Currently enjoying what may be the most popular season in its 18-year history, Philadelphia's Walnut Street Theatre is also in the midst of gearing up for next season, including revivals of two musical chestnuts, a Tony-winning comedy, a Dickens adaptation that isn't Christmas Carol, and, perhaps most intriguingly, a world premiere musical.
While the 2000-01 "Season of Classics" has been actively courting the nostalgia vote with revivals of Gaslight, the current The Sunshine Boys, A Chorus Line and Singin' in the Rain (the most-attended show in Walnut history, according to the theatre's press office), the 2001-02 mainstage roster mixes old and new and opens with the new tuner, by Lori McKelvey. Camila, running Sept. 4-Oct. 21, is based on the true story of Camila O'Gorman, an aristocrat who falls in love with a Jesuit priest. "Fiery tango music" is promised for this show, set in 19th-century Argentina. B.T. McNicholl will direct, Albin Konopka will serve as musical director.
As if hedging their bets at the risk of starting the season with an unknown quantity, Walnut will follow Camila with one of the most beloved musicals of all time, My Fair Lady, running Nov. 6-Jan. 6, 2002. Alan Jay Lerner (librettist-lyricist) and Frederick Loewe (composer) adapted George Bernard Shaw's comedy Pygmalion for this look at a rich linguist and his efforts to turn a destitute cockney flowergirl into a high-society lady. Songs in the show include "The Rain in Spain," "On the Street Where You Live" and "I Could Have Danced All Night." Directed by Charles Abbott.
Following Fair Lady will be the fair-weather friends of Art, Yasmina Reza's worldwide hit about buddies whose decades-old friendship is nearly destroyed when one buys an all-white canvas for a stunning amount of money. Reza's The Unexpected Man has proved a hit at Off-Broadway's Promenade Theatre this season. Art plays January 15-March 3, 2002, its first gig in Philly.
March 12-April 28, 2002 brings Mark Clements' adaptation of Great Expectations to the Walnut. Based on one of Dickens' best-known novels, Expectations, also directed by Clements, tells of orphaned Pip and his difficulties with love and old ladies. Closing the Walnut season (May 14-July 7, 2002) is the baseball-based tuner Damn Yankees, about a middle-aged man who gets his wish to be young again and play major-league ball. He helps the hapless Washington Senators rise in the standings and make it all the way to the World Series — against the dreaded Bronx Bombers. The price of success? Just his soul. Richard Adler and Jerry Ross combined on the score for Damn Yankees, with George Abbott and Douglass Wallop collaborating on the book. Songs include the harmony-filled "Heart," "Whatever Lola Wants" and the devil-may-care "The Good Old Days."
For tickets and information on the Walnut Street Theatre's 2001-02 season call (215) 925-6885 or check out their website at www.wstonline.org.
As for the Walnut's current season, Jan. 16-March 4 brought Willie Clark and Al Lewis, aka The Sunshine Boys, to the theatre. Now the venue gets to go a little "crazy" with Gaslight, running March 13-April 29. Patrick Hamilton’s famous thriller tells of a husband trying to drive his wife off the deep end. Starring as Mrs. Manningham is Sally Mercer; her husbandly villain is John Bourgeois. Also in the cast are Ian D. Clark, Billie Brenan [sic] and Jennifer Alimonti. Malcolm Black (The Heiress at Walnut) directs.
Closing the season, May 15-July 1, 2001, is one of the modern classics of musical theatre, A Chorus Line, conceived by its original director and choreographer, the late Michael Bennett. The James Kirkwood, Nicholas Dante, Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban musical tells of a typical audition for a Broadway musical and the not-so-typical bios of the actors holding their resumes. Mitzi Hamilton, who was in workshops of the original production doing "Dance 10, Looks 3," will direct and choreograph.
For ticket and subscription information on the Walnut season, call (215) 574-3550.
As for the Walnut's Studio on 3 second stage, that season began Jan. 2 with a double-bill of Eugene O'Neill's Before Breakfast and Hughie. Next up, Jan. 30-Feb. 11, came the Tennessee Williams rarity, The two-Character Play, about a brother and sister in a traveling theatre company. A.R. Gurney's play Children, about a New England family gathering at a summer beach house, followed, Feb. 27 March 11. Then a world premiere from Walnut vet Will Stutts arrived, March 27-April 8: Eye of the Storm. Capping the Studio on 3 season will be the chamber musical I Do! I Do! by the Fantasticks duo of Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones. Running April 24-June 17, the tuner examines the ups and downs of 50 years of marriage.
Founded in 1809, the Walnut Street Theatre is the oldest still-in operation playhouse in America. The Walnut was a Shubert tour and pre Broadway venue from the 1940s to the 1970s. In 1963, the building was declared a National Historic Landmark. In 1983, the not-for-profit Walnut Street Theatre Company was formed by current artistic director Bernard Havard. Future plans include constructing a flexible 350-seat space.
— By David Lefkowitz