Now in his eighth year as managing artistic director of Lakewood Playhouse, John Munn has worked to diversify the types of shows audiences can expect from this community theater with big-city aspirations. The troupe’s 80th season therefore boasts everything from light, family entertainment to a six-hour-plus epic about America’s response to the AIDS crisis. “Our goal this year,” says Munn, “was to find seven plays we’ve never done in our history.”
First is Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach, opening September 7. If that show is financially successful, says Munn, the playhouse will produce two additional, biographical plays by Simon in its upcoming seasons. Associate artistic director James Venturini chooses the scripts for each fall’s live performance of vintage radio stories. This October, as he did in 2013 and will continue to produce every half-decade, he’ll stage Orson Welles’ disquieting adaptation of The War of the Worlds.
In collaboration with its youth-theater program, the playhouse presents a beloved children’s yarn, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, October 25. Munn likens it to Toy Story 2, adding, “Everybody has a childhood stuffed buddy that you loved and treasure. When you pick it back up, you remember all the memories.” Then comes the endearing Yuletide chestnut Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus, opening — as holiday shows often do — the weekend after Thanksgiving. January 11 brings the raucous, parodic musical Forbidden Broadway, heckling theatrical “war horses” from Hello, Dolly! to Wicked.
Considered by many to be the standout play of the 1980s, later a well-regarded HBO miniseries, Angels in America comes to Lakewood Playhouse starting February 22. Its two massive episodes, Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, view our nation through a lens of Reagan-era sociopolitics, especially with respect to LGBTQ Americans. This show’s aimed squarely at adults, including nudity, abusive behavior and frequent, unprintable language. Its 25th-anniversary run earned three Tony awards including “Best Revival.” Munn has already cast and begun directing both installments. “You trot out words like ‘masterwork’ and ‘epic,’” says Munn, “but it is.”
Lakewood Playhouse’s season concludes in high spirits with a behind-the-curtains comedy, Inspecting Carol, opening April 19, and Mel Brooks’ irreverent The Producers May 31.
The Hobbit (multi-generational performance)
7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Aug. 24 and 25;
2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 25
5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood