'Sweet spirits' beckon theatergoers this summer at Berkshire Theatre Group

New and established mix in season running from mid-May through mid-October

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PITTSFIELD — In a time of upheaval, Kate Maguire, CEO and artistic director of Berkshire Theatre Group, says she finds solace and peace in theater. More than that, she says. "When I need to renew my sense of values, I go back to my sanctuary, the theater. It's a place I go to be reminded of sweet spirits."

She is planning on sweet spirits being in abundance for theatergoers this summer in a season that will feature in BTG's Fitzpatrick Main Stage and Unicorn theaters in Stockbridge two popular, familiar musicals — Stephen Schwartz' "Godspell" and Neil Simon, Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager's "They're Playing Our Song"; C.P. Taylor's "And a Nightingale Sang;" Anton Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya" directed by David Auburn using Paul Schmidt's translation, with, in the only casting being announced now, David Adkins in the title role, joined by Mark Blum, Rebecca Brooksher, Harriet Harris, Chris Noth and Matt Sullivan; a world premiere musical, "Letters to the President"; a new play by Tara L. Wilson Noth, "B.R.O.K.E.N. code B.I.R.D. switching"; and two solo performances — "Dogs of Rwanda," written and performed by Sean Christopher Lewis, and the world premiere of "The R Word," written and performed by Rachel Siegel — presented over two weekends only under the collective title "Telling Stories: Two Solo Performers."

The community musical at BTG's Colonial Theatre in downtown Pittsfield will be "Peter Pan," July 2 through 26, with lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, music by Morris "Moose" Charlap, additional lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, additional music by Jule Styne. Travis Daly directs. Jacob Kerzner is music director.

"Each of these plays touch on our humanity," Maguire said.

Tickets for all of BTG's summer season productions will be on sale this morning at 10.

First produced in 1977, "And a Nightingale Sang" is about a working-class English family trying to survive, ration-to-ration, through the days of the bombing of England during World War II.

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"It's a play that gives me great comfort," Maguire said. "It really captures my heart; the play and all the characters in it." It will be directed by Eric Hill for the Unicorn Theatre, where it is scheduled to run Sept. 24 through Oct. 18.

The BTG season actually gets underway in May with "Telling Stories ...," May 15-23. "The

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Dogs of Rwanda," Maguire said, "is a very powerful piece" about redemption and forgiveness. "The R Word" is a world premiere about a mother of a special-needs child who fimds comfort and release in a wild night out with other moms.

"Telling Stories ... " will be followed, in turn, in the Unicorn by "They're Playing Our Song" (June 11-July 4), directed by Gregg Edelman, a two-character musical that tracks the up-and-down professional and personal relationship between a successful composer and a hugely talented, if also inexperienced, lyricist; the world premiere of "B.R.O.K.E.N. ... " by Tara L. Wilson Noth, July 9-Aug. 1, a "powerful play," Maguire said, about a privileged African-American woman who is asked to defend a black youth accused of murder. "As she works on the case," Maguire said, "she begins to question the women she has morphed into."

"Uncle Vanya" follows, Aug. 6-29. "Now, we are not going to deconstruct Chekhov," Maguire said with a laugh, referring generally to recent redefinitions of some of Chekhov's plays within contemporary, abstract, often fragmented constricts.

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The Fitzpatrick Main Stage opens June 18 with "Letters to the President," a world premiere musical that sets letters written by members of the electorate to various presidents of the United States and from various American presidents to members of the electorate to songs composed by 19 young, "up-and-coming songwriters," Maguire said. "The letters are funny, poignant. No matter what side of the debate you may be on," Maguire said, "these are all presidents who spoke to the heart of America."

Michael Bello will direct. Letter curation and dramaturgy is by Jessica Kahkosa.

Stephen Schwartz's iconic rock musical, "Godspell," takes over the Fitzpatrick Main Stage July 23 through Aug. 29. Alan Filderman directs and Gerry McIntyre choreographs this musical based on the Gospel According to St. Matthew.

"I think all of these plays, to one extent or another, are about yearning; about people being brought to the edge of the woods and looking out, looking forward.

"I'm not one to preach to people," Maguire said. "I think, in some way, each of these plays responds to some balance we are all looking for."


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