Curtain Up On 2020
With the Holidaze over and Carnival not quite yet fully kicking in, the first part of our annual theater season is upon us. The following are some shows that should get you in the mood for Mardi Gras…and some others for those who prefer some seriousness amidst the marvelous madness.
Writer/director Nari Tomassetti’s 3 Ring Circus definitely falls in the former category. This combination of classic circus and a musical tells of a love story between a rotten egg and a bad peanut, whose romance can only blossom under the Big Top. Promising death-defying feats of jaw-dropping beauty and the most amazing human and “animalistic” acts in the South, you will be dazzled by cavorting clowns, rubberized heroines, and flying acrobats.
With live music by Matt Bell and His Orchestra, 3 Ring Circus features Chris Wecklein and Allee Peck as the Conjoined Twins Ringmaster, Owen Ever as the Egg, Daisy Konfused as the Peanut as well as Elizabeth Seleen, Jillian Krasley, Riot Mueller, Sydney Calderon, Sarah Bobcat Inman, Hillary Neeb, and Laney GoGoGo. This extravaganza runs January 9-19 at the Old Iron Works (612 Piety St.).
Another spectacular will take place on January 25 when Night of 1000 Stevies New Orleans returns to One Eyed Jacks (615 Toulouse St.) for its second annual incarnation here. Neither a contest nor a karaoke show, NOTS promises the ultimate Stevie Nicks celebration, a profusion of shawls, lace, baby’s breath, twirling, tambourines and performances by “Legends of Stevie Realness” from all over the country.
I described last year’s finale, the “Battle of A Thousand Stevies” to the tune of Stand Back, as “fabulous and surreal”. I expect nothing less this year. Tickets at https://www.ticketweb.com/event/the-jackie-factory-presents-night-one-eyed-jacks-tickets/10111775?pl=oneeyed
Though it may not be as surreal as NOTS, Goat in the Road Productions’ The Uninvited should be pretty fabulous if their previous production, the award-winning The Stranger Disease, is any indication. This new, immersive, original, historically-inspired performance takes place at and follows nine people who live in, or orbit around, the Gallier House (1132 Royal St.).
Six years after architect James Gallier, Jr.’s death, his wife, two of his daughters, and household staff members Charity and Rene are preparing for an evening of entertaining when a mob of young men passes by, seeking to re-segregate the integrated school next door. News of the mob and an uninvited guest disrupt the household and expose the race & class divisions embedded in the characters’ lives.
During the show, audience members will be able to explore this historic property as they follow characters and storylines of their choice. Running through February 14, The Uninvited is based on a real-life incident that took place in December 1874.
The NOLA Project, likewise,continues its season with a history-inspired show but one that also tosses science fiction and comedic farce into a “genre blender.” In Sigrid Gilmer’s new play Harry and the Thief, Mimi’s cousin Jeremy has a PhD in physics, a brand-new time machine, and a plan–he’s sending Mimi, a professional thief, back to 1863 to alter history by providing Harriet Tubman with modern-day guns. Lots and lots of guns.
Sounds like a cross between Peabody’s Improbable History and a Quentin Tarantino movie.
This regional premiere runs a mere 10 performances (Jan. 16-26) at the Contemporary Arts Center (900 Camp St.). See it now unless you too have a time machine.
The late, great poet/playwright Ntozake (For Colored Girls…) Shange effected some time travel of her own with her adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children, in which she transposed the action from Europe during the Thirty Years War to the American Southwest of the Civil War.
The play, which earned Shange an Obie Award and has never been published or performed since its premiere at New York’s Public Theater in 1980, asks “How do we survive, in the darkest of times, with our humanity intact?”
Southern Rep Theatre (2541 Bayou Rd.) has acquired the script from the archives at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (a division of NYC’s Public Library) for this highly anticipated production which runs from January 22 through February 3.
Le Petit Theatre (616 St. Peter St.) travels even further back than the 1600s of the Thirty Years War with the regional premiere of Something Rotten! (Jan. 17–Feb. 2) Written by Baton Rouge natives and brothers Wayne & Karey Kirkpatrick (along with John O’Farrell), Rottentakes place in Elizabethan times as two brothers try to find theatrical success equal to their rival, Shakespeare; in so doing, they create the template for the modern musical comedy.
Though it shares some of the same winking DNA of The Producers, Spamalot and The Book of Mormon, I enjoyed the 2015 Broadway production more than all three of those put together. Its two-and-a-half hours of blissfully sophisticated silliness delivers pure entertainment.
The book is a sturdy, and hysterical, structure from which hangs all sorts of jokes, a little romance, and boisterous songs. In fact, starting with the opener Welcome to the Renaissance, I can’t remember the last musical that had one great production number after another after another. Sure, some of Rotten’s targets are easy ones, but I didn’t want this magnificent merriment to end.
Speaking of modern musical comedies, Playmakers Theater in Covington (19106 Playmakers Rd.) presents the classic You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown from January 17 until February 2. Bossy Lucy is still hopelessly in love with piano prodigy Schroeder who doesn’t give her the time of day. Perfectionist Sally mocks blanket-toting Linus. Snoopy is in the doghouse, and the “blockhead” himself, Charlie Brown, looks at life philosophically. Charles Schulz’s beloved characters haven’t been seen on stage here in a long time; happiness is having them back again.
A more modern classic, Miss Saigon, lands at the Saenger Theatre (1111 Canal St.) January 21-26. Alain Boubil & Claude-Michel Schoenberg’s retelling of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly is set in the era of the Vietnam War and was the third of the British blockbusters to reach Broadway, after Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera.
Superior to Phantom’s pap, it lacks Les Miz’s narrative sweep and range of detailed characters. But enough good songs (Sun and Moon, Last Night of the World, and its 11 o’clock number, The American Dream) poke out from the otherwise vanilla score so that, combined with David Belasco’s still-absorbing tale and the passions that that ill-advised war continues to elicit, Miss Saigon makes for an eminently entertaining and thought-provoking evening of theater.
Following Miss Saigon at the Saenger will be Charlie & the Chocolate Factory (Feb. 11-16). Though it ran only nine months on Broadway (it did have a much longer run in London), Roald Dahl’s winningly sinister and surreal children’s story with its “appropriately fanciful” (as per the NYTimes) sets and costumes might be just the thing to kick off the first weekend of parades.
If you can visit Viet Nam and the “world of pure imagination” at the Saenger, the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra’s (LPO) evening of “Folk Rhythms” will take you to Spain, Arabia and Russia on January 30 at the Orpheum Theater (129 Roosevelt Way).
Roberto Sierra’s Fandangos, with its zesty traditional Spanish dance forms, opens the program. Following that, a lute-type, pear-shaped instrument, a staple of music from Persia to Andalusia, highlights Concerto for Oud written by and featuring Simon Shaheen, which combines Middle Eastern, Western, and jazz sounds. Sergei Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances concludes the evening, all under the baton of LPO Music Director and Principal Conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto.
New Orleans Opera presents Joan of Arc by Rachmaninov’s countryman, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. This lesser-known 1881 opera by the gay Russian composer relates how a 17-year-old, humble peasant girl won the confidence of the future King Charles VII of France by revealing information only a messenger from God could know.
Appointed leader of the French army, the Maid of Orleans lifted the siege of her namesake city and fearlessly won battle after battle to defeat the English. Her capture led to one of the most celebrated trials in history with its charges of witchcraft and heresy that resulted in her execution at the stake.
Maestro Robert Lyall conducts the production, which stars mezzo-soprano Hilary Ginther as Joan of Arc, on February 7 and 9 at The Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts.
Though it sometimes seems as far away as Russia or France, the North Shore is a pleasant car ride away and two classic 20th century plays can be enjoyed without even the need for a passport.
30 by Ninety Theatre in Mandeville (800 Lafayette St.) currently has Of Mice and Men (thru Jan. 26), an award-winning adaptation by John Steinbeck from his 1937 novel. This story of two drifters, George and the dangerously powerful man-child Lennie, deals with dreams and delusions, loneliness, and the desperate need for companionship.
At Slidell Little Theatre (2024 Nellie Dr.), the focus is on fun with Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit (also thru Jan. 26), co-directed by Karen Shields & Kaula Johnson.
When skeptical novelist Charles Condomine invites the eccentric, self-proclaimed medium Madame Arcati to his home for a séance, hoping to gather material for a new book, the hapless psychic accidentally summons the spirit of Condomine’s late wife Elvira. Condomine’s home and life are quickly turned into a shambles as his departed wife’s ghost torments both the writer and his new bride, Ruth. Hilarity ensues.
Another famed British work is being done at JPAS’ Jefferson Performing Arts Center in Metairie (6400 Airline Dr.). Agatha Christie’s mystery The Mousetrap (Jan. 31-Feb. 9) is the world’s longest-running play; I saw the original West End production, which continues to this day, when I was 13.
All you need to know is that a group of strangers is stranded in a boardinghouse during a snow storm, one of whom is a murderer and everyone is a suspect. I won’t say anything more, unlike a friend of mine who revealed the ending to me before I saw the show…and for which I have never forgiven him.
If you’re in Metairie on January 18, head over to Andrea’s (3100 19th St.) for a few laffs and three hours of tuneful jubilation with the charmingly impish “Uncle” Wayne Daigrepont. If you don’t, you may never forgive yourself.
To get you into the naughty Mardi Gras spirit, at Westwego Performing Arts Theatre (177A Sala Ave.), you can catch JPAS’ presentation of Viagara Falls (Jan. 17-Feb. 9) which serves up two old buddies, a call girl, and a little blue pill. More seriously, this comedy by Joao Machado and Lou Cutell examines the importance of friendships, the realization that emotions don’t diminish with age, and the idea that feeling wanted can be the difference between living and just existing.
And if Viagara Falls doesn’t get you into the mood for Carnival, on January 17, Daniel Nardicio’s 2nd Mr. Nude Orleans Pageant certainly will.
From the people who brought you Southern Decadence’s Bette Bathhouse and Beyond comes the deep-South’s only all-male nude beauty pageant at the AllWays Lounge (2240 St. Claude Ave.). Contestants get a chance to show off their wares in a swimsuit competition, a strip-off, a hilarious Q’n’A portion, and the last part, the big reveal. The winner takes home $300 and the chance to reign as Mr. Nude Orleans. “They’ll be opening malls in Natchitoches,” laughs Nardicio.
So far there are six contestants, but that could change as folks step up to the plate (bat in hand, of course) or chicken out. All males are invited to compete. Think ya got what it takes? Sign up by emailing Daniel at email@example.com. You can even join the contestant pool as late as 12am on the night of the contest which will begin at 1am. Nardicio expects that “the competition will be stiff.” Tickets are available at https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4423567
Afterwards there’ll be a huge dance party with music by legendary DJ Johnny Dynell. Sounds like nobody will go home a loser. Happy Mardi Gras!
Please send press releases and notices of your upcoming shows to Brian Sands at firstname.lastname@example.org.