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.
The season started, Sept. 5, with the turn-of-the-last-century-based musical, Rags. 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 (Christopher Sutton) and the co-star he despises (Beth Beyer), both facing the onset of talking pictures.
Charles Abbott directs the tuner, with Mary Jane Houdina serving as choreographer and Sherman Frank as music and vocal director. Titanic’s Jennifer Piech, Michael Tapley (in the Donald O’Connor sidekick role), Sharon Alexander, Lee Golden and Dan Schiff comprise the supporting cast. Designing the show are Le [sic] Strasburg (set), Colleen McMillan (costumes), Jeffrey Koger (lighting) and Scott Smith (sound). Singin’ in the Rain officially opens Nov. 15.
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