PITTSFIELD -- Comedian Joan Rivers, award-winning singer-actress Audra MacDonald, polka superstar Jimmy Sturr, and The Official Blues Brothers Revue highlight Berkshire Theatre Group's 2013 spring season at its Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield's Upstreet Cultural District.
In addition, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, "Oklahoma!," will kick off BTG's summer theater season, dates to be announced. Eric Hill will direct.
The spring schedule of comedy, classic rock, popular music and family events is designed to collectively brand the Colonial and BTG's three other venues -- the Garage in the Colonial lobby, and, in Stockbridge, the Fitzpatrick Main Stage and the Unicorn Theatre -- as a year-round gathering place, says BTG artistic director/CEO Kate Maguire and BTG programmer Simon Shaw.
"We're concerned about building (BTG's theaters) as a year-round home for our population," Shaw said in a recent joint interview with Maguire in her office off the Colonial lobby. "We want to give people reasons to gather here."
MacDonald, who first performed at the Colonial in 2006, returns to the Pittsfield venue on June 15 in what Maguire describes as an "intimate solo concert." The two-time Grammy Award-winning MacDonald won her fifth Tony Award in June for her leading performance in "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess." She will return to the Berkshires in late August to perform with John Williams and the Boston Pops at Tanglewood.
Often referred to as the King of Polka, Sturr will be at the Colonial April 7. He has won 18 Grammy Awards and performed with Willie Nelson and Arlo Guthrie, among others.
A veteran of television, film and night clubs, Rivers comes to the Colonial May 10 in an evening of her typically uninhibited standup comedy.
Produced by the late John Belushi's wife, Judy Belushi Pisano, and Dan Aykroyd, The Official Blues Brothers Revue features Wayne Catania and Kieron Lafferty as Jake and Elwood Blues. The eight-piece band is under the direction of Paul Shaffer.
Sturr, Rivers, MacDonald and The Blues Brothers Revue anchor a spring schedule that gets under way Jan. 4 with The David Wax Museum, featuring Wax, Suz Slezak and Greg Glassman in an evening of traditional Mexican folk fused with American roots and indie rock.
Among other season highlights:
Power Balladz (Feb. 9), an interactive 1980s rock sing-along concert ("the ultimate karaoke," Shaw quipped);
Popovich Comedy Pet Theater (Feb. 19), a family oriented program featuring Moscow Circus member Gregory Popovich and a company of rescue animals -- dogs, cats, geese, doves, parrots -- that has performed on national television and in Las Vegas;
"SPANK! The Fifty Shades Parody" (March 14, 15, 16), a musical satire based on the controversial bestseller ("Our girls night out fun show," Shaw said. "Theater is allowed to be just plain fun and this show has sold out wherever it's been performed."
"Oklahoma!" -- whose performance dates, along with the rest of BTG's summer theater schedule, are yet to be announced -- "speaks to who we are as Americans," Maguire says, "where we got started, how we got to where we are, what it means to be American with our sense, as a nation and as individuals, of territory."
Maguire suggested "Oklahoma!" may not be the only theater production at the Colonial this summer.
"We're looking at a different model this summer," Maguire said, "more theatrical productions at the Colonial and more musical events in Stockbridge."
Jan. 4 The David Wax Museum. 8 p.m.
Feb. 9 Power Balladz: The Ultimate '80s Sing-a-long! 8 p.m.
Feb. 17 The Official Blues Brothers Revue. 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 19 Popovich Comedy Pet Theater. 2 p.m.
Feb. 23 International Guitar Night. 8 p.m.
March 14-16 SPANK! The Fifty Shades Parody. 8 p.m.
March 21 The Hit Men. 7:30 p.m.
April 7 Jimmy Sturr. 2 p.m.
May 10 Joan Rivers. 8 p.m.
June 15 Audra McDonald in Concert. 8 p.m.
TBA "Oklahoma!" Music by Richard Rodgers. Book & lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II.
Tickets go on sale to BTG members beginning Friday, Dec. 7, and to the general public beginning Monday, Dec. 10. Ticket prices vary from event to event. For complete information and tickets: (413) 007-4444; online at www.berkshiretheatregroup.org; in person at the Colonial Theatre box office. Box office hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.; performance days, 10 a.m. until curtain.
While no programming for The Garage, in the Colonial's lobby, has been announced yet, the venue is not being ignored.
"We're looking for a balance there between events with a party atmosphere that tend to draw more people and events that draw a more intimate, but equally satisfied, gathering," Maguire said.
"Overall, we're looking at ways of using the lobby before and after events in the theater so people coming here will feel they've had a complete experience."
Berkshire Theatre Group is the product of a formal merger of the Colonial Theater and Berkshire Theatre Festival that was completed in mid-June 2011. The two boards, Maguire says, "just came togther." Maguire and Shaw, however, barely knew each other when they began working together in November 2010. They were forced by circumstance to hit the ground running.
The challenges were not inconsiderable -- "the scene around us," Shaw said, "combining two organizations, the economy."
Amid the challenges are some encouraging signs. For one, Shaw says, season subscriptions are up. For another, what Maguire characterizes as the invisible audience dividing line between south county and north county has melted, chiefly as a result, Maguire says, of BTG's annual collaborative chamber concert in May with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and this summer's production of "A Chorus Line."
"'A Chorus Line' especially let audiences see this theater the way we do," Maguire said.
Challenges remain -- raising money in a tight economy; more than that, audience building. "We live in a different world," Maguire said. "The question arises, how do we build a space for the next generation for whom walking into a theater means something very different."
It's a challenge Maguire and Shaw say they welcome.
"I think it's really going to be fun here," Maguire said.