Curtains Up: A RI summer theatre guide

This summer, between beating the heat with trips to the beach and Del’s lemonades, consider adding a play or two to your summer bucket list. Among the offerings from local theaters, there’s a little something for everyone, from our Shakespeare scholars to our musical theater aficionados.

First and foremost, nothing screams summer theater quite like Theatre by the Sea in Wakefield, and this season is particularly noteworthy, given it will be their first full season post-COVID-19 shutdowns. Kicking things off, Million Dollar Quartet, runs through June 18. Set on Dec 4, 1956, it portrays the true story of a pivotal moment in music history when fortuitous circumstances led Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley to join forces at Sun Records in Memphis for what would become known as one of the most legendary jam sessions of all time. Next up, get ready to kick off your Sunday shoes and cut loose with Footloose, a story of teenage rebellion and, of course, dancing, that runs (or dances) from June 22 to July 16. Speaking of losing shoes, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella takes the stage July 20 and runs through Aug 13. Last but not least, and still continuing on the shoe theme, Kinky Boots, the dazzling and uplifting story of acceptance and fabulous footwear, finishes off the summer beginning Aug 17.


Rest assured, the musical fun does not end there! The RISE playhouse in Woonsocket will be presenting Seussical the Musical June 3 – 12. A whimsical weaving of Dr. Seuss’s greatest hits, Seussical is sure to be fun for the whole family. On the subject of family-friendly, Shrek the Musical runs at Granite Theatre in Westerly July 7 – 24, the ever-memed story of an ogre to whom there is more than meets the eye. Not quite as family-friendly but also borrowing from beloved children’s stories, Swamp Meadow will be putting Into the Woods at the The Assembly Theater in Harrisville, a “careful what you wish for” tale that draws from popular fairy tales, and was composed by the late, great Stephen Sondheim, running June 3 – 5.

If Shrek and Seuss fail to hold appeal for the entire family, there are two particular crowd-pleasers for teens and young adults coming to the local theater scene. First up, Academy Players will be putting on the beloved RENT, Jonathan Larson’s iconic rock musical about a group of friends living in the midst of the AIDS epidemic, running June 9 – 19. Next is Freaky Friday, adapted from the movie starring Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis, about the shenanigans and empathizing that ensue when an angsty teenage girl and her overworked mother swap bodies. Catch it at the Stadium Theatre in Woonsocket July 15 – 17.

If you’re looking for something a little less toe-tapping and a little more brain-stimulating, summer is the perfect time for Shakespeare. CCRI Summer Rep has two of the bard’s plays in store this summer, with Taming of the Shrew, Jul 21 – 24 and Othello, Aug 25 – 28: one comedy and one tragedy, just to ensure a well-balanced Shakespeare diet. For some Shakespeare under the stars, check out What Cheer’s Something’s Rotten in the State of Denmark, a one-act farcical take on Hamlet (admittedly, more Shakespeare-adjacent than actually penned by the bard himself), at Sprague Mansions the last two weekends of July, and Contemporary Theater’s As You Like It, to be performed on their new patio. Contemporary Theater will also be presenting a stage adaptation of The Neverending Story, based on the novel by Michael Ende about an epic adventure with all kinds of creatures, characters and puppets, from June 24 to July 30, and Men on Boats, a true(ish) story of an 1869 expedition to chart the Colorado River, beginning its run Aug 12. 

If the classics are your jam but you’ve had enough of the bard, Head Trick Theatre will be presenting Aristophanes’s The Assemblywoman, a chaotic farce about a group of women who seize control of the government and turn the city on its head (which is sounding like a really good plan right about now), at various locations around PVD July 15 – 31 for their first in-person show post-COVID-19 shutdowns.

Among the many theatrical productions concentrated around the end of July, don’t miss out on FringePVD, PVD’s iteration of the world-renowned Fringe Festival, established in Edinburgh back in 1947. Sponsored by The Wilbury Group, Fringe features new and experimental works from local, national and international artists in various locations around the city. It’s the perfect opportunity to get out of your theatrical comfort zone and experience something a little different from your standard theatrical fare.