• Weston announces a rich new season
    By Jim Lowe
    Staff Writer | January 09,2013
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    Weston Playhouse’s 2013 season doesn’t seem all that different from past seasons at Vermont’s most venerated professional summer theater. But looking more closely reveals some exciting new shows as well as a fresh look at classics.

    “We always try for this but I think we have a season full of some great, solid well known classics and some really fresh, exciting and important new work,” explained Steve Stettler, Weston’s resident producing artistic director.

    “I love the mix and the way they complement each other,” he said.

    The summer schedule includes not only familiar classics like “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “42nd Street” and “Educating Rita,” it features two intimate premieres, a kids’ show and the Vermont premiere of Broadway’s “Next to Normal.”

    Fortuitous, but purely an accident of scheduling, is the pairing of two musicals dealing with contemporary family issues.

    “Next to Normal,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning rock musical in which a suburban family struggles with life’s many challenges, striving to be just “next to normal,” will be on the Weston Playhouse main stage July 11-27. With book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt, the 2009 Broadway show garnered 11 Tony Award nominations.

    “It’s rock, it’s a very strong book, and it’s deeply moving to audiences on different levels,” Stettler said. “It is ultimately affirmative while dealing straight in the face with some very challenging and personal issues — and it has a killer score that is melodic as well as complex.”

    Overlapping for a week and a half is the world premiere production of “Loving Leo,” winner of Weston’s 2012 New Musical Award, July 18-Aug. 4 at the intimate Weston Rod & Gun Club, part of Weston’s Other Stages series. This touching and amusing portrait of an unconventional American family features book and lyrics by Sara Cooper and music by Zach Redler.

    “They actually began this piece at a Weston retreat about three years ago,” Stettler said. “It’s about a couple, early middle-aged, living in a one-bedroom apartment in New York. Her mother dies, leaving behind a stepfather who is not completely in control of all his faculties — and they decide they have to take him in.

    “It’s a fresh look at what a ‘child’ can do at a relationship,” Stettler said.

    The juxtaposition of the two shows should add interest to the post-show dialogues, which proved so enriching during

    “Pregnancy Pact” last summer.

    “We are looking for ways for people to see that theater touches their lives — not just sitting in the seats to be transported and entertained — but as something that gives them a stronger portrait of the human experience,” Stettler said. “That is really rewarding to us.”

    The summer’s second premiere is “This Blessed Plot,” a one-man show running Aug. 15-Sept. 1 at the Rod & Gun Club. Obie-winning actor-writer Marc Wolf plays Joe Papp, Robert Moses, and the Bible’s “Moses Moses,” among others, in this smart and funny play about the battle for free Shakespeare in Central Park. Wolf, who toured the country in his “Another American: Asking and Telling,” co-authored the play with Robert Westfield, developing it in part at a Weston Artists Retreat.

    “This is a piece about Joe Papp fighting Robert Moses for the establishment of free Shakespeare — back at the time when Moses was controlling and designing most of New York City and Papp was an unknown stage manager for ‘I’ve Got a Secret,’” Stettler said. “There’s so much going on in this piece, and it’s so brilliantly funny.”

    The summer’s blockbuster Broadway musical is “42nd Street,” with book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble, lyrics by Al Dubin, and music by Harry Warren, Aug. 1-24 on the main stage.

    “It was created out of a great movie, but with a stronger book, and moved a number of songs into it that weren’t in the original film,” Stettler said. “Part of what is wonderful about it, is that it taps this American dream story of a country girl who comes to the city and gets the lead, and all that. It also is very brave in that it has a tap ballet in it that tells a story.
    “There’s some surprising stuff in this piece,” Stettler said.

    Opening the main stage season, “Educating Rita,” June 25-July 6, is Willy Russell’s comedy about a gutsy hairdresser who seeks to better herself with an open university course taught by a sodden middle-aged professor. Both lives change in surprising ways in this spin on the Pygmalion story. The British stage comedy is best known for the Oscar-nominated film with Michael Caine and Julie Walters.

    “It’s just a really good play,” Stettler said. The playwright “has actually updated it so the references don’t root it clearly in the ‘80s.”

    Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” is one of the classics of American literature, and in Christopher Sergel’s adaptation, Aug. 29-Sept. 11 on the main stage and then to schools, a classic of the American stage. Atticus Finch dares to defend a black man in the
    American south in this iconic story about Southern life and racial injustice made famous by the film starring Gregory Peck.

    “It’s a great story,” Stettler said. “We’re going to be working with New England Youth Theatre and Rutland Youth Theatre to cast the young people. Those are two hugely strong programs with talent that could honestly compete in New York.”

    As usual, the season kicks off with Weston’s Young Company performing a musical adaptation of a popular children’s story. This year, it’s “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” with book and lyrics by Judith Viorst and music by Shelly Markham.

    “They’re lovely children’s books that fall somewhere between Charles Schulz and Maurice Sendak — and this one is based on the most famous and most popular, Stettler said.
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