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A Little Something For Everyone
The big news customarily wafts south from the Massachusetts Berkshires, but in the summer of 2002, no less a star than Paul Newman is lighting up the sky at the Westport Country Playhouse, as a favor to his wife, Joanne Woodward, who runs the place.
In "Our Town" - by Thornton Wilder, directed by West Harford native son James Naughton - Newman, 77, heads an exceptionally strong cast in the role of stage manager. The production inaugurates the summer theater season when it opens this week.
Goodspeed Opera House, of course, has been up and tapping since April, but the East Haddam operation is no longer just a summer theater, as it runs from early spring to the start of winter. Its current show is "Dames at Sea," and the major summer show will be its second revival of the Rodgers and Hart "Babes in Arms," with a new book by Joe Di Pietro.
The third major summer attraction in the state, New Haven's prestigious International Festival of Arts & Ideas, again will celebrate the Royal Shakespeare Company. In its fourth consecutive visit to the festival, the great English company will present "A Midsummer Night's Dream," directed by Richard Jones, at the Shubert Theatre. Much more contemporary, and controversial, is "Alive from Palestine: Stories Under the Occupation," mounted by Al-Kasaba Theatre at Long Wharf Theatre.
Summer is not normally a time for cutting-edge theater; so much of the fare, from Westport to Williamstown, Mass., consists of vintage stuff. Westport is showcasing both John Van Druten's 1943 "The Voice of the Turtle," the first small-cast show to become a hit, and Sutton Vane's mysterioso 1923 "Outward Bound," whose film version starred Leslie Howard and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Doug Hughes directs the latter.
Hughes is one of two former regional artistic directors to work at Westport this summer. Besides providing a showcase for Long Wharf Theatre's now-flown Hughes, Woodward also has cut a deal with the Berkshire Theatre Festival to share the American premiere of "A Saint She Ain't." Eric Hill, former artistic director of Springfield's StageWest, directs the Hollywood musical about a 1943 shore leave, written by Dick Vosburgh and Denis King.
Stockbridge's BTF can boast another import, "Quartet," by Ronald Harwood, a "Rigoletto" cast reunion directed by Vivian Matalon. But its mainstage season includes a genuine old chestnut, Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None," formerly titled the less politically correct "Ten Little Indians." Both BTF and the Williamstown Theatre Festival will open their mainstage seasons with musicals. Stockbridge audiences will see the 1968 Kander-Ebb "Zorba," while Williamstown is bringing back Frank Loesser's delightful 1948 "Where's Charley?" The 1930 Kaufman-Hart Hollywood satire "Once in a Lifetime" follows, with Michael Greif ("Rent") directing. John Tillinger is re-staging an earlier Broadway succcess, Joe Orton's hilarious farce "Loot," and Gordon Edelstein, Long Wharf's new artistic director, will mount a star-laden version of "God of Vengeance," the scandalous Sholem Asch drama reinterpreted by the Pulitzer Prize-winning New Haven playwright Donald Margulies. Williamstown has a record of transferring productions to Broadway, so this could be one of next season's New York hits. Or not.
Closer to home (except for readers in the state's northwest towns), the Connecticut Repertory Theatre in Storrs has a fairly challenging slate in view. It opens with the great Stephen Sondheim Victorian horror show of deliriously cut throats and gleeful cannibalism, "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street." It closes with a production staged by another Long Wharf artistic director (acting), the newly departed Greg Leaming: Steven Druckman's updating, to contemporary Washington, D.C., of Alexandre Ostrovsky's "In Every Wise Man, A Little Foolishness." In between, the Nutmeg company offers something for everyone (as Sondheim would say), the Lieber-Stoller musical "Smokey Joe's Cafe."