Nostalgia is running high at Philadelphia, PA’s Walnut Street Theatre this season, as the venue offers a slate of chestnuts or more-recent works that look back into the past. Termed “A season of classics” by producing artistic director Bernard Havard, the 2000-01 roster includes the musicals Rags, Singin’ in the Rain and A Chorus Line, as well as the thriller Gaslight and the comedy The Sunshine Boys. “Each play is related to a classic period or milestone in history,” Havard said in a statement.
Starting off, Sept. 5 (and officially opening Sept. 13) has been Rags, a musical by Joseph Stein, Charles Strouse (music) and Stephen Schwartz (lyrics) that didn’t succeed on Broadway but has received its share of acclaimed regional stagings. The piece, ending its scheduled run Oct. 22, tells of a Jewish immigrant and her young son trying to make it out of the urban ghettos of turn-of-the century America. Her husband does -- but at a price to his heritage.
(As of Oct. 20, scattered seats were still available to all remaining performances of Rags, but a Sunday 7 PM performance had also been added to accommodate ticket demand, according to a box office spokesperson.)
Bruce Lumpkin, who directed Grand Hotel and The Goodbye Girl at the Walnut, stages Rags, with Barbara Siman choreographing. Designing the show are John Farrell (sets), Gail Cooper Hecht (costumes), Jeffrey S. Koger (lighting) and Scott Smith (sound).
Starring in Rags are Betsi Morrison and Michael Brian, with two young boys (Mark Richard Keith and Chris Mirarchi) alternating as young David. Also in the main cast are Michael Gruber (Swing!, Miss Saigon), Mary Kate McGrath, Jeffrey Coon, Connie Nelson, Dennis Whelan, Dan Schiff and Bruce Winant (Miss Saigon, the Chicago national tour). On a lighter note, Nov. 7-Jan. 7, 2001, comes Singin’ in the Rain, an adaptation of the classic film musical, with songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed and a book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. The show, which has such classic tunes as “Make `em Laugh” and the title number, tells of a Hollywood silent-movie heartthrob and the co-star he despises, both facing the onset of talking pictures.
Jan. 16-March 4, 2001, brings more comedy, in the form of Willie Clark and Al Lewis, aka The Sunshine Boys, two aged vaudevillians asked to reprise their classic routine for a nostalgic TV show. One problem: they hate each other and haven’t rehearsed in years. Many consider this Neil Simon’s best “pure” comedy, ranking alongside The Odd Couple and Barefoot in the Park.
Crazy? Not crazy? That’s the dilemma in Gaslight (March 13-April 29, 2001), Patrick Hamilton’s famous thriller about a husband trying to drive his wife off the deep end.
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 big Broadway musical -- and the not-so-typical bios of the actors holding their resumes.
For ticket and subscription information on the Walnut season, call (215) 574-3550.
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-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