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Behind the scenes in local and national theatre
by Josh B. Wardrop

Theater Audiences Discovering Galileo in April
While he was uncovering previously unimagined secrets of the universe, it’s a safe bet that astronomer Galileo Galilei never thought that 400 years later he’d be something of a muse for playwrights. However, in a world where popular entertainment seems to have finally embraced geek culture, it seems a fitting time to pay tribute to one of the original science nerds. This month, Galileo is a central character in not one but two shows being staged by area theater companies: Huntington Theatre Company’s Two Men of Florence (playing through April 5) and Catalyst Collaborative @ MIT and Underground Railway Theater’s collaboration on Bertolt Brecht’s The Life of Galileo (April 10–May 17) at the Central Square Theater.

Florence tells the tale of the real-life friendship between Galileo and his patron, Cardinal Maffeo Barberini (later known as Pope Urban VIII). As Galileo delves deeper into unlocking scientific truths, his relationship with his devout friend and leader of the Catholic Church is strained, putting the two on opposing sides in the age-old conflict between faith and science. Acclaimed actors Jay O. Sanders and Edward Herrmann star as Galileo and Pope Urban, respectively, in the drama by Richard Goodwin.

Brecht’s play takes a broader view of the life of Galileo (played by veteran Boston actor Richard McElvain), while still focusing on the difficult struggle that Galileo faced in having his scientific advances accepted by a frightened society—a struggle that eventually led to Galileo being tried for heresy and even placed under house arrest. The play, directed by David Wheeler, offers insight into the man himself as well as the research that formed the basis of all astronomical discoveries that came later. For more information, visit www.huntingtontheatre.org and www.centralsquaretheater.org.

How About Some Good News?
As one would expect, the national doom and gloom concerning the recession hasn’t gone unnoticed in the performing arts community—indeed, these are tough times for theatre companies, with major theatres concerned about securing their usual levels of corporate sponsorship in a declining economy and smaller companies just trying to find enough capital to keep the doors open. Already this year, organizations like North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly and the Foothills Theatre in Worcester have found themselves on the brink of major restructuring or shutting down altogether.

That’s why fans of the performing arts had to be at least slightly encouraged by recent 2009–2010 season announcements by Boston Lyric Opera and the Lenox, Mass.-based Shakespeare & Company. Somehow, these two companies have found a way not only to keep the stage lights on, but are actually expanding programming for their upcoming seasons.

Boston Lyric Opera announced three shows going up at its home base, the Shubert Theatre—Bizet’s Carmen (November 6–17), Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos (March 12–23, 2010) and Mozart’s Idomeneo, King of Crete (April 23–May 4, 2010)—as well as a fourth production, Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw (tentatively scheduled for February 4–7, 2010), which will be directed by Sam Helfrich as the inaugural show in the BLO’s Opera Annex series. Opera Annex is intended to offer fully-staged productions in what the BLO is calling “found space” outside the traditional opera house, at prices lower than that of conventional operas. More details are expected to be revealed later in the year.

Meanwhile, Shakespeare & Company kicks off its 32nd season on May 21 with a touring production of Romeo & Juliet, the first of 18 productions for the company—an increase of 10 from the 2008–09 season—ranging from Bard classics like Twelfth Night, Hamlet and Othello to family-friendly works like Cindy Bella and Toad of Toad Hall. Outgoing founder and artistic director Tina Packer told the Berkshire Eagle newspaper that the company made it a mission to “weave a plan to produce more plays with less money, and we’ve done it.”

For complete schedules, visit www.blo.org and www.shakespeare.org.

A Month of Arty Parties
There’s nothing more fun than a party—unless, of course, it’s a party where you know that your admission cost is going to a good cause. In the month of April, patrons of the arts will have plenty of prime opportunities to enjoy a number of fun nights out—from the classy to the funky—while supporting some of the area’s top performing arts organizations.

On April 15, the Northshore Mall in Peabody welcomes a brand-new Nordstrom store with a grand opening gala beginning at 7 p.m. The evening features hors d’oeuvres, cocktails, dinner and dessert, as well as live entertainment and a chance to be the first to shop in the 138,000-square-foot store. Best of all, part of the proceeds go to the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly. Tickets are $75; visit www.nsmt.org for more information.

From hot shopping to high society, the elegant Back Bay hotel the Mandarin Oriental hosts the Handel and Haydn Society’s annual Society Ball on April 25 at 6:30 p.m. This swanky soiree is the yearly gala benefiting the H&H Society’s artistic and educational programs, and features a silent auction and dancing to the music of the Winiker Orchestra. Tickets range from $500 per person to $5,000–10,000 for a table for 10. For more information, call Emily Yoder at 617-262-1815.

Finally, for a party of a wholly different kind, there’s the ClimACTS Under A Big Top party—benefiting Boston’s groundbreaking gay-friendly company The Theater Offensive—taking place April 28 under the Big Apple Circus Tent at City Hall Plaza. The event, celebrating Theater Offensive’s 20th anniversary, is hosted by cabaret punk superstar Amanda Palmer of The Dresden Dolls, and features entertainment by acrobatic jugglers, tightrope walkers, go-go dancers and many other performers, as well as an open bar and “gourmet circus fare.” For more information, visit www.thetheateroffensive.org

New Rep Announces New Season
One of the region’s most popular theatre companies, Watertown’s New Repertory Theatre, recently announced the nine shows set to make up their 2009–2010 season, the company’s first season under new Artistic Director Kate Warner.

The season kicks off in September with a production of the 1948 Tony Award-winner Mister Roberts (September 13–October 4). The dramedy about a restless crew aboard a cargo vessel in the South Pacific in 1948 and the officer they turn to in a time of need will be directed by Warner.

Hot on Roberts’ heels is a Downstage@New Rep presentation of Lisa Kron’s one-woman show 2.5 Minute Ride (October 3–25), followed by a staging of David Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow—most recently seen on Broadway as a contentious production marred by actor Jeremy Piven’s now-infamous mercury poisoning—from October 18–November 8. Then, in December, New Rep unveils a pair of annual holiday traditions: director Rick Lombardo’s rendition of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (December 6–27) and a Downstage@New Rep performance of David Sedaris’ The Santaland Diaries at the Black Box Theatre (December 16–January 3).

Then, in 2010, New Rep treats theatre lovers to such diverse productions as the farcical comedy Indulgences by Chris Craddock (January 17–February 7); boom, an apocalyptic New England premiere by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb (February 20–March 14); Michael Hollinger’s Opus, the passionate tale of a elite string quartet (March 28–April 18); and the season-closing Hot Mikado, a modern re-imagining of the classic Gilbert and Sullivan musical (May 2–23). For more information about any of the 2009–2010 shows, visit www.newrep.org

Check out these highly anticipated plays and musicals on local stages this month

Strand Theatre
April 10–12
The classic songs of Fats Waller get the star treatment, belted out by the powerful pipes of a trio of “American Idols”—2003 contestants Trenyce Cobbins and Frenchie Davis and that season’s big winner, the “Velvet Teddy Bear” himself, Ruben Studdard. Together, they lead a gifted cast of singers and dancers in bringing the brash, boisterous and soulful sounds of the Harlem of the 1930s to life on the stage of Dorchester’s Strand Theatre.

The Colonial Theatre
Through April 5
Star of stage and screen Chazz Palminteri (The Usual Suspects, Bullets Over Broadway) brings his funny and touching memoir to Boston, playing all 18 characters in this tale of a young boy growing up in the rough-and-tumble Bronx of the 1960s and learning about living up to one’s potential in a world that is never as black-and-white as it seems. The show is directed by four-time Tony Award-winner Jerry Zaks, and features tour-de-force work by writer/star Palminteri.

American Repertory Theatre
Through April 22
Doll parts, Greek epics and an examination of the modern state of warfare collide in this imaginative world premiere written by Christine Evans and directed by Carmel O’Reilly. Barbie is the story of a doll expert whose trip to modern-day Troy is interrupted by an attack by the Greek Army. Recalling Euripides’ Trojan Women, Barbie is an epic war story told with poetic heart and compassion.

Last updated 3/26/2009 2:15:09 PM

Enjoy pre-theater dining at one of these popular Theater District restaurants.
Davio's Northern Italian Steakhouse Finale