Schaeffer's Sondheim productions helped put the not-for-profit Signature on the map over the past 10 years. The 2002-2003 Signature season was announced the week of March 25, and the slate includes a new Americanized version of "A Christmas Carol," set in the early 1900s, called The Christmas Carol Rag, plus the world premiere of a new play, Donna Q, by Washington DC playwright Paulette Laufer.
Schaeffer is the artistic director of the summer 2002 Sondheim Celebration at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. The institution is producing six Sondheim musicals in repertory, but not Follies. A revival of 1971's Follies was seen on Broadway in 2001.
Here's the 2002-2003 Signature Theatre season at a glance, in the words of the announcement:
• What the Butler Saw, by Joe Orton, Sept. 3-Oct. 13: "From the wackiest and wisest of English playwrights comes a farcical, door-slamming tour-de-force. A sexist psychiatrist and his nymphomaniacal wife turn the medical profession on its ear as they skewer modern morality and spin human foibles into comic gold. Orton's uber-farce characters, from the spry bellhop to the bumbling policeman, take audiences on a rollercoaster ride of corkscrew plot twists, sexual shenanigans and — ultimately — theatrical genius. It's Orton at his outrageous best. The production will be directed by Jonathan Bernstein." • The Christmas Carol Rag, conceived and adapted by Norman Allen, musical adaptation by Howard Breitbart, based on Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," Nov. 12-Dec. 22: "Dickens' classic tale gets a ragtime spin in rough-and-tumble, turn-of-the-century New York. With Joplin-like syncopation, the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future carry the miserly Mrs. Scrooge from the rebellious energy of immigrant tenements to the amber glow of the Gilded Age. The world's best-loved Christmas songs find new life in this toe-tapping, heart-soaring Dickens of a tale. Emmy-winning playwright Norman Allen (Nijinsky's Last Dance, In The Garden) and artistic director Eric Schaeffer join forces to bring a touch of Signature magic to this Christmas classic. Featuring Helen Hayes Award winner Donna Migliaccio."
• 110 In The Shade, music by Harvey Schmidt, lyrics by Tom Jones, book by N. Richard Nash based on the play by Nash, Jan. 21-March 2, 2003: "A forgotten classic of Broadway’s golden age, 110 In The Shade brings a lilting, all-American score to Richard Nash's heart-warming play, The Rainmaker. The team that made The Fantasticks the longest running musical in history work their inimitable magic as the mercurial Starbuck promises rain for a drought-stricken town and passion for the stalwart but resigned Lizzie. Hailed for 'bushels full of ballads, rousers, and comedy songs,' when it first opened, 110 In The Shade is a star-making, rabble-rousing tale of the American west — as romantic as a love-song and as hot as Texas in July. Directed by artistic director Eric Schaeffer.
• Follies, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by James Goldman, April 1-May 11, 2003: "Sondheim and Schaeffer together again! The sweeping grandeur of Sondheim's Follies brings a surreal grace to Signature’s intimate playing space when Eric Schaeffer tackles one of the master's greatest works. The story of aging chorines who return to their glory days for a hind-sight glimpse of roads not taken, Follies boasts some of Sondheim's greatest accomplishments — from 'Losing My Mind' to 'I'm Still Here' and 'Broadway Baby.' Heart-wrenching in its intimacy, epic in its theatrical scope, Follies takes Signature Theatre back to its classic Broadway roots.
• Donna Q, by Paulette Laufer, June 17-July 27, 2003: "Paulette Laufer, known for the richness of her literary adaptations and the mind-tingling challenge of her contemporary work, re-envisions the mythic tale of Don Quixote in a solo show for one of Washington’s greatest theatrical treasures — actress Nancy Robinette. Exploring an imperfect world through the eyes of a quixotic inventor, Laufer and Robinette shed new light on a beloved classic as they tilt at modern-day windmills. Donna Q continues the Sallee New Century Play Series, commissioned by Signature Theatre in its ongoing commitment to new work. The production is directed by Jose Carrasquillo.
A series of cabaret shows were also announced, including performances by Bev Coshman, Charles Williams, George Fulginiti-Shakar Tommy Femia as Judy Garland, Jane Pesci Townsend, Howard Breitbart, Michael Rupert, Judy Simmons and Andrea Frierson-Toney.
Subscriptions for the 2002-2003 season are now available by calling (703) 820-9771. Visit www.sig-online.orgfor more information.
Signature Theatre is located five minutes from Washington, DC, at 3806 South Four Mile Run Drive, Arlington, VA, immediately off I-395 in Shirlington.
Signature has been nominated for 144 Helen Hayes Awards for excellence in the professional theatre and has been honored with 32 Helen Hayes Awards, including Outstanding Musical in 1992, 1993, 1995, 1997, 2000 and Outstanding Play in 1999. Signature Theatre is a member of the Theatre Communications Group, The League of Washington Theatres, the Cultural Alliance of Greater Washington, and the Arlington Arts Alliance.
— By Kenneth Jones