Waiting in the Wings: Summer is set to take the stage

PurpleFloweSamllrSummertime is a changing of the guard in theater. Many companies call it quits for the season, or substantially shift their programming away from mainstage offerings while others are only getting started once the days are at their longest. With the dizzying array of choices available in RI theater, it’s a daunting task to figure out what’s happening where. Alongside all of the unique festivals and semi-theatrical events that can be experienced this summer (ie, WaterFire, PVDFest and of course Hamilton at PPAC), Motif has gathered the details on what’s hitting area stages near you. Your entertainment calendar starts here.

Epic Theatre Company brings a couple of familiar names to the stage after a season of edgier fare with new adaptations of the perennial classics Charlotte’s Web and The Secret Garden.

“If you had told me a few years ago that we’d be doing a summer like this, I would have thought you were crazy,” says Epic artistic director Kevin Broccoli, but “it felt like we had earned the opportunity to explore stories about kindness and childhood. These two novels are personal favorites of mine, and I can’t wait to have the theater be filled all summer long with laughter, love and compassion.”

Charlotte’s Web kicks things off, running July 12 – 27. Broccoli will direct production, which will feature Epic regulars Justin Pimentel as Templeton, Ian Hudgins as Wilbur and Kerry Giorgi as Charlotte. Karen Foster adapts the iconic novel by E.B. White.

August 9 – 24, the theater will turn its resident home at 50 Rolfe Square into The Secret Garden. The beautiful novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett is transformed in a gorgeous new adaptation by Gwen Beaton. Megan Ruggiero will be directing a cast that includes Erika Fay Greenwood making her Epic debut as Mary.

“When I started telling people what we were planning on doing this summer, the reaction was ‘Oh, so you’re doing children’s theater,’ and I would say, ‘No, we’re doing Epic theater,’ says Broccoli. “These are shows we felt still fit our mission and while it’s wonderful that I can finally invite younger audiences into our space, we think these plays are going to offer something for everyone, and that’s what’s making us so excited.”

Both Charlotte’s Web and The Secret Garden will be presented at the Artists Exchange, home of Epic Theatre Company, located at 50 Rolfe Square in Cranston, Rhode Island. For more information, e-mail Info@EpicTheatreRI.org

It wouldn’t be summer in RI without Bill Hanney’s Theatre by the Sea and this year, Hanney and Co. tinker with the usual formula, eschewing the opening “jukebox” musical for a world premiere that has received a few workshops, but makes its full debut in Matunuck. Love and Other Fables, a “romantic screwball company” that recalls the vibe of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum while maintaining its own unique twists, features a crack New York-based cast and runs May 29 to June 16. TBTS keeps the summer hot with the rest of its lineup, all Broadway-caliber musicals adapted from classic films:  Singin’ in the Rain, runs June 19 to July 13 and is immediately followed up by Disney’s Newsies in its RI professional premiere (not to be confused with the outstanding premiere presented by community theater, Academy Players, last year.) Newsies runs from July 17 through August 10. The summer ends with a sleazy disco bang as Saturday Night Fever, the stage version of the extraordinarily successful 1977 movie, runs August 14 to September 8. And, as always, the TBTS stage hosts a variety of youth and family programming in and around its mainstage schedule (and don’t forget the late night cabaret!). For details and ticket reservations, call 866-811-4111 or 401-782-TKTS (8587), or visit theatrebythesea.com

There’s no shortage of Shakespeare this summer, including offerings by CCRI’s third annual summer series, sort of a college-based summerstock, if you will, featuring actors from the RI theater community. This year, they feature two offerings, starting with The Tempest, directed by Kira Hawkridge, July 18  to 21 and then Henry V, directed by Ted Clement, August 8 to 11.

Burbage Theatre Company artistic director Jeff Church mans the helm for a free outdoor production of Julius Caesar, July 25 – August 11. Shows take place at Pawtucket’s Veterans Memorial Amphitheater, Isle Brewers Guild, Rose Larisa Park and Slater Park. For dates and locations visit burbagetheatre.org/juliuscaesar

Colonial Theatre (often simply referred to as “Shakespeare in the Park”), one of RI’s professional companies, is back in Westerly this year with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, presented in Westerly’s Wilcox Park July 31 through August 18. Admission is always free to the public, so enjoy the return of Colonial to the park in Westerly. For more information, visit colonialtheatreri.org

One of the area’s longest-running Shakespeare companies, What Cheer, Shakespeare? is pleased to announce that they will also be performing Midsummer at Bristol’s Mount Hope Farm on Friday, July 12 and Saturday, July 13 at 7pm. The show also will be performed outdoors, under the stars on the lawn behind the Governor Bradford House. If it rains, the show will be moved inside the Farm’s Civil War-era Barn, adjacent to the Gardens.

Head Trick Theatre throws their unique twist into the Shakespeare fray by presenting Queen Margaret, an evolution of Shakespeare’s largest female role, adapted from Shakespeare’s texts by Jennifer Dick. This US premiere runs July 11 to 21 and explores Margaret from captive war bride to warrior queen. Is Margaret a hero or a villain? Find out for yourself in this unique adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s epic characters. Performances take place at AS220’s 95 Empire Street black box theater in PVD. Visit headtricktheatre.org for more information.

Newport’s Seaside Stage Society offers up Romeo and Juliet in August, reimagined in a Vegas nightclub setting, but not before they present the Agatha Christie-meets- “Clue” suspense thriller 13 Past Midnight in July. For show dates and more information, visit facebook.com/pg/SeasideStageSociety.

And summer would not be the same without Bob Colonna’s TRIST theater offering up Shakespeare in Roger Williams National Memorial park in downtown Providence. This time around, TRIST presents The Merry Wives of Windsor June 13 to 30, Thursday through Sunday at 8pm. Bring a picnic basket, your lawn chair or blanket, and admission is free.

One of the most anticipated theatrical events of the summer is always PVD’s own Fringe Festival, with a dizzying array of plays, artistic events and general awesomeness. Sponsored in large part by Wilbury Theater Group (currently presenting a stunning take on Fun Home (see review page XX)), FringePVD runs July 31 through August 4 all over the city, but centers around the Olneyville section, including the WaterFire Arts Center (475 Valley Street) and the Wilbury Theatre (40 Sonoma Ct). With so much to choose from that week, it’s wise to get a schedule in advance and plan your time accordingly. Visit fringepvd.org/schedule–events for a constantly updated roster. Worthy of consideration are 50 Shades of Gay (August 2 and August 4), an adult variety show starring Get Out Magazine’s LGBT Comedian of the Year, Ike Avelli, as well as Our Town Plus Zombies, the “lost third act of Our Town” where Grover’s Corners is besieged by an uprising of the recently dead, returned hungry for the brains of the living (July 31 and August 2). This year’s festival culminates with The Ovie Awards at 6pm on August 4, celebrating the best of the best in Providence’s hippest neighborhood. Immersive igloo experiences, cutting-edge theater and constant surprises make that week a staycation obligation for locals.

Warm up for Fringe with the 14th annual One Act Play Festival at the Artists Exchange (July 11 to July 27 at Theatre 82 & Café in Cranston). The OAPF is an all-inclusive community theater event celebrating creative collaboration of playwrights, actors, musicians, visual artists and technical theater artists. This is a refreshing collection of original one acts, including comedies, dramas and slices of life. Performed by actors of all ages and abilities, the festival is a family-friendly celebration of the essence of community theater. For more information, visit artists-exchange.org/one-act-play-festival

Pawtucket’s Mixed Magic Theatre brings us a return performance of the original musical Night’s People by Ricardo Pitts-Wiley and Robert Schleeter. Performances will be at Trinity Rep Friday, June 14 and 15. In their own space on Mineral Spring Ave, they present two one-offs: Juneteenth, Never Silent Voices: Those Who Spoke for Freedom and Justice on June 19 and Rise to Black: Songs for our Fathers on June 28. Visit mmtri.org/performances for more details.

Returning to the south of the Cranston-Dixon line, we find the Contemporary Theater Company in Wakefield, presenting, among their usual array of camps and classes, their beloved improv-based event, To Be Continued… An Improvised Soap Opera, Thursdays June 20 through Aug 29 at 7pm. Improvisers weave plots of love, deception, unexpected reunions, life and death situations – everything you need for a juicy soap opera made up on-the-spot. The show bears repeated viewings, as plotlines expand and stretch from week to week. Don’t miss out on your stories! June 28 through July 27 sees their production of The Book Club Play by Karen Zacarías. Did you want more Shakespeare? Well, CTC has you covered with their annual Shakespeare on the Saugatucket. Two Gentlemen of Verona runs Wednesdays and Sundays in July at 7 pm on the Performance Patio. And, in August, Henry IV, Part 1 follows the same schedule. Wonder of the World by David Lindsay-Abaire is on tap on the mainstage August 9 through 31 and CTC will close out their summer season with The Skriker by Caryl Churchill, opening September 20. For information on all of the above, visit contemporarytheatercompany.com (CTC’s programming is quite varied, so you’ll want to keep this bookmarked) or simply call 401-218-0282.

Aside from all of the above, several of RI’s theaters continue to chug along, providing year-long programming, including Westerly’s Granite Theatre (the Renaissance Theatre Co.). Their summer includes Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park (Jun 28 – Jul 31), On Golden Pond (Aug 2 – 25) and Agatha Christie’s The Hollow (Sep 6 -29). Academy Players presents a variety of In Concert musical presentations, including Ragtime, and Little Theater of Fall River brings us two shows, including the musical adaptation of Spring Awakening August 8 through 18. Newport Playhouse always has something on tap, with Always a Bridesmaid running through July 1 and Funny Money running July 10 – August 30. From the Norton Singers in Massachusetts to the tip of Aquidneck island, there’s enough theater to keep your calendar filled almost every night of the week.

And, of course, the RI theater community comes together on August 11th at McVinney Auditorium in Providence for the annual MOTIF magazine RI Theater Awards, celebrating the wide variety of live theater from the past year. Live performances from some of the past year’s best musicals accompany the ceremony and the event is free and open to the public. We’ll see you onstage or in the audience somewhere in Rhode Island this summer!”

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