Tuesday February 26, 2013

WILLIAMSTOWN -- Three musicals -- one a love story based on a hugely popular bestselling novel and another set in 1919 against the background of the Curse of the Bambino; and the third musical written in 1928 for the Marx Brothers -- highlight Williamstown Theatre Festival’s 2013 season.

The season also features the return of two WTF veterans -- actress Kate Burton and stage director snd former WTF artistic director Nicholas Martin.

Henry Wishcamper’s reinterpretation of the 1928 musical, "Animal Crackers," which starred the Marx Brothers in roles they recreated on film, begins the Main Stage season June 26.

Wishcamper’s treatment of the George S. Kaufman-Morrie Ryskind-Burt Kalmer-Harry Ruby musical premiered in 2009 at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. Wishcamper, who directed that production, will direct the Williamstown production, which runs through July 14 (press opening June 27).

"It’s a real family show, something we’ve wanted for the Main Stage for some time," WTF development director Eric Kern said in announcing the season Monday at a morning news conference at Williams Inn. Kern was pinch-hitting for WTF artistic director Jenny Gersten who was at her apartment in New York recovering from the flu.

The Main Stage season ends Aug.


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1 through 18 with the world premiere of "The Bridges of Madison County," a musical by Marsha Norman (book) and Jason Robert Brown (music and lyrics) based on Robert James Waller’s best-selling novel about the relationship between an itinerant National Geographic photographer who comes to Iowa to photograph covered bridges and a woman growing restless in her role as a farm wife and mother.

"Johnny Baseball," the third of the season’s musicals (July 24 through Aug. 4 in the Nikos Stage) is the creation of Richard Dresser (book), Robert Reale (music) and Willie Reale (lyrics). Set in 1919, the show focuses on a hard-luck right-hander for the Boston Red Sox named Johnny O’Brien, his idol Babe Ruth, and the love of his life, an African-American blues singer named Daisy.

Burton -- whose WTF credits include "Hedda Gabler" and "The Corn is Green," both directed by Martin, and Christopher Durang’s "Beyond Therapy" -- returns to Williamstown after a five-year absence to play the title role in Tom Stoppard’s "Hapgood" in the Nikos Stage, July 10-21 (press opening July 11). She plays a British intelligence officer trying to balance her job, which involves rooting out a mole in her agency, with her responsibilities as a single mother.

"It’s a tour de force role for Kate," Gersten said by telephone in a brief post-news conference interview.

Martin, who preceded Gersten as WTF’s artistic director, makes his return to the festival with a production of George Bernard Shaw’s "Pygmalion" starring Robert Sean Leonard as Prof. Henry Higgins. The show runs July 17 through 27 (press opening July 18).

The Nikos Stage begins June 26 with "American Hero," a world premiere by Bess Wohl about three employees at a brand new submarine sandwich franchise who are forced to improvise when the franchise owner mysteriously disappears on their store’s opening day. The comedy runs through July 7 (press opening June 27).

The Nikos Stage closes Aug. 7 through 18 with a production to be announced within a few weeks, Kern said.

This year’s outdoor Free Theatre at Poker Flats will be Steve Lawson’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s "Dracula," July 10-19.

In describing the season to a gathering of press, festival staff and board members, Kern called the upcoming summer "one of the most ambitious seasons we’ve ever had at the festival, primarily because of the musicals."

The emphasis on musicals is dictated in large part "by that space," Gersten said, referring to the Main Stage.

"When I heard the band in the pit last year when we did ‘Far From Heaven’ I thought ‘this space really does ask for musicals.’

"And the artists we want to deal with, when we talk with them say they much prefrer working on new material in a safe place than doing a (tried-and-true) work."

Overall, Gersten said, "there’s quite an array of styles and stories being told this summer.

"There’s more fun (on our stages) this summer and that pleases me. I guess I’m trying to get in touch with my whimsical self."