During a recent live-streamed event, Olney Theatre Center Artistic Director Jason Loewith unveiled a lineup of 17 plays, concerts, and presentations coming in 2020–2021 as part of the company’s 83rd season. This full slate of shows includes events for the Theatre for Young Audiences series and the Applause Concert series. Olney Theatre will also present National Players touring works and the return of Paul Morella’s A Christmas Carol.
“At times of crisis, we turn to storytellers for inspiration, comfort, and courage,” said Jason Loewith, now in his eighth season as OTC’s Artistic Director. “And nothing heals a community faster than coming together to listen to them. So I’ve programmed a 20/21 season that features the country’s very best storytellers speaking to this moment with urgency and wild optimism: a world premiere musical with Broadway ambitions, a radically inclusive adaptation of a classic, regional premieres of some of the most relevant works of the past few seasons, the National Players’ first majority-POC tour, and singular artists tackling well-known works. Add to that the multi-million-dollar renovation of the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab and you see a newly energized regional theater roaring back, eager to fill the growing hunger in our communities for communal experience.”
Olney Theatre has officially entered the first phase of a multiphase capital campaign to support the transformation of its 83-year-old campus. Thanks to the generosity of several individuals and organizations, namely the Mulitz-Gudelsky Family, Bob and Eveline Roberts, Paul Henderson, the Eugene B. Casey Foundation, the State of Maryland, and Montgomery County, Olney Theatre begins construction this month to renovate the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab lobby and backstage area. Following the completion of that project, other exciting plans will be shared with the community.
On the Mainstage
Olney Theatre will produce three musicals and two straight plays on its 428-seat Mainstage, beginning with The Humans (by Stephen Karam and directed by Aaron Posner). This production had been in rehearsals for two weeks when it was forced to shut down by the COVID-19 outbreak. The Humans runs September 2 to October 4, 2020.
Marcia Milgrom Dodge, whose re-envisioned production of Once in 2019 transported the musical from a pub to Dublin’s Grafton Street, returns to direct Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Dodge has signaled that this production will chart its own path by casting Jade Jones, who turned heads in Ford’s Theatre’s Into the Woods, as the Disney Princess Belle; and Evan Ruggerio—an actor and dancer who recreated himself as a one-legged tap-dancer after surviving cancer—as the Beast. Casting a curvy, plus-sized African American as Belle and an amputee as the Beast will enable this production to be more inclusive and original in its portrayal of beauty, explore more deeply the show’s themes of loneliness, and interrogate from whence “beastly” behavior arises. Milgrom Dodge is the perfect person to undertake this innovation, as she was a featured director on the Disney+ show Encores. Milgrom Dodge is joined by choreographer Josh Walden, who worked with her as Associate Director/Associate Choreographer on her Tony-nominated revival of Ragtime. This show also features Jessica Lauren Ball (Wardrobe), Iyona Blake (Mrs. Potts), Hailey Ibberson (Babette), Connor Reilly and John Sygar (Lefou). Disney’s Beauty and the Beast runs November 6, 2020, to January 3, 2021.
Stephen Brackett (Broadway’s Be More Chill) helms the World Premiere of A.D. 16, a new musical with music and lyrics by Cinco Paul, the genius behind Despicable Me and Minions, and book by Bekah Brunstetter, playwright (The Cake) and writer/producer of the hit tv series This Is Us. This whimsical musical asks, “What if your first crush really was perfect?” The result is the delightfully witty, sublimely inspiring story of teenaged Mary Magdalene, who falls in love with the rebellious boy next door, who just happens to be a carpenter named Jesus. With a lush R&B score and a riotous cast of characters, A.D. 16 achieves the rare feat of being both funny and sincere at the same time. A thrilling and fun musical for people of all faiths, or no faith at all. The project is a co-production with ZACH Theatre (one of three major collaborations this season). A.D. 16 runs February 5 to March 7, 2021.
Vincent Lancisi, the Artistic Director of Baltimore’s Everyman Theatre, directs the Olney Theatre production of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, adapted by local playwright and national treasure Ken Ludwig. The Orient Express travels from Istanbul to Calais, carrying its passengers in the lap of 1930s luxury, but on this trip there’s been a murder and everyone’s a suspect with opportunity, motive, and an alibi. Fortunately, Hercule Poirot, the world’s greatest detective, is on board to solve the mystery before the train reaches Belgrade. Olney Theatre has emphasized its core value of collaboration over the past few seasons, and this presentation (along with A.D. 16 and The Music Man) fits with the strategic goal of increasing cooperation with local and national partners. Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express runs April 7 to May 9, 2021.
The final mainstage musical of the 2020–2021 season will be a groundbreaking production of Meredith Willson’s The Music Man featuring a deaf and hearing cast. This show will be co-directed by Michael Baron, the Artistic Director of the Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma, and Alexandria Wailes, director of Artistic Sign Language for the Broadway revival of Children of a Lesser God (and associate choreographer on the acclaimed Deaf West production of Spring Awakening). Other members of the production team will include choreographer Karma Camp, director of artistic sign language Michelle Banks, and music director Christopher Youstra. This innovative production is the result of Olney Theatre’s first round of Vanguard Arts Fund workshops held during the 2018–19 season. Through the Fund, a fully 50-50 deaf-hearing artistic team—accompanied by over a dozen sign-language interpreters—were brought together for a week in a workshop setting. The time was used as a kind of beta-test to see if a production like this was viable, and included staging numbers like “Rock Island,” “Lida Rose,” and “‘Til There Was You.” There was such enthusiasm that director Michael Baron also signed on the Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma to be a co-producer. Meredith Willson’s The Music Man runs June 4 to July 11, 2021.
On the Historic Stage
With the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab temporarily closed for renovations, Olney Theatre’s original 1938 Historic Stage plays host to the limited engagement of Hedwig and the Angry Inch starring Mason Alexander Park in the title role (which he performed during the recent national Broadway tour). Johanna McKeon, also a veteran of the tour, directs a new version that will bring the seedy Bilgewater’s Restaurant to the Olney stage. Audiences were completely entranced by Park’s performance as the Emcee in Cabaret, for which he received a Helen Hayes Awards nomination for Outstanding Lead Performance in a Musical. Conversations about finding a project that would bring him back to Olney began shortly after that production. Hedwig is available for purchase separately from member packages, with early access given to current members. Hedwig and the Angry Inch runs October 7 to November 8, 2020.
In the newly renovated Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab
Construction on the improved facilities in the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab has been scheduled to conclude in time for the 11th edition of Paul Morella’s solo version of A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas (November 27 to December 27, 2020). This production continues to be a community favorite, and the show set new box office and attendance records during its 2019 run.
Paige Hernandez (Helen Hayes Award–nominated Director/Choreographer of last season’s The Royale) returns to the Lab to direct Clare Barron’s explosive Dance Nation. The pre-teen dance team from Liverpool, Ohio, is primed for competition: with the other teams at the regionals in Philly and with the doubts and demons inside themselves. In this show, the stakes are much higher than just a first-place trophy. Lives are at stake, future happiness hangs in the balance, emerging sexuality strikes with the power of a thousand lightning bolts, and every interaction in the tight-knit group is suffused with threat, risk, and the urgency of adolescence. Adult actors of all ages portray the girls (and one boy),amid their tween confusion and as their future adult-selves, in a dream play with moments of true terror, complete with fangs, blood, and wild, stylized dance. Featuring Megan Graves, Shubhangi Kuchibhotla, and Tracy Lynn Olivera. Dance Nation runs March 3 to April 4, 2021.
The country’s most-produced comedy of 2019 arrives on the Historic Stage with The Thanksgiving Play by Larissa FastHorse, directed by Raymond O. Caldwell. This hilarious sendup of “white wokeness” features an undaunted theater teacher desperately trying to create a culturally sensitive play celebrating Thanksgiving: one that challenges stereotypes, meets all the requirements of a Native American Heritage Month grant, and pacifies the parents. Larissa FastHorse’s groundbreaking satire on the politics of representation throws together the overly ambitious drama teacher, her yoga-bro actor friend, a history teacher with writing aspirations, and an “ethnically ambiguous” L.A. actress to devise their Thanksgiving play, only to find themselves quickly sabotaged by myth, confounded by history, and drawn into a hysterical project of dramatic pretzel-twisting. FastHorse is a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe of the Lakota people, and The Thanksgiving Play made her the first Native American playwright ever to make American Theater’s annual list of “most produced plays.” Featuring Parker Drown (A Chorus Line), David Schlumpf (Elf the Musical), and Dani Stoller (The Humans). The Thanksgiving Play runs April 28 to May 30, 2021.
Concerts, TYA, National Players
The Applause Concert Series, created by Associate Artistic Director for Music Theatre Christopher Youstra, enters its third season. This year sees the program expand to offer, in addition to classic and lesser-known musicals, a concert version of a work-in-progress and multiple performances of popular titles. The series begins with If/Then (book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, music by Tom Kitt), which, after previewing at the National Theatre, ran for a year on Broadway in 2014–15. This concert version will be presented on Friday, March 12, 2021. The Applause series enters the world of developmental musicals with a concert presentation of the new work Lautrec at the St. James (music by Julianne Wick, book and lyrics by John Dietrich) on Saturday, April 17, 2021. In this new musical set in March 1899, French artist Henri de Toulous-Lautrec passes out in a gutter and is kidnapped. He awakes in the Chateau St. James, an asylum. Triggered by his imagination and a need to understand his downfall, the St. James continuously transforms around Lautrec into an intoxicating and provocative world—one that inspires yet may destroy him. Finally, the Applause Series, which up to now has been an exclusively one-night-only program, expands to present three concert performances of the classic She Loves Me (book by Joe Masteroff, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick). Based on a play by Miklos Laszio, this show will run July 16–17, 2021.
In addition, OTC’s tremendously successful Theater for Young Audiences Series returns for a fifth year, presenting three weekends of stories based on beloved children’s books and performed by the country’s best touring children’s theaters. It begins with Otherwise –Known as Sheila the Great (presented by ArtsPower) on November 21–22, 2020. Then the series is rounded out by two productions by TheatreWorks USA: Pout Pout Fish January 16–17, 2021, and Doctor De Soto and Other Stories, based on the works of William Steig, on March 20–21, 2021.
The National Players, under the artistic direction of Jason King Jones, celebrates its 72nd tour with its first company—composed of a majority of people of color—for productions of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Each National Players production will present Pay What You Can performances in the Historic Theatre before heading out on the road.
Olney Theatre Center is an award-winning nonprofit Equity theater located just north of Washington, D.C., in arts-rich Montgomery County, Maryland. Olney Theatre Center is led by Artistic Director Jason Loewith and Managing Director Debbie Ellinghaus, and offers a diverse array of professional productions year-round. The theater is home to National Players, America’s longest-running touring company. For more information, please visit olneytheatre.org or follow Olney Theatre Center on Twitter and Instagram @olneytheatre and on Facebook at facebook.com/olneytheatre.
Tax-deductible contributions can be made at the Olney Theatre Center website.