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Local Theaters Have Big Plans for 2011

While most theaters have only announced their plans for the first half of the calendar year because seasons usually run from fall to spring, there are already many productions on tap that should be highly anticipated.

In Alexandria, the premiere professional theatre is MetroStage on North Royal Street, where the year kicks off with another of their bio-musicals of major performers. In the past they have given audiences a chance to get a hint of what it was like to attend a performance by Pearl Bailey, Alberta Hunter, Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington and Mahalia Jackson in solo shows. The new show is "His Eye On The Sparrow" with Bernardine Mitchell as Ethel Waters. Then, in April, MetroStage reunites Ralph Cosham, John Dow and Michael Tolaydo who together won last year's Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Ensemble. They join Catherine Flye in Tom Stoppard's clever "The Real Inspector Hound."

Community theaters in Alexandria also have some intriguing productions on their slates. The Little Theatre of Alexandria gets things going for the year with Roland Branford Gomez's production of the musical "Oliver." It runs through Feb. 5. Later that month, the theater offers a mystery set in Wales at the turn of the last century with "Widdershins" and then things lighten up with the four-person musical comedy about young people writing a musical about young people writing a musical, "[Title of Show]". It will be followed by two comedies, "The Little Dog Laughed" and "Move Over, Mrs. Markham" before a musical whose title hasn't been announced opens for the summer. In the fall, look for the very satisfying drama "Proof," which is known for its success at making intellectually gifted people seem entirely human while getting the exhilaration of the pursuit of knowledge just right. As winter arrives so will "Is He Dead?" which David Ives adapted from Mark Twain's comedy of an artist who pretends his own death in order to increase the value of his paintings.

Port City Playhouse takes advantage of their new venue, the Lab at Convergence on North Quaker Lane, to present two more plays that should benefit from the more intimate surroundings of the lab, John Redwood's provocatively titled "No Niggers, No Jews, No Dogs" and, later, the thriller "Mindgame." The Aldersgate Church Community Theatre enters its third decade with a children’s musical and a mystery. This month the all-youth cast will be performing Paul Williams and Alan Parker’s spoof of gangster musicals, the squirt-gun gang musical “Bugsy Malone, Jr.” In March they open the murder mystery “Design for Murder.”

In Arlington, things are already looking good for the year. At Signature Theatre in Shirlington, where a thrilling production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Sunset Boulevard" is running through Feb. 13, there are quite a few thrills to be expected throughout the year. In March Signature's artistic director, Eric Schaeffer, will direct the world premiere of a musical funded through the Shen Family Foundation's American Musical Voices project. It will be "Wheatley's Folly," which is to tell the story of the creation of the first American musical, 1866's "The Black Crook." Then, this Spring, Matthew Gardiner will take on the directing chores for a revue built on the songs of Stephen Sondheim, "Side by Side by Sondheim" while Schaeffer crosses the Potomac to mount Stephen Sondheim’s classic "Follies" at The Kennedy Center with a cast featuring Bernadette Peters, Elaine Paige and Florence Lacey.

While the 2011-2012 season hasn't yet been announced, there are a few clues that make that season look quite promising. Schaeffer recently told an interviewer that the season will include Signature's first musical by Jerry Herman. He wouldn’t reveal which one, however. Will it be "Hello, Dolly!," "Mame," "La Cage aux Folles" or "Mack and Mabel"? In the same interview he said that they will also be doing a new musical by John Dempsey and Dana P. Rowe whose "The Fix" and "The Witches of Eastwick" are both well remembered by Signature audiences. Whether that new musical will be in the 2011-2012 season, however, hasn’t been revealed.

Also in Arlington we are privileged to have one of the few professional theater companies in the nation devoted to reviving classic American plays, The American Century Theater, which performs at Theatre Two in the Gunston Arts Center. Starting on Jan. 14 Kathleen Akerley will be directing Eugene O’Neill’s first Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Beyond the Horizon." In April comes George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber’s tale of would-be Broadway stars, "Stage Door," and then during the summer it will be Gore Vidal’s satirical look at what Earth would seem like to an invader from outer space, "Visit to a Small Planet."

The unique movement-based Synetic Theatre is now in residence in Crystal City. Later this month they revive their production of "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" which garnered seven Helen Hayes Award nominations when it played the Lansburgh Theatre downtown. It will only play Jan. 25 - 30, but there will be other opportunities to see their works as they mount a new adaptation of "Don Quixote" in June. If you can’t wait that long, however, you can catch their "King Lear" in March and April at the Lansburgh. Their children’s company, Classika Theatre in Shirlington is presenting "The Magic Paintbrush" from Feb. 19 to April 3.

The new Artisphere in Rosslyn hosts the Washington Shakespeare Theatre, recently displaced from Clark Street. The first half of the year brings Sean O'Casey's Irish tragedy "Juno and the Paycock" set in Dublin, Tom Stoppard's Civil War drama set in the fictional African nation of Kambawa, "Night and Day," and then a pair of one-act plays by Tennessee Williams. For the Spanish speaking theatergoers, or those interested in sampling Spanish programming with English surtitles, Teatro de la Luna will be presenting the U.S. premiere of a Uruguayan comedy, "CÛmo Evitar Enamorarse del Hombre Equivocado," or "How to Avoid Falling in Love with the Wrong Man."

Arlington community theatre companies have announced promising programs as well. Blakeman Brophy will be directing The Arlington Players’ production of Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull” starting at the end of this month and then in April the team of director John Monnett and music director John-Michael d’Haviland will field a huge cast for the musical “42nd Street.” Dominion Stage will add both musicals and less classifiable shows to the mix. This month they mount "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" for three weekends and then in June comes a hodge-podge titled "Psycho Beach Party," which, in the hands of playwright Charles Busch, turned out to be perhaps Off-Broadway's first successful horror comedy by combining elements of the Annette Funicello/Frankie Avalon beach movies with a Hitchcockian plot twist involving split personalities.

With so many interesting projects already announced, local theaters should make 2011 a year to remember.

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Brad Hathaway reviews theater in Virginia, Washington and Maryland as well as Broadway and writes about theater for a number of national magazines. He welcomes feedback from those he writes about and those he writes for. He can be reached at brad.hathaway@verizon.net.