For Alexandria theater managers, deciding which plays to put on the docket for a given season is a sort of black magic. Part of it is dictated by ticket sales, of course, with local theatergoers having a particular affinity for musicals. But it’s also about offering the widest possible variety for season-ticket holders, whose needs need to be met if they are to return next year. It’s also about serving the need of the arts community, a wide-ranging coalition of creators with interests ranging from Victorian comedies to avant garde dramas.
"A season is kind of like a body of work," said Carolyn Griffin, producing artistic director at MetroStage. "My goal is always to present the most diverse season I can."
Griffin said that musicals and performances with lots of music have been popular in recent years at MetroStage, located in north Old Town. Last week saw the culmination of a "rock opera" known as "Rooms." Later in the season, MetroStage will welcome Roz White back to MetroStage after her wildly successful run performing as Alberta Hunter in a play called "Bricktop." This fall, White will be performing as jazz legend Pearl Bailey with a five-piece band in a performance called "Pearl Bailey, By Request."
"We’ve leaned toward musicals in recent years," says Griffin, who receives about 500 unsolicited manuscripts each year. "But we like to do plays that nobody’s seen or even heard of before."
<b>OVER AT THE</b> Little Theater of Alexandria, coming to a final list of plays for the upcoming season is no less a daunting task. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the community theater in south Old Town, which kicked off the season with run of its signature show, the musical known as "1776." Accoridng to Rachel Alberts, publicist for the community theater, living up to their mandate requires they have something to offer everyone.
"It seems we’ve had more comedies this year," said Alberts. "Maybe we all need it. It’s been a heavy year."
During the Christmas season, Little Theater will be trying a new experiment — offering two shows simultaneously. Audiences can come at 7:30 p.m. to see the family-friendly musical "Scrooge" or the late-night adult comedy "The Eight: Reindeer Monologues," which will start at 10 p.m. Although the theater has never tried to offer two shows on the same night, Alberts said she was confident that the logistics would not present a problem.
"Think of how easy it will be to find a parking space in Old Town at that hour," she said.
The Little Theater will also be offering four performances for students at Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy, the public elementary school located one block from the theater. Following on last year’s performances for the children, actors have volunteered their time to bring the kids into the theater for a lesson that has been designed around the Virginia Standards of Learning.
"Many of these kids have never been in a theater before," said Alberts. "We could not believe how well they went last year, so we wanted to do the performances again this year. This is our future audience, after all."
<hr><b>Little Theatre of Alexandria</b><hr>
<b>— Picnic</b> from Sept. 20 to Oct. 11: What starts as another ordinary Labor Day picnic to celebrate the end of another ordinary summer turns into a life-changing event for a group of women in a small, Midwestern town as Madge, the local beauty, must decide between two men: Allen, who offers wealth and security, or Hal, who offers love and uncertainty. This summertime romance won the 1953 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
<b>— Scrooge! The Musical </b>from Nov. 22 to Dec. 21: Ebenezer Scrooge and the entire Cratchit family are recast in this fanciful musical retelling of the Dickens’s classic. The musical is Victorian England for Christmas Eve visits by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future who transform the miserly, heartless Scrooge.
<b>— The Eight: Reindeer Monologues</b> from Nov. 28 to Dec. 20: After years of silent repression, Santa’s reindeers are ready to break their silence in this late-night adult comedy. Scandalous details emerge about life with St. Nick, Rudolph’s treatment of the team and other salaciousness that rocks Christmas Town.
<b>— Greater Tuna</b> from Jan. 10 to Jan. 31: Welcome to Greater Tuna, the third smallest town in Texas, where the Lion's Club is too liberal and Patsy Cline never dies. In this hilarious send up of small town life, two actors create the entire population of Tuna in a tour de farce of quick changes and of comic characterizations.
<b>— Leading Ladies</b> from Feb. 21 to March 14: Jack and Leo, two down-on-their-luck Shakespearean actors, are reduced to playing Moose lodges in the Amish country of Pennsylvania. Things look up for the pair when a local heiress dies leaving all her money to two distant English relatives. The two thespians plan to deceive the estate and play the long-lost heirs, but to get the money, Jack and Leo must give the performances of a lifetime.
<b>— Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde </b>from April 18 to May 9: Within three short months, Oscar Wilde went from being the toast of Victorian society to the defendant in the crime of the century. This edge-of-the-seat legal thriller is based on the actual trials of Oscar Wilde.
<b>— It Runs in the Family </b>from June 6 to June 27: As the staff of a London hospital prepare for the annual Christmas show, Dr. Mortimore prepares a lecture that is sure to guarantee him knighthood and much needed funds. All goes well until a nurse, with whom the doctor had an affair 18 years ago, shows up with a present of her own.
<b>— Pearl Bailey, By Request</b> from Oct. 16 to Nov. 9: Audiences at MetroStage will remember Roz White’s brilliant depiction of Alberta Hunter in the wildly popular "Bricktop." Now White is back to interpret Pearl Bailey in a 1940s-era nightspot with an accompanying four-piece band. White tells anecdotes, performs monologues and sings in a musical evening that includes ballads, standards and swing numbers.
<b>— Isn't It Romantic</b> from Nov. 20 to Dec. 21: MetroStage favorite Jimi Ray Malary returns after past hit shows "Ellington: The Life and Music of The Duke" and "Nat King Cole: King of Cool." This tribute features the songs that epitomize romance from some of the mid-20th century’s most prolific and enduring songwriters.
<b>— Cool Papa's Party</b> from Jan. 29 to March 8: A 20th century musical odyssey through the eyes of the "last great American hipster." Mr. Cool Papa's life stands on the world stage as a testament to the traveler, the survivor, the conqueror. And what a life defined by artistry, underscored by excellence and distinguished always by style. It is to Sammy Davis Jr. and Nat King Cole what "Dreamgirls" was to the Supremes, Barry Gordy and Motown.
<b>— Heroes </b>from April 22 to May 17: Three soldiers in a Parisian veterans home pass the time with tales that are at once achingly funny and piercingly sad. With his rapier wit and dazzling use of language, Tom Stoppard offers a brilliant new translation that mixes comic curmudgeonry, camaraderie and nostalgia.