We all know about the two faces of theater — comedy and tragedy — but one of Sonoma County's longest-running theater series is showing its happy side this summer. No pathos this time around.
Summer Repertory Theatre, the annual summer-long theater festival at Santa Rosa Junior College, plans eight weeks of Broadway comedies and musicals this season.
"We wanted to keep light this year. I just think that, given the state of the world, we deserve a little bit of laughter in the summer," said James Newman, artistic director of Summer Repertory Theatre.
The 43rd season opens today with "A Chorus Line," which deals with the joys and sorrows of Broadway singers and dancers who support the stars. The series continues until early August.
College students from all over the country will perform in five different shows, running in rotation at two theaters on the junior college campus.
"It's a giant dance season for us. We are laughing and dancing our way through the summer. When we make a decision to do dance shows, we really commit to doing dance shows," Newman said.
Besides "A Chorus Line," the season includes two other major musicals.
"La Cage aux Folles," follows a gay couple who run a drag nightclub and pretend to be conventional for the sake of their son's fiancee and her family. This is the 2010 Broadway revival version.
"9 to 5" is the new Broadway version of the 1980 film about three women who get revenge on their tyrannical boss, with new music by one of the movie's stars, Dolly Parton.
"If we're going to do a show like 'A Chorus Line,' then we know we going to have all these wonderful dancers, so we're going to use them in shows like 'La Cage aux Folles' and '9 to 5,'" Newman explained.
The remaining two shows in the season are tried-and-true comedies — Noel Coward's "Present Laughter," about a star dealing with fame, and Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple," the ever-popular story of two mismatched roommates.
Trying to pick which plays to see? Here are the artistic director's quick takes on each of the season's shows:
"A Chorus Line": "Audiences love it because it really is a window into the performer's world," Newman said. ""Working with this next generation of theater artists, the play is even that much more important to us at Summer Rep, because it reflects what we do here. It's the story of young performers."
"Present Laughter": "This is Noel Coward's autobiographical play about his own celebrity. It's the story of a young playboy stage star and the people that surround him — his manager, his ex-wife, his business partners," Newman explained. "It's very timely in our culture of all these celebrities who are celebrities for no reason."
"La Cage aux Folles": "In 2014, with all the views about gay marriage, I was really interested in what has changed about that play in the last 30 years," Newman said. "Now that we're not shocked by two men in a committed relationship, what does the play mean? We discovered that it's a play about parenting, and the choices you make when you are in love, regardless of bias."
"The Odd Couple": "'The Odd Couple' is such a mainstay in contemporary America. The story of Oscar and Felix has played out in cartoons and the movie and the TV series. There's also a new TV series coming in the fall with Matthew Perry from 'Friends,'" Newman said. "That conflict between the neat freak and the slob is something that touches people, and it's hilarious," he added. "It's a classic that audiences want to see over and over again."
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