Season Preview: 30+ Tix Pix Not To Nix
As the Rural Intelligence region gets more and more love on the national and international front, it seems like the summer seasons just keep expanding, pushing the limits of culture and celebrity. From world-premiere stage offerings to indie, eclectic (and electric) music venues, we have scoured the schedules of performing arts organizations near and far(ish), and highly recommend these hot tickets. In venues both large and small, established and new, there’s a cornucopia of cultural options. Dig in to the moveable feast. —Jeremy D. Goodwin
Joan Rivers at the Colonial
We were re-awakened to the brilliance of this fierce original Grande Dame of comedy with Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, the revelatory documentary that opened the Berkshire International Film Festival two years ago. The legend live, in person, onstage at the Colonial—what’s not to like?
Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA, Friday, May 10, at 8 p.m.
Jeanne Bresciani and the Isadora Duncan International Institute Dancers at Kaatsbaan Studio Theatre
The work of the late, pioneering choreographer Isadora Duncan—informed by myth, folktales and world culture—is carried on by this New York-based company, now celebrating its 35th anniversary season. The program, Isis to Isadora: The Ancient and Eternal Ideal in Art, should offer plenty to admire and chew over.
Kaatsbaan Studio Theatre, Tivoli, New York, May 11 & May 12
Paul Taylor Dance Company at the Mahaiwe
Paul Taylor’s recent penchant for giving the New England premiere of his latest work at the Mahaiwe is a welcome trend. This year’s three-day, four-performance visit by the famed dance company features the new Perpetual Dawn along with five other works, presented in different programs.
Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Great Barrington, MA, May 24 – 26
Dave Davies at Infinity hall
We’re not typically too interested in half-baked nostalgia tours of aging 1960s rockers. But that’s not what this is. The founding force of The Kinks continues to do great work, particularly in his engaged and engaging live show. This chance to see him do his thing in the intimate setting of Infinity should be a special night.
Infinity Hall, Norfolk, CT, Friday, May 31, at 8:00 p.m.
Jim Breuer at the Colonial
The Saturday Night Live veteran and Half Baked co-star has been busy lately with a weekly show on Sirius/XM Radio. This is a chance to see what contemporary observations are now coloring his peerless stoner persona.
Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA, Thursday, June 6, at 8:00 p.m.
On the Town at Barrington Stage Company
After aiming straight for the jugular of crowd-pleasing but artistically accomplished Broadway fare with Fiddler on the Roof last summer, Barrington Stage makes a more esoteric choice this year with the less-often-produced On the Town. But for summer in the Berkshires, a jazzy piece with music by old friend Leonard Bernstein, set in a romanticized New York City, could hardly be more fitting.
Boyd-Quinson Mainstage, Pittsfield, MA, June 12 – July 13
Audra McDonald at The Colonial Theatre
The much-decorated soprano doesn’t need awards to prove how mellifluous she sounds, but nevertheless she couldn’t help picking up a fifth Tony this year for her work in The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. (They sit alongside her two Grammys.) This concert performance will include a mix of showtunes, standards, and personal favorites.
Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA, Saturday, June 15, at 8:00 p.m.
No longer a novelty, this third incarnation of the Wilco-curated festival is digging in its heels and out to prove itself on its own festival terms. With a diverse lineup including Yo La Tengo, Medeski, Martin and Wood, and a new project from Marc Ribot and Los Lobos’s David Hidalgo, plus two Wilco sets (including an all-request one) and a comedy lineup curated by the very popular John Hodgman, this is well beyond the realm of “big Berkshire event” and jousting with the greater rock scene at large.
MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA, June 21 – 23
Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration at Tanglewood
We’ll be among the first to get a crack at this new project, spearheaded by the Garcia estate and led by the very busy blues-jam guitarist Warren Haynes. The mix of searing guitar, the tastefulness of the Boston Pops as conducted by Keith Lockhart, and the peerless body of American songcraft left by Garcia and writing partner Robert Hunter should result in some unexpected textures. Combine the high-end tailgating of Tanglewood with the fan base who invented the pre-show “parking lot scene,” and expect a wild one.
Koussevitzky Music Shed Lenox, MA, Saturday, June 22, at 7:00 p.m.
Joan Baez and Indigo Girls at Tanglewood
It’ll be a veritable feast of golden vocal pipes, O.G. girl power, and earnestness at this very tasty doubleheader. Coming the day after the Boston Pops take on Jerry Garcia, and the same weekend as the Solid Sound Festival at MASS MoCA, this is part of the busiest weekend on the pop-rock front the Berkshires has seen in a long time. Koussevitzky Music Shed, Lenox, MA, Sunday, June 23, at 2:30 p.m.
Arms on Fire at Chester Theatre Company
Chester has snagged itself quite the little world premiere with this new musical by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik, the team behind Spring Awakening, the influential hit and critical favorite that has inspired a host of pop/rock-influenced efforts since. This is no doubt meant to be a bit of leg-stretching before the show’s eventual move to New York.
Chester Theatre Company, Chester, MA, June 27 – July 27
Aston Magna Festival at the Mahaiwe
The long-running baroque music festival ventures down from the hill, where it is in residence at the Daniels Arts Center at Simon’s Rock, for this highlighted performance featuring soprano Dominique Labelle, three special guests on period instruments, and artistic director Daniel Stepner conducting the full Aston Magna ensemble. The program combines Bach’s second Brandenburg concerto and the cantata Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen with the gamba music of Marin Marais. If you see just one period-instrument orchestra of Baroque music this season, the combination of talent, material, and setting makes this program a leading candidate!
Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Great Barrington, MA, Saturday, June 29, at 8 p.m.
Opening Night at Tanglewood
For the always-glitzy kickoff of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Tanglewood season, familiar podium favorite Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos leads the BSO in an all-Tchaikovsky program featuring the composer’s Symphony No. 5, and sets charismatic violin star Joshua Bell loose on the Russian’s Violin Concerto. Koussevitzky Music Shed, Lenox, MA, Friday, July 5, at 8:30 p.m.
Lake Street Dive at Helsinki Hudson
This upwards climbing Boston quartet is making a habit of outgrowing its regular venues, on a heavy-touring itinerary around the country. Called back to Helsinki after a successful show over the winter, the group’s sultry, soulful pop has found the perfect environs.
Helsinki Hudson, Hudson, NY, Saturday, July 6, at 9:00 p.m.
Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and Siti Company at Bard SummerScape
A contemporary response to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, A Rite is a collaboration between legendary choreographer Bill T. Jones (who is in residence at Bard) and director Anne Bogard in a Bard SummerScape co-commission, looking at the tumultuous historical context that gave birth to Stravinsky’s original.
Sosnoff Theatre, Annandale-on-Hudson, July 6 & 7
Oresteia at Bard SummerScape
Epic, thorny and ambitious—like the best of Russian artworks—this 1895 opera by composer Sergey Taneyev is based on the plays of Aeschylus. This landmark production is said to be the first time the trilogy, sung in Russian, will be staged in its entirety outside of Taneyev’s native land. Not quite a light evening at the theatre, but a precious chance to see this rare accomplishment.
Sosnoff Theatre, Annandale-on-Hudson, July 6 – August 24
The Master and Margarita at Bard SummerScape
The Mikhail Bulgakov-penned novel on which this fantastical story of 1930s-era Moscow is based features a trip to hell, a vodka-swilling cat, nudity, and enough satirical bite to suppress it in the Soviet Union until 1967. Hungarian film and theatre director János Szász directs this new stage adaptation, which he wrote with Gideon Lester.
Theatre Two, Annandale-on-Hudson, July 11 – 21
Edie Brickell and Steve Martin at Powerhouse Theatre
Whether it’s his art collection, novel-writing or bluegrass band, Steve Martin has a lot more on his mind than comedy these days. We reap the benefits with a first look at his new—wait for it—bluegrass musical. Written with Edie Brickell (née of the New Bohemians), Bright Star is directed by Tony winner Walter Bobbie (Chicago) and will be one of the hottest things going this summer. Powerhouse Theatre at Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY, July 12 - 14
Pygmalion at Williamstown Theatre Festival
We first knew Robert Sean Leonard in Dead Poets Society as the sensitive, privileged, aspiring actor in a conservative prep school where students hang out in a cave and poignantly jump on their desks to salute Robin Williams. But his adult career has seen eight resilient seasons on the Fox hit House, and he hits the boards in the Berkshires this summer as the iconic professor Henry Higgins. WTF’s season announcement cites parallels to reality television makeovers, so prepare for a bracing teasing-out of the class and gender politics embedded in George Bernard Shaw’s classic.
Main Stage, Williamstown, MA, July 17 – 27
Natalie Merchant with Hudson Valley Philharmonic at the Mahaiwe
The pop songstress, a Rural Intelligence-region dweller who is still probably best known for her work as a founding member of 10,000 Maniacs, has orchestral music on her mind. A new record is combined with heavy touring in partnership with various orchestras around the world. Her local stop should provide a memorable and intimate exposure to Merchant’s latest musical adventures.
Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Great Barrington, MA, Sunday, July 21, at 7 p.m.
Mother Courage and Her Children at Shakespeare & Company
Shakespeare & Company has always been about more than just Will, but this season is the first in recent memory where the company’s most-anticipated, highest-profile production is, in fact, not penned by the Bard. After her sold-out run in The Tempest last summer, Olympia Dukakis returns to Lenox in a production of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and her Children. Also reuniting from the team of The Tempest is director (and S&Co. artistic director) Tony Simotes and Olympia’s thespian brother, Apollo. For good measure, John Douglas Thompson (familiar as the lead in S&Co.‘s Othello, Richard III, and 2012 hit Satchmo at the Waldorf) joins the powerhouse cast. Prepare for a clinic in virtuoso stage chops. Tina Packer Playhouse, Lenox, MA, July 26 – August 25
Hilary Chaplain at PS21
Described immodestly as an “amalgam of Lucille Ball and Charlie Chaplin,” Hilary Chaplain is a physical comedienne who has soaked up expertise from the legendary Bill Irwin, who raved about her work. She won the Solo Show Award at New York’s International Fringe Festival with this quirky story of a woman who turns everyday objects into her companions in her quest for that good, old-fashioned aspiration: love.
PS21, Chatham, NY, Saturday, July 27, at 8 p.m.
Radiohole’s Inflatable Frankenstein at Mass Live Arts Festival
One of three forward-thinking, New York-based theatre companies comprising the inaugural Mass Live Arts festival, Radiohole presents this ostensibly wacky and creative amalgam of the works of Mary Shelley and the films of James Wahle. The New York Times’ Ben Brantley called it “a sticky, goopy, embarrassing, all-over-the-place and absolutely necessary mess,” which sounds like an endorsement based on what they’re going for. The festival aims to bring the cream of experimental theatre from New York to the Berkshires for performances and artistic residencies.
Daniel Arts Center, Great Barrington, MA, August 1 – 3
The Bridges of Madison County at Williamstown Theatre Festival
After last year’s Far From Heaven, WTF comes at us again with a musical based on a well-known title with a cinematic history, realized by an artistic crew with great pedigree. This world premiere production features Steven Pasquale, best known for his work on the FX series Rescue Me. Music and book are by prolific composer Jason Robert Brown, and Tony-winner Barlett Sher, who The New York Times called “one of the most original and exciting directors” on the scene, helms it. With the brand name title and accomplished talent, we can figure this production has its GPS set for Broadway. Main Stage, Williamstown, MA, August 1 – 18
Rita Rudner at the Mahaiwe
Rita Rudner has made herself into the queen of Las Vegas comedy in recent years, but brings her road show to Great Barrington as one of the highlights of a great summer for comedy in the region.
Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Great Barrington, MA, Sunday, August 4, at 7 p.m.
Jessica Lang Dance at Jacob’s Pillow
The prolific choreographer has now formed her own company, to better realize her compositional proclivities and yen for multimedia experimentation. It made its Pillow debut last season, and returns with a program highlighted by a world premiere collaboration with Canadian design house molo—plus a piece incorporating video art by Japanese-born visual artist Shinichi Maruyama, and Lang’s experimental dance film White.
Doris Duke Theatre, Becket, MA, August 7 – 11
The Beauty Queen of Leeanne at Shakespeare & Company
Fresh from her triumphant Off-Broadway run in her own Women of Will, Shakespeare & Company founding artistic director Tina Packer takes the stage in this dark comedy, alongside company comedic favorite Elizabeth Aspenlieder (Rough Crossing, Bad Dates), as a manipulative mother seeking to sabotage her daughter’s last chance at love. If you caught Packer’s snarling take on Queen Margaret of Anjou from Women of Will, this sounds deliciously diabolical. Matthew Penn, co-director of the Berkshire Playwright’s Lab, helms it. Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, Lenox, MA, August 8 – September 15
Wendy Whelan at Jacob’s Pillow
The twenty-five-year veteran of the New York City Ballet has a roving taste and ecumenical expertise ranging from repertory givens like Swan Lake to the freshest work of contemporary masters. She ventures into creative waters for the aptly named Restless Creature, a Pillow co-commission for which she’ll perform four new duets composed and danced with four celebrated collaborators— Kyle Abraham, Joshua Beamish, Brian Brooks, and Alejandro Cerrudo—each known for work in distinctive and varying styles.
Ted Shawn Theatre, Becket, MA, August 14 – 18
The Goat Rodeo Sessions at Tanglewood
We sure loves us some Yo-Yo around here, whether as featured soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra or leading one of his fascinating, cross-genre experiments. Fresh from winning a Grammy for The Goat Rodeo Sessions, he leads a tour with the all-star string ensemble assembled for that effort: bassist/composer Edgar Meyer, mandolinist Chris Thile, and fiddler Stuart Duncan.
Koussevitzky Music Shed Lenox, MA, Thursday, August 15, at 8:30 p.m.
Pearsonwidrig Dance Theatre at PS21
The offbeat, internationally touring dance company presents a program led by Ordinary Festivals, a piece set to vintage Italian folk music and composed for “300 oranges, 7 performers, and 2 knives.”
PS21, Chatham, NY, August 16 & 17
Scott and Hem in the Garden of Allah at Barrington Stage Company
Getting a first look at the latest witty historical mash-up from the pen of playwright Mark St. Germain has become a highlight of recent theatre seasons. Coming off a run of his well-received The Best of Enemies at George Street Playhouse last fall, and with last season’s smash Barrington Stage premiere Dr. Ruth, All the Way headed to Hartford’s TheatreWorks this May, the Pittsfield theatre is set to unload the world premiere of his newest, Scott and Hem in the Garden of Allah. Seemingly a variation on the formula of his biggest hit Freud’s Last Session (which imagined a meeting between the good doctor and C. S. Lewis), the new work depicts Ernest Hemmingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald locking horns in Hollywood, where Zelda’s beau spent his last, sadly dissipated years.
St. Germain Stage, Pittsfield, MA, August 15 – September 29
Anna Christie at Berkshire Theatre Group
Playwright David Auburn is best known for his 2000 play Proof, which turned the neat trick of winning both a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony. (His 2005 film adaptation featured Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins, and Jake Gyllenhall.) But he’s fond of taking the summers to stretch his directing muscles at Berkshire Theatre Group, where he breathed fresh life into Tennessee Williams’ overlooked A Period of Adjustment in 2011, and turns to another giant of American theatre this time out by helming Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie, the play that earned O’Neill the second of his four Pulitzers. (Tough competition.) Look for a thoughtful examination of O’Neill’s usual meditations: the haunting past, pained familial relations, and sailors. Plenty of sailors.
Fitzpatrick Main Stage, Stockbridge, MA, August 20 - 31