” at Richardson Auditorium at Princeton University.

Len Cariou will star as composer Dmitri Shostakovich and The Emerson String Quartet will perform Shostakovich’s music in this new theater/music project about Shostakovich’s attempt to adapt Anton Chekhov’s short story “The Black Monk” into an opera.

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Sept. 28-Oct. 29: “The Honeymooners” at Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn.

Ralph and Alice Kramden and Ed and Trixie Norton live again in this new musical version of the classic television sitcom. This will be its world premiere, and the plot will see Ralph and Ed get involved in the world of advertising after winning a big contest. Tony winners John Rando and Michael McGrath will direct and play Ralph, respectively, and Tony nominee Laura Bell Bundy will play Trixie.

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Oct. 1-8: All About Eve Festival of the Arts, presented by New Jersey Repertory Company at West End Arts Center, Long Branch.

To celebrate the opening of its new location, to be known as the West End Arts Center (a former school at 132 West End Ave.), New Jersey Repertory Company will host All About Eve, an arts festival emphasizing works about women, and including 28 short plays as well as music, poetry, art and photography.

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Oct. 5-8: A Festival of the Arts at Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University.

To celebrate the opening of its new arts complex, Princeton University will present an action-packed four-day (Thurs.-Sun.) weekend of arts events, including theater as well as music, dance, film and poetry. Theatrical offerings will include the world premiere of “Gurls,” a new adaptation of Euripides’ “The Bacchae” by Princeton alumnus Branden Jacobs-Jenkins; and “Theater for One,” which will pair a professional actor with an audience member, one a time, for a short play.
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Oct. 5-22: “Paradise” at Passage Theatre, Trenton.
Nov. 2-19: “Paradise” at Luna Stage, West Orange.

Grant Shaud, best known as a cast member of television’s “Murphy Brown,” will star in this production of Laura Maria Censabella’s play about a Muslim-American teenager in the Bronx, and her biology teacher. The production will premiere in Trenton, and then move to West Orange.

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Oct. 10-Nov. 12: “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” at George Street Playhouse, New Brunswick.

A new arts center is currently being built on the portion of Livingston Avenue that formerly housed The George Street Playhouse. George Street will move back there when the project is completed, in fall 2019, but in the meantime, it will present shows at the former site of the New Jersey Museum of Agriculture, on College Farm Road. The first play there will a new version of “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” which features various vignettes about relationships and is the second-longest-running musical in off-Broadway history (playing at the Westside Theatre from 1996 to 2008).

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Oct. 11-Nov. 12: “Shakespeare in Love” at Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey at Drew University, Madison.

Based on the 1998 film that won the Best Picture Oscar, among other awards — and was about was about a fictional relationship that the Bard had with an actress while struggling to write”Romeo and Juliet” — this play was first produced in London in 2014. This will be its Northeast U.S. debut.

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Oct. 13-15: “Jersey Boys” at State Theatre, New Brunswick.

This will be the New Jersey debut of the hit jukebox musical about the glory days and backstage conflicts of Frankie Valli and his hit-making band, the Four Seasons. Jonny Wexler, who will play Valli, and Tommaso Antico, who will play Four Seasons member Bob Gaudio, have performed in the Broadway production, though in different roles.

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Nov. 4-19: “Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical” at Axelrod Performing Arts Center, Deal.

Remember Jones, who is one of New Jersey’s most theatrical rock ‘n’ roll performers, has, not coincidentally, a background in musical theater, and will return to his roots, in a sense, by taking on the title roles in this musical, featuring songs written by composer-lyricist Frank Wildhorn with lyricists Leslie Bricusse and Steve Cuden.

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Nov. 11-Dec. 3: “The Importance of Being Earnest” at Two River Theater, Red Bank.

Veteran actor Michael Cumpsty directs Oscar Wilde’s best known work, a 1895 comedy of manners packed with sparkling witticisms.

 

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Jan. 25-Feb. 4: “A Good Farmer”at South Orange Performing Arts Center. Presented by American Theater Group.

Written by Sharyn Rothstein (“By the Water,” “All the Days”), “A Good Farmer” is about woman who hires a Mexican immigrant to work on her upstate New York farm and help her take care of her sick husband. The American Theater Group has some readings scheduled at SOPAC in the fall, but this will be its first fully produced play under the two organizations’ new partnership.

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Jan. 30-Feb. 25: .“American Hero” at George Street Playhouse, New Brunswick.

Christopher Demos-Brown’s wrenching “American Son,” which was at the George Street Playhouse in February, was one of the highlights of the 2016-17 New Jersey theater season for me. “American Hero,” about a veteran of the Iraq war, is the second part of Demos-Brown’s planned trilogy about injustices in modern America.

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Feb. 1-4: “Ain’t Misbehavin’ “ at Victoria Theater at NJPAC, Newark.

The Crossroads Theatre Company, like the George Street Playhouse (see item for “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” above), will be displaced this season because of construction of a new arts center. But it will bring its production of this popular musical, featuring the songs of Fats Waller, to NJPAC on these dates. The direction and choreography will be by André DeShields, who starred in the original Broadway production.

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March 29-April 29: “The Sting” at Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn.

This will be the world premiere of a new musical, based on the hit 1973 movie. Bob Martin, who wrote the book for the musical, says it “retains all of the wit and depression era charm of the original — the complex characters, the sophisticated story, the twists and surprises — and adds a sly self-awareness that keeps it relevant.”

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April 6-22: “Hitler’s Tasters” at Lackland Performing Arts Center, Hackettstown. Presented by Centenary Stage Company.

Based on a true story, this play is about a group of young women whose wartime job it was to eat some of the food prepared for Adolf Hitler, at every meal, to make sure it was not poisoned. Written by Michelle Kholos Brooks, the play won the Susan Glaspell Award in Centenary Stage Company’s Women Playwright Series program, and will be making its world premiere here.

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May 4-June 3: “Turning Off the Morning News” at Berlind Theatre at McCarter Theatre Center, Princeton.

This will be the world premiere of a play by Christopher Durang, whose Tony-winning “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” premiered at the McCarter in 2012. “Turning Off the Morning News” is a “black comedy (that) exposes the mayhem of contemporary family life in a time of alternative facts, nonstop streaming news, and social media saturation,” according to a description on the McCarter web site.

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