What a year 2017 was for theater in the Philly region, and judging by the next six months, the momentum continues.
Just by themselves, the John Guare Festival at EgoPo and the first-ever Philly Theatre Week are huge … but also huge are the world premieres (Passage, Ready Steady Yeti Go), Philly premieres (Small Mouth Sounds), adaptations (Catch-22, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye), classics (Waiting for Godot, Julius Caesar), and a mini-Michael Frayn fest, with Copenhagen at the Lantern and Noises Off at the Walnut. South Camden Theatre Company is celebrating female dramatists, and Azuka is celebrating new Philly playwrights. From farce to tragedy, long ago to right now, there’s something for everyone.
Those are some highlights for plays. And with musicals? Where to begin?
We haven’t counted absolutely every single one of the theatrical musicals opening in the Philadelphia between now and mid-June, but we got to 30 pretty fast, from classics (The Sound of Music) to musical versions of great novels (Jane Eyre) to adapted Jack Black movies (School of Rock) to nostalgia (Beehive) to Disney (Aladdin) to edgy fare (Passing Strange, Fun Home) to brand-new brilliance (Henry Box Brown, Big Red Sun).
Off-campus, as in Broadway, keep your eye on Mean Girls, opening April 8 at the August Wilson Theatre. Based on the 2004 movie written by Upper Darby’s own Tina Fey, it’s directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon), with songs by Jeff Richmond (The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), lyrics by Nell Benjamin (Legally Blonde), and book by Fey.
Copenhagen (Through Feb. 18, Lantern Theater Company). Sometimes called “the best play ever written about science,” this crackling drama portrays a meeting of two towering minds, Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr, at the height of World War II. Science and much, much more. (215-829-9002, lanterntheater.org)
Waiting for Godot (Through Feb. 18, Quintessence Theatre Group). Quintessence just had its best season ever, and it hits the ground running for 2018 with our pals Vladimir and Estragon. (215-987-4450, quintessencetheatre.org)
The Humans (Through March 4, Walnut Street Theatre). Something different for the Walnut! This winner of the 2016 Tony Award for best new play is a real-time, real-place drama of not just any family Thanksgiving. (215-547-3550, walnutstreettheatre.org)
John Guare Festival: The Lydie Breeze trilogy (Through May 6, EgoPo Classic Theater). Written over the course of 30 years, these three plays constitute a sweeping epic that has never, until now, been performed together in its entirety. It takes us from Civil War carnage to Utopian dreams to questions about the American future. Part I: Cold Harbor (through Feb. 11); Part II: Aipotu (March 7-18); Part III: Home (April 11-22). Three- and one-day marathons available through May 6. (267-273-1414, egopo.org)
Philly Theatre Week (Feb. 8-18). A celebration of the best in Philly stage work, with the other arts (dance, music, film) in there, too, plus lots of occasions to eat, drink, see plays, be merry, and repeat. Just some of what’s on offer: Sensitive Guys at InterAct Theatre; Stoop Daze by the Kaleidoscope Cultural Arts Collective; An Evening with Groucho at Bucks County Playhouse; Marie Antoinette at Curio Theatre Company; and plenty of panels and interactive shows. Prices are free, $15, or $30. For a complete rundown and tickets: PhillyTheatreWeek.com.
The Savannah Sipping Society (Feb. 9-18, South Camden Theatre Company). The first of four plays in a laudable season celebrating female playwrights. Four Southern ladies meet at a happy hour, and boom! (866-811-4111, southcamdentheatre.org)
Love, Lies, and Taxidermy (Feb. 14-March 4, Inis Nua Theatre Company). And an ice cream truck. And soft porn. And requited teenage love. And plenty of Irish laughter. (215-454-9776, inisnuatheatre.org)
Ready Steady Yeti Go (Feb. 21-March 11, Azuka Theatre). A hate crime leads to a junior high school love affair – and white guilt breaks out. World premiere of David Jacobi’s play continues Azuka’s season focusing on Philly playwrights. (215-563-1100, azukatheatre.org)
Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (March 1-April 1, Arden Theatre Company). Adaptation of the classic novel in which Pecola believes that having Shirley Temple’s blue eyes will lead to happiness. (215-922-1122, ardentheatre.org)
Small Mouth Sounds (March 13-April 1, Philadelphia Theatre Company). Bess Wohl and Rachel Chavkin bring their New York hit to PTC for its Philly premiere. Six disaffected runaways from the noise of city life go off for a retreat on a vow of silence. Compassionate and rich. (215-985-0420, philadelphiatheatrecompany.org)
Noises Off (March 13-April 29, Walnut Street Theatre). Michael Frayn’s indestructible, chaotic, elemental farce. The same guy wrote both this and Copenhagen? (215-547-3550, walnutstreettheatre.org)
I Will Not Go Gently (March 21-April 15, People’s Light, Malvern). Jennifer Child and Christopher Colucci’s comedy about a woman of a certain age who wants to rock a certain roll. It’s got legs and laughs. (610-344-6500, peopleslight.org)
Julius Caesar (March 21-April 28, Quintessence Theatre Company). Spare, taut, conflicted, this study of revolution, real-world politics, and persuasion remains among Shakespeare’s most worldly, eloquent plays. And yeah, you, too, Brutus. (215-987-4450, quintessencetheatre.org)
Human Rites (March 23-April 15, InterAct Theatre Company). A university dean asks a psychology prof to retract his paper on female initiation rites in Africa. She’s black, he’s white, they have a history, and … here we go. (215-568-8279, interacttheatre.org)
Passage (April 18-May 13, Wilma Theater Company). World premiere of Christopher Chen’s fantasia based on E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India. This promises to be a special event, considering the Wilma’s HotHouse Company is in on the act. (215-546-7824, wilmatheater.org)
Catch-22 (April 25-May 19, Curio Theatre Company). Joseph Heller’s comic masterpiece is a rich feast of language, which makes the tales of Yossarian, Major Major Major Major, Clevinger, and the gang a good fit for the stage. (215-921-8243, curiotheatre.org)
The Importance of Being Earnest (May 4-27, Hedgerow Theatre). Oscar Wilde’s sharp yet lunatic play is often done as a big production number. The Hedgerow bunch, however, are fond of doing it, and doing it well, in an intimate setting. (610-565-4211, hedgerowtheatre.org)
Henry Box Brown: A Hip Hop Musical (Through Feb. 17, Bonnell Auditorium, Philadelphia Community College). A world premiere, cowritten by (and starring) Roots-associated rapper Karl “Dice Raw” Jenkins, based on the true story of Henry “Box” Brown, who escaped slavery in 1849 by hiding in a wooden box mailed from Richmond, Va., to Philadelphia. (888-802-8998, henryboxbrownmusical.com)
Passing Strange (Through Feb. 18, Wilma Theater). Revival of the rousing, Tony-winning musical by Stew, Heidi Rodewald, and Annie Dorsen. With live electric band on stage. (215-546-7824, wilmatheater.org)
Next to Normal (Through Feb. 25, Media Theatre, Media). Celebrated, emotional, genre-changing show involving family, trauma, mental illness, and ideas of what is and isn’t “normal.” (610-891-0100, mediatheatre.org)
Musical Thrones: A Parody of Ice & Fire (Feb. 9-10, Philadelphia Theatre Company). A musical pastiche based on Game of Thrones. The costumes alone should be worth the price of admission. (215-985-0420, philadelphiatheatrecompany.org)
Waitress (Feb. 13-18, Forrest Theatre). Sara Bareilles and Jessie Nelson’s musical based on the 2007 cult comedy film about a very talented female entrepreneur. (215-893-1999, kimmelcenter.org)
Beehive (Feb. 23-March 18, Broadway Theatre of Pitman, N.J.). As in hairdos. A celebration of the 1960s and 1970s, in social change, fashion, and vintage pop music. (856-384-8381, thebroadwaytheatre.org)
Something Rotten (Feb. 24-March 4, Academy of Music). Funny musical send-up of the days of rock star Will Shakespeare and his lesser competitors. (215-893-1999, kimmelcenter.org)
Jane Eyre (March 9-11, 11th Hour Theatre Company). Much admired, often passionate version of the Bronte classic. (267-987-9865, 11thhourtheatrecompany.org)
Crowns (March 13-April 1, McCarter Theatre, Princeton). A Chicago girl goes to live with her aunt in South Carolina, and she learns all about church hats and womanhood. (609-258-2787, mccarter.org)
School of Rock (March 27-April 1, Academy of Music). Plugged-in, good-rocking Andrew Lloyd Webber version of the 2003 Jack Black comedy. (215-893-1999, kimmelcenter.org)
Nunsense A-Men (April 5-29, Montgomery Theatre, Souderton). The original Nunsense with an all-male cast. That’ll break the habit. (215-723-9984, montgomerytheater.org)
On Your Feet! (April 10-15, Academy of Music). Irresistibly danceable bio-musical of Latina power-chanteuse Gloria Estefan. (215-893-1999, kimmelcenter.org)
Ella: First Lady of Song (April 18-May 13, Delaware Theatre Company). The DTC scores another ringer, as Freda Payne (of “Band of Gold” renown) channels the all-time jazz singer. (302-594-1100, delawaretheatre.org/ella)
Newsies (April 18-June 10, Media Theatre, Media). The Disney property that’s now doing even better as a musical than it did as a film. Vigorous, full of great energy and dance. (610-891-0100, mediatheatre.org)
The Sound of Music (April 24-29, Merriam Theater). National tour of one of the most beloved musicals ever. (215-893-1999, kimmelcenter.org)
Mamma Mia! (May 15-July 15, Walnut Street Theatre). ABBA continue to sing the world into submission in this genial, world-beating show, settling in for a two-month run. (215-547-3550, walnutstreettheatre.org)
Fun Home (May 17-June 17, Arden Theatre Company). Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori’s musical adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical novel about growing up a certain way in a family of secrets. (215-922-1122, ardentheatre.org)
The Last Five Years (May 30-July 1, Eagle Theatre, Hammonton, N.J.). Much praised musical about a couple who fall in love, and then out, over a half decade. She tells her story backward, he forward. (609-704-5012, eagletheatre.org)
Big Red Sun (May 31-June 17, 11th Hour Theatre Company). World premiere about a young musician’s journey of self-discovery, with a score embracing everything from klezmer to swing. (267-987-9865, 11thhourtheatrecompany.org)
Aladdin (June 13- July 1, Academy of Music). National tour of the Disney favorite. Rub the lamp of this magical musical and you’ll get a genie who’s a genial genius. Clever lyrics, wacky fun. (215-893-1999, kimmelcenter.org)