Given that, as I write this, the last four weeks have included Easter, French Quarter Fest and Jazzfest, local stages have been relatively quiet. With things now back to normal (or what passes for normal here), the boards have lit up with a variety of shows all over town including the West Bank and North Shore. Here’s an overview of the productions that will be keeping us entertained through the 4th of July.
At Le Petit Theatre, A Night with Janis Joplin is running thru May 29. This bio-musical not only tells the tale of the Texas-born legend who burned briefly and brightly, but explores her influences–such as Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Odetta, Nina Simone and Bessie Smith–as well.
If I’m impressed that Randy Johnson, who wrote the show and directed it on Broadway in 2013, helms it here, I’m a bit curious that I don’t recognize any of the cast members (Leslie McDonal as Joplin plus Tawny Dolley, Caitlyn Martin, Nattalyee Randall and Joanna Hale-McGill). Here’s to discovering new talents!
After being postponed due to Omicron, Choir Boy will now conclude Le Petit’s season, running June 16-26. Written by Academy Award winner Tarell Alvin (Moonlight) McCraney, this Tony-nominated play focuses on Pharus, a gay high school senior at the Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys, an institution committed to building “strong, ethical black men.” Pharus endeavors to be the best leader in the 50-year history of the school’s prestigious gospel choir. What happens next, I don’t know, and am looking forward to finding out next month.
Nicholas Ashe directs a cast that includes Averis Anderson and Cameron-Mitchell Ware. McCraney sure has come a long way since 2007 when he was one of a trio of writers who co-authored the Katrina-inspired play The Breach which Southern Rep produced. More information and tickets are available at https://www.lepetittheatre.com/
The NOLA Project (TNP) returns to NOMA’s Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden through May 27 with Treasure Island, an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s iconic 1883 novel. While TNP has produced many shows in the Sculpture Garden, this will be the first presented on the amphitheater stage in the Garden’s newer half. (Note: Seating is “Bring your own.”)
This updated version of the classic pirate adventure follows Long John Silver’s crew as they travel to Skull Island to discover the location of Captain Flint’s buried treasure. Expect sea shanties, sword fights, and “a whole lot of silliness for the whole family.”
Penned by TNP founding members A.J. Allegra (who also directs), James Bartelle and Alex Martinez Wallace, might there be an Oscar in the future for one of this trio of writers as well?
The NOLA Project will wrap up its season with School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play which, like Choir Boy, was delayed due to Omicron. In Jocelyn Bioh’s wise comedy, Paulina, the reigning queen bee at Ghana’s most exclusive boarding school, hopes to enter–and win–the Miss Global Universe pageant. The arrival of Ericka, however, a new student from America with undeniable talent and beauty, captures the attention of the pageant recruiter and upsets the school’s pecking order.
Having seen School Girls on my cell phone when its off-Broadway production was streamed during the height of the pandemic, I can’t wait to see life-sized actresses fill out the roles in Bioh’s beautifully written and keenly observed script.
School Girls will be directed by Tenaj Jackson and will play in Loyola’s Marquette Theatre between June 15 and July 1. For tickets and more information about both of TNP’s productions, go to https://www.nolaproject.com/
Two shows on the West Bank finish their runs this weekend on May 22.
Ira (Rosemary’s Baby) Levin’s Deathtrap centers on has-been playwright Sidney Bruhl, whose despair and jealousy take a murderous turn. Nothing in this play, however, is at it initially appears. Continual twists make it impossible to tell at any given moment who’s the good guy…and who’s the villain.
Deathtrap ran for over four years on Broadway and was last revived here at The Shadowbox Theatre in 2013. Janet Shea directs David Haydel, Reagan Lincoln, Markis Blackwell, Alison Logan, and Carlos Gonzalez. This Jefferson Performing Arts Society production plays in its Westwego venue, Teatro Wego. More info (tho not whodunit) and tickets at https://www.jpas.org/performance/deathtrap/
Rivertown Theaters present Roald Dahl’s Matilda, the story of an extraordinary little girl with extraordinary powers. I’ve seen this Tony Award-winning musical a bunch of times and, with its imaginative book by Dennis Kelly and fantastic score by Tim Minchin, wouldn’t mind seeing it again.
Directed by Kelly Fouchi, whose own daughter did a wonderful job as the title character last month at Mount Carmel Academy, Matilda is double cast so you may want to visit Kenner twice. For tickets and more information, go to https://www.rivertowntheaters.com/event/Matilda%2C-the-Musical
If you can’t make it to Rivertown, head to Mandeville’s 30 by Ninety Theatre whose Matilda opens June 11 and runs until July 3. “Matilda mania”, you wonder? I’m hardly surprised at all its productions as it offers a multitude of wonderfully drawn roles and a chorus made up of kids, those most enthusiastic of thespians. And how can you not love a show that posits “sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty.” For more about the Matilda in Mandeville, which is directed by Christopher Manguno, go to https://30byninety.com/shows/matilda/
Also on the North Shore, and timed to coincide with Memorial Day, is Tracers at Swamplight Theatre in Ponchatoula. Premiering off-Broadway in 1985, Tracers is a collage of interrelated scenes, that follow a group of “grunts” as they move from basic training, on to combat in Vietnam, and finally to the shattering realization that their lives will be forever affected by the horrors they have witnessed—and been a part of.
Swamplight’s production is in honor and memory of the 59,000 men and women who were lost during the Vietnam War. It runs May 20-29 and is directed by Kendel Smith who starred last year in Swamplight’s staging of, you guessed it, Matilda. Tickets are available at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/tracers-tickets-317859545457
For lighter fare, make a reservation at Covington’s Playmakers Theater where The Kitchen Witches bows on May 28 with WWL and WYES celebrity chef Kevin Belton in attendance to sign his cookbooks and address the audience prior to the curtain.
Belton’s presence makes perfect sense as this Caroline Smith comedy features dueling TV chefs, Isobel Lomax and Dolly Biddle, two cable-access cooking show hostesses who have hated each other for thirty years, ever since Larry Biddle dated one and married the other. When circumstances put them together on a TV show called The Kitchen Witches, the insults fly and the show becomes a ratings smash, a combination of Martha Stewart and Jerry Springer.
Directed by Anysia Genre, The Kitchen Witches runs until June12. You can purchase tickets for the special opening performance, or any of the others, at https://playmakers-theater-05.webself.net/
Back on the South Shore, The Tennessee Williams Theatre Company of New Orleans partners with The Historic New Orleans Collection (THNOC) and Loyola’s Department of Theatre Arts to stage The Six Blanches, an intense exploration of the main character from A Streetcar Named Desire. Adapted and directed by Augustin J Correro to be a part of THNOC’s exhibition Backstage at “A Streetcar Named Desire” celebrating the 75th anniversary of Williams’ smash hit, The Six Blanches has only four performances, May 18, 19, 22 and 25.
An immersive theater experience, The Six Blanches allows audiences to move through Backstage and visit six actors (Anja Avsharian, Jaclyn Bethany, Gwendolyn Foxworth, Lin Gathright, Roya Scott, Xel Simone) attempting to understand Blanche DuBois. Each performer is focused on a different part of Blanche’s character: Grief, Magic, Tenderness, Panic, Desire, and Fantasy. Through short excerpts from the play, the Blanches will help audiences to better understand what makes the heroine tick. More information and tickets are available at https://my.hnoc.org/10736?utm_source=TWTC+Master+Email+List&utm_campaign=ed3e374a0a-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2021_05_04_02_36_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_91ea48b996-ed3e374a0a-244632125
Audiences interested in understanding what makes themselves tick, might want to book an appointment at Bywater Wonderland (3405 Royal St.) for the world premiere of Porcupine, a new play by Michael Merino about Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. We’re promised “hikes into the subconscious, Wagnerian sing-a-longs, tetherball tournaments, and assorted psychoanalytic zaniness.”
This immersive theater experience, with performances devised in Bywater Wonderland’s Victorian rooms and gardens, runs from May 26 through June 5. Directed by Mel.Cook, the cast features Ryan Bruce, Jay Canova, Mason Joiner, Vatican Lokey, Jen Pagan, Todd Schrenk, and Ratty Scurvics. For tickets, check out www.porcupine-nola.com
I don’t expect there will be much zaniness at the CAC when it presents Flyaway Productions’ The Wait Room, a multidisciplinary dance work that exposes the physical, psychic, and emotional burden on families with incarcerated loved ones. Utilizing a large hydraulic stage shaped as a clock dial, the performance incorporates dance, installation, an original score by Pamela Z, and oral histories of women whose families are fractured by the carceral system.
Flyaway Productions is an apparatus-based dance company that advances social issues in the public realm and explores the range and power of female physicality. The Wait Room runs May 27-29 and will be presented outdoors in the CAC’s adjoining parking lot on St. Joseph Street. Admission is complimentary for prison-impacted individuals and employees of organizations that are working to end mass incarceration in Louisiana. More info at https://cacno.org/performing-arts/the-wait-room
Ghosts II: Gimme Danger, another multidisciplinary work, plays June 5 at The Columns Hotel. Equal parts rock show, play, dance performance and vintage cocktail party, Ghosts II: Gimme Danger plunges the audience into a world of luxury and sensuality, set to a soundtrack by Malevitus, Tiana Hux’s soul-spiked art rock band, and accompanied by local aerial troupe The Flying Buttresses with special guests The Sleazeball Orchestra and Professor Harry Mayronne on the grand piano
The band invites attendees to don their finest cocktail hour ensembles and make way for a musical battle of wills and thrills in the ballroom and on the porch of the recently restored Columns. There, beneath the scenic canopy of St. Charles Avenue oak trees, partygoers will enjoy craft cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.
Once the party/performance gets underway, guests become privy to the inner turmoil plaguing their hostess, a supernatural tale of discontent, and the desire to possess a body once more. The poise of the hostess (Malevitus’ Tiana Hux) is rattled to the core when she finds herself facing a banshee (Sleazeball Orchestra’s Kitty Baudoin) of houses past, coming to collect an unpaid debt. For ticketing info, visit @Malevitus on Instagram.
If you continue heading uptown from the Garden District, two shows await you.
The New Orleans Shakespeare Festival at Tulane presents one of the Bard’s most popular comedies, As You Like It in which Rosalind flees persecution in her uncle’s court, accompanied by her cousin Celia, to find safety and, eventually, love, in the Forest of Arden, where they encounter a variety of memorable characters.
Directed by Jon Greene and Torey Hayward, As You Like It plays June 10-25, with a preview performance on June 9, in Tulane’s Lupin Theater. Tickets are available at https://neworleansshakespeare.org/products/as-you-like-it-1
The Festival will also partner with The NOLA Project on June 22 for the return of By Any Scenes Necessary, a theatre/improv hybrid that will attempt to recreate Shakespeare’s Richard III… without a script. (https://neworleansshakespeare.org/products/by-any-scenes-necessary-richard-iii)
Adjacent to the Lupin Theater, in Dixon Hall, Summer Lyric Theatre at Tulane returns with Bandstand, June 23-26, which tells the story of a group of veterans returning home to the US after WWII who struggle to fit into their old lives while dealing with the lingering effects of the war. They wind up forming a band composed solely of veterans to compete in a national patriotic radio contest. The 2017 Broadway production won a Tony Award for Best Choreography. (http://summerlyric.tulane.edu)
Somewhat unusually for this time of year, three Broadway touring productions will visit the Saenger Theatre in the next six weeks.
Tina Fey’s Mean Girls musical will finally make it to New Orleans after a two year Covid delay (May 17-22). It will be followed by return engagements of Sara Bareilles’ Waitress (June 10-12) and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton (June 21-July 10) which appropriately will be here for the 4th of July. (https://www.saengernola.com/)