After two unprecedented pandemic years, most theater organizations in the South Sound decided to schedule full seasons of live entertainment in late 2022 and early 2023. The state of Washington no longer requires proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test to enter theater spaces, but masks are still required for most patrons. With that in mind and figurative fingers crossed, OLY ARTS is pleased to announce upcoming offerings from Tacoma Little Theatre (TLT) and Tacoma Musical Playhouse (TMP).
Managing artistic director Chris Serface revealed TLT’s plans to guests at The Happiest Song Plays Last, which runs there till May 15. After summer shows The Luck of the Irish and Silent Sky, TLT’s 2022-23 season kicks off with beloved Southern tragicomedy Steel Magnolias September 9. That show opened off Broadway in 1987 and was quickly adapted for the silver screen. Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express debuts October 21. Sidney Lumet and Kenneth Branagh directed film versions of this 1934 mystery classic, in which Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot must identify the murderer of a shady American businessman aboard a transcontinental locomotive stalled by snowfall. Fall concludes with a stage adaptation of A Christmas Story, opening December 2 and quite possibly shooting someone’s eye out.
A less familiar show opens January 20. Po Boy Tango, by American writer Kenneth Lin, debuted at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, California in 2007. TLT describes its story thusly: “A Taiwanese immigrant enlists an African American soul food chef to help him recreate his mother’s Great Banquet as a wedding gift to his daughter. Though the two share a bond in their passion for food and love of their children, their connection also brings to light resentments from 10 years past — when a child was saved, but a friendship was lost.” Lin was nominated for an Emmy for his work on the Netflix series House of Cards. Rock of Ages, opening March 5, is TLT’s big jukebox musical for the year. Set in fictional Sunset Strip nightclub The Bourbon Room, this production makes ample use of glam and heavy metal hits of the 1980s. From “Sister Christian” early in Act I to the “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” finale, middle-aged audiences could belt every lyric. No word yet from TLT whether this show will be a singalong.
April 21 is TLT’s opening date for Significant Other, Joshua Harmon’s 2015 romance about a gay man supported by three female friends. But “as they get married, one by one,” the company’s schedule explains, “he is left to wonder why life won’t give him the same fairy-tale ending.” The New York Times called this script a “tenderly unromantic romantic comedy, as richly funny as it is ultimately heart-stirring.” Finally, a stage adaptation of The Shawshank Redemption breaks out June 2. Though originally a box-office dud, Frank Darabont’s 1994 film gained enduring popularity thanks to VHS and frequent cable-TV airings. It’s topped the Internet Movie Database’s user-generated “Top 250” list since it surpassed The Godfather in 2008. Based on a Stephen King novella, that screenplay was adapted for the stage by Dave Johns and Owen O’Neill.
Jon Douglas Rake, the founder of Tacoma Musical Playhouse in 1994 and its managing artistic director since, gave OLY ARTS the scoop on his company’s offerings. First, though, TMP will close out its current season with two mammoth summer productions. In the Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2005 precursor to Hamilton, was recently adapted into a film by director Jon M. Chu. The story of a bodega manager in Washington Heights, Manhattan, it won the Tony for “Best Musical” in 2008. That show opens at TMP on May 13, followed by the opening of Kinky Boots July 8. The latter show adapts a 2005 British film but adds new songs by ’80s pop star Cyndi Lauper. It won “Best Musical” in 2013 after getting nominated for a baker’s dozen Tony awards.
That brings us to fall of this year. We don’t have exact performance dates, but TMP will open its season with Singin’ in the Rain, a 1983 stage adaptation of the classic Gene Kelly film of 1952. Will TMP mimic the London Palladium production, which unleashed an actual downpour on stage? Time and TMP’s budget will tell. Then comes Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, adapted from Genesis by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber in the late 1960s. Those familiar with the Biblical tale know being fashion-forward sometimes comes at a price, but rest assured poetic justice prevails. Rounding out the first half of TMP’s season is Once on This Island, a Caribbean romance with echoes of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid.” It was written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, the same duo that created the musical Ragtime. While still in her mid-20s, by the way, Ahrens was also the writer and performer of several Schoolhouse Rock numbers, including “Interplanet Janet” and “A Noun Is a Person, Place or Thing.” Humming yet?
Amazingly, the 1997 musical Titanic is not an adaptation of the James Cameron action-tearjerker that opened in cinemas the same year. It is, however, based on the same, ill-fated cruise liner. Created by Peter Stone and Maury Yeston, the musical steered past oceanic calamity to win the Tony for “Best Musical.” The most recent show on TMP’s schedule is 2017’s Escape to Margaritaville, with music and lyrics by — who else? — Jimmy Buffett. Parrot Heads unite! The show’s protagonist, Tully Mars, is an easygoing bar singer in the Caribbean who falls for Rachel, a workaholic tourist. Will it be five o’clock somewhere? Will the couple get drunk and enjoy a cheeseburger in paradise? It wouldn’t be Margaritaville otherwise. The company wraps its season with the 1957 banger The Music Man, in which Harold Hill cons Midwestern townsfolk into springing for 76 trombones, 110 cornets and, in later adaptations, a monorail.
As for Lakewood Playhouse and Olympia theater groups, watch this space. The Lakewood company will be announcing its season soon, and we’ll run that announcement as well. Pug Bujeaud tells us she’s hoping a combined schedule for Broadway Olympia Productions and Theater Artists Olympia can be finalized this month. Kendra Malm tells us Olympia Little Theatre will select a full season at its next monthly board meeting. Lily Raabe announced a handful of shows to Olympia Family Theater donors at an event last month, so we should know OFT’s full season soon. The pandemic was devastating to company coffers, so here’s hoping these seasons prove lucrative draws while yielding high-quality, live entertainment made by local performers and artists.
Photo credits: TLT, TMP.
The Happiest Song Plays Last at TLT;
In the Heights at TMP
The Happiest Song Plays Last: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through May 15;
In the Heights: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays May 13 through June 5
TLT: 210 North I St., Tacoma;
TMP: 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma