Signature Theatre picks Matthew Gardiner as AD, sets 2021/22 season

Coming soon to Shirlington: ‘RENT,’ ‘She Loves Me,’ ‘The Color Purple,’ two world premieres, a DC premiere—plus ‘KPOP' musical at The Anthem.

Signature Theatre made two major announcements simultaneously: the appointment of Matthew Gardiner to be artistic director and a 2021/22 season of live theater at its Shirlington Village venues as well as The Anthem in DC.

Artistic Director Matthew Gardiner, photographed by Christopher Mueller. Background: exterior of Signature Theatre.

Signature’s Board of Directors voted to accept the recommendation from the Artistic Director Search Committee to appoint Gardiner to the position. The committee, composed of artists, Signature staff, and Board members, voted unanimously to appoint Gardiner after an exhaustive, nationwide search facilitated by AlbertHall&Associates that began in November 2020.

“On behalf of the Board of Directors, we are so excited that Matthew Gardiner will be leading Signature Theatre as the next artistic director,” said Board Chair Dottie Bennett. “Matthew is an extraordinary artist, advocate for inclusiveness, and has a strong vision for Signature’s future and for the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. We are excited to see the innovation, artistry, and excellence he will bring to Signature both on stage and off.”

“I’m humbled and thrilled that the search committee and Signature’s Board have entrusted me with this position,” stated Gardiner. “Signature is a theater that I’m immensely proud of, in a town that has been my artistic home for many years. I see clearly the challenges we face in this moment, but mostly I see the exciting possibilities that lie before us. I’m committed to ensuring the art and the artists in this community flourish and to building a future that is brighter for all of us.”

The Washington Post named Gardiner “among the top young musical-theater directors in the land.” At Signature Theatre he has directed and/or choreographed more than 25 productions, including much lauded revivals of A Chorus LineWest Side Story, and Jelly’s Last Jam. As Signature’s associate artistic director for over a decade, he helped to build several groundbreaking seasons, cultivated relationships with prominent and emerging artists, and oversaw several of Signature’s new work development initiatives. Outside of Signature, Gardiner has directed and/or choreographed at most of the prominent regional theaters in the Washington, DC, area and has also worked abroad for OD Musical Company in Seoul, Korea. Gardiner is the recipient of three Helen Hayes Awards for Outstanding Director of a Musical and has been honored with more than a dozen nominations.

Maggie Boland and Matthew Gardiner. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

Artistic Director Matthew Gardiner joins Managing Director Maggie Boland in a joint leadership model and will work with Signature’s Board and staff on shared goals for the future that strengthen its reputation as “a musical theater powerhouse” (The Washington Post) and fulfill its immense potential for growth and change while continuing to build upon its strong organizational capabilities.

Chelsea Pace. Photo by Shealyn Jae.

“One of my first priorities as artistic director will be to build a new artistic team for Signature, adding collaborators who will be vital parts of not only the Theatre’s artistic future but also our senior leadership team going forward,” stated Gardiner. “I’m committed to building a team that includes viewpoints and backgrounds differing from my own.” A national search for the positions of associate artistic director and a director of artistic development will begin immediately. Additionally three new artistic positions have been appointed: Jorge Acevedo has been promoted from casting and executive coordinator to the position of casting director/manager of artistic programs, Chelsea Pace (co-founder of Theatrical Intimacy Education, author of Staging Sex) will join Signature for the 2021/22 Season as resident intimacy consultant, and Musician and Music Director Mark G. Meadows (After MidnightJelly’s Last Jam) will be director of Signature Cabarets.

Mark G. Meadows. Photo by Aidan Fox.

Gardiner and Boland will also continue to lead Signature in its ongoing journey to become an anti-oppressive and anti-racist company—work that Board and staff at all levels of the organization have been undertaking thoughtfully and thoroughly with the help of Wayfinding Partners for more than a year. Signature has made many commitments internally, has implemented several new practices, and is finalizing a Racial Equity action plan for future work to focus on becoming a more inclusive theater and a supportive and safe environment for everyone who enters its doors.

Gardiner added, “I fell in love with Signature because of its dedication to the American musical. I’m honored to carry that forward, including making an even more robust commitment to the development of new work. One of my highest priorities is creating a supportive home for emerging composers and playwrights, especially those whose voices have been historically underrepresented on the American stage.” Gardiner plans to ramp up Signature’s work commissioning and developing more new musicals and plays with a special focus on work by people with disabilities, people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and women.

Jorge Avecedo. Photo by Yassine El Mansouri.

AlbertHall&Associates, a full-service executive recruiting firm providing services to America’s leading arts organizations, began the search process in November by gathering feedback from a range of stakeholders, including members of local community, artists, national leaders in the theater field, the Artistic Director Search Committee, and Signature’s staff and Board, on the qualifications for an ideal candidate, using the input to create a position profile that was widely distributed. The field of applicants that AlbertHall&Associates recruited and evaluated included nearly 100 potential candidates; the Search Committee conducted in-depth interviews with nine final candidates.

Composer/lyricist Adam Gwon (Ordinary DaysCake Off), member of the Artistic Director Search Committee, shared, “I’m proud to have been part of the team that recommended Matthew Gardiner as Signature’s next artistic director. The candidate pool was inspiring and diverse, and leaves no doubt about the robust future of the American theater. Matthew’s vision for Signature is impressive in its depth; ambition; and, most important, its continued uplift of new voices in musical theater, all grounded in his genuine connection to the DC community. I can’t wait to see how Signature will grow under Matthew’s leadership.”

DC’s Helen Hayes Award–winning actress Nova Y. Payton (After Midnight, Dreamgirls), also a member of the Search Committee, said, “It was Matthew who shared the most exciting and forward-thinking vision for Signature. Matthew has long shown his commitment to the artists in DC and to bringing new voices to the stage, and in this new role he will take that to another level — to the benefit Signature and our whole community. I know he is the person to carry Signature into the future.”

Maggie Boland, Signature managing director, stated, “Having worked with Matthew and witnessed his passion and integrity for more than 13 years, I’m thrilled to work with him as a partner to usher in a new era for Signature. Matthew is a prodigiously talented director and choreographer whose gifts will continue to shine on Signature’s stages. Further, we share an unwavering commitment to making Signature a place where audiences can experience a broad spectrum of work in an atmosphere of great joy and where artists and staff can do their very best work in a supportive and collaborative culture. Signature’s upcoming 2021/22 season, which we are thrilled to announce along with Matthew’s appointment to artistic director, demonstrates these commitments in real time, with diverse storytelling and representation of multiple voices, Signature’s trademark mix of reimagined musicals and new work, and a host of the finest artists working in the theater today.”

SIGNATURE THEATRE’S 2021/22 SEASON


The 2021/2022 Signature Theatre season kicks off early November 2021 with a reimagined new production of Jonathan Larson’s musical RENT and continues with the DC premiere of Daphne’s Dive by Quiara Alegría Hudes; a new production of She Loves Me by Joe Masteroff, Jerry Bock, and Sheldon Harnick; the world premieres of The Upstairs Department by Chelsea Marcantel and the new musical We Won’t Sleep by Lauren M. Gunderson and Ari Afsar; and closes in October 2022 with a new production of The Color Purple, based on the novel by Alice Walker and the Warner Bros./Amblin Entertainment Motion Picture written by Marsha Norman, Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray. In addition, Signature will present the pre-Broadway engagement of KPOP, The Broadway Musical at The Anthem by Jason Kim, Helen Park and Max Vernon. Subscription packages of 3 or more shows are now on sale at SigTheatre.org and single tickets will go on sale late September. A ticket on-sale date for the pre-Broadway run of KPOP, The Broadway Musical (at The Anthem December 2021 – January 2022) will be announced later.

‘RENT’: Photo of Pussy Noir by Christopher Mueller.

Reopening The MAX Theatre is Jonathan Larson’s RENT (November 2, 2021 – January 2, 2022), directed by Signature Theatre Artistic Director Matthew Gardiner (Signature’s A Chorus Line, Simply Sondheim) with choreography by James Alsop (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) and music direction by Mark G. Meadows (Signature’s After Midnight, Ain’t Misbehavin’). At the end of the millennium, a group of bohemians in the East Village of New York City struggle with gentrification, love, loss and legacies amidst the HIV/AIDS crisis. Through songs such as “Seasons of Love,” “One Song Glory,” “I’ll Cover You,” “Out Tonight” and more, they embrace hope, find strength and survive.

“In this special season when we celebrate RENT’s 25th anniversary and the reopening of theaters across the country, we are thrilled and honored that DC audiences will have the opportunity to experience not one but two productions of RENT,” said Julie Larson, sister of the late Jonathan Larson. “One is the classic production that has inspired audiences for a quarter century [at The National Theatre, March 25 – 27, 2022], and the other [at Signature] is an exciting new production seen through a 2021 lens. What an incredible way to celebrate Jonathan’s groundbreaking show and continue to honor his legacy. We only hope RENT will continue to inspire love for another 25 years to come.”

‘Daphne’s Dive’: Photo of Yesenia Iglesias, Jalissa Williams, Timothy Andrés Pabon, and Chani Wereley by Christopher Mueller.

To reopen The ARK Theatre acclaimed artist Paige Hernandez (Everyman Theatre’s associate artistic director, Mosaic Theater’s The Queens Girl Trilogy) takes the helm as director for the Washington premiere of Daphne’s Dive (February 1 – March 20, 2022) by playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes(In the Heights, Water by the Spoonful). Run by the warm and enterprising Daphne, a north Philadelphia bar becomes home for a disparate band of society’s outsiders. Over the course of nearly 20 years, they drink, dance, rejoice, and grieve together in a captivating weave of interconnection.

‘She Loves Me’: Photo of Chani Wereley by Christopher Mueller.

In the spring, Signature Theatre Artistic Director Matthew Gardiner (Signature’s PassionBilly Elliot) will direct She Loves Me (March 1 – April 24, 2022). In a charming 1930s European perfumery, two salesclerks spar endlessly, saving their sweetest words for an anonymous pen pal. Unbeknownst to them, however, their “dear friend” happens to be each other in a joyful, transcendent, and perfectly crafted escapade featuring the treasured songs “Vanilla Ice Cream,” “A Trip to the Library,” and the irrepressible title song. Kelly Crandall d’Amboise (Signature’s Grand Hotel, Light Years) will choreograph with music direction by Jon Kalbfleisch (Signature’s Assassins, Simply Sondheim).

‘The Upstairs Department’: Photo of Matthew Sparacino by Christopher Mueller.

The world premiere production of The Upstairs Department (April 26 – June 12, 2022), a surprising new play by Chelsea Marcantel(AirnessSaint Joan) and directed by Holly Twyford(Signature’s Escaped Alone, Theater J’s Becoming Dr. Ruth) is this season’s SigWorks: The Heidi Thomas Writers’ Initiativeplay. After a serious illness, a young man wakes up with the power to communicate with the dead (or so he believes). Desperate for guidance and to connect with their late father, he and his skeptic sister set out to test his paranormal talent at the Lily Dale Spiritualist community where their discoveries summon more than the afterlife.

‘We Won’t Sleep’

At the start of summer, Signature presents the innovative world premiere musical We Won’t Sleep (May 31 – July 3, 2022), a musical based on the true story of a proud Montanan who became the first congresswoman in United States history, with book by America’s most-produced playwright Lauren M. Gunderson (I and You, Miss Bennett) and music and lyrics by singer, composer, and activist Ari Afsar (American IdolHamilton). After a life of public service and suffrage activism, Jeannette Rankin shocks the world when she is elected to Congress in 1916 — four years before white women got the right to vote. Through invigorating pop music, We Won’t Sleep theatrically disrupts then and now in an exuberant and inspiring experience that explores the dream of an equal vote for all Americans. The show will be directed by Erin Ortman (The Tank’s Real, Prospect Theatre Company’s One Thousand Nights and One Day) with choreography by Yusha-Marie Sorzano (Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Camille A. Brown & Dancers).

‘The Color Purple’: Photo of Felicia Curry by Christopher Mueller.

To close the season, Timothy Douglas (Signature’s Spunk, Ford Theatre’s Fences) will direct the musical adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Color Purple (August 16 – October 9, 2022) with choreography by Dane Figueroa Edidi(Signature’s Spunk, Rep Stage’s Kill Move Paradise), music direction by Mark G. Meadows,and starringFelicia Curry(Signature’s Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, Everyman Theatre’s Queens Girl: Back in the Green Mountains). A teenage Celie is torn from her beloved sister and forced into an abusive marriage. Over the next 40 years, while Celie encounters repression, despair, and heartbreak, she also discovers hope in a group of friends who inspire her to find her voice, discover her beauty, and change her life.

‘KPOP: The Broadway Musical’

Signature will also present the pre-Broadway engagement of KPOP, The Broadway Musical at The Anthem in late December 2021 through January 2022 with book by Jason Kim (The Model American30 Million), music, lyrics, music production, and arrangements by Helen Park (The Song of Summer), and music and lyrics by Max Vernon (The Song of SummerThe View Upstairs), choreographed by Jennifer Weber (Cruel Intentions: The Musical National Tour, StageWorks Hudson’s Stockholm), and directed by Teddy Bergman (Woodshed Collective’s Empire Travel AgencyThe Tenant). Get a backstage pass inside the high-stakes world of the Korean pop music sensation that’s sweeping the globe. As K-pop superstars put everything on the line for a special one-night-only concert, one singer’s inner struggle threatens to dismantle their entire label. Produced by special arrangement with Tim Forbes and Joey Parnes. Single tickets will be on sale at a later date at TheAnthemDC.com.

Signature’s special events include the Signature Seminar Art as Activism in We Won’t Sleep, a five-part behind-the-scenes seminar with the cast and creative team of the world premiere musical. The seminar will run from May 11 – 29, 2022. Registration is $265 for general audiences, $220 for Friends of Signature, and $20 per session for students. The SigWorks: Monday Night New Play Reading series promoting the work of DC area playwrights with free readings and discussions on their new works will continue with dates and plays to be announced at a later time.

Safety is of paramount concern to Signature Theatre and the reopened facility will have several measures in place to ensure audience, artist and staff health, including day of ticketing exchanges, air filtration systems, and increased sanitation. More detailed information on Signature’s safety plans can be found here: SigTheatre.org/Safety.

Signature offers flexible subscription options for the 2021/22 season. Season Subscription packages are now on sale. Custom packages can be created for 3-, 4-, 5-, or the full 6-show season. Season Subscription package prices begin at $58 per ticket. Benefits of subscribing include first choice of seats, savings over individual ticket prices, and discounts on extra tickets. Call Signature’s Box Office at 703 820 9771 or visit Sigtheatre.org/Subscribe.

Single tickets for the entire season will go on sale late September 2021. Tickets to KPOP, The Broadway Musical at The Anthem will be available at a later date.

SIGNATURE THEATRE’S 2021/22 SEASON LISTINGS

RENT
November 2, 2021 – January 2, 2022
MAX Theatre

La Vie Boheme! The iconic rock musical’s pure rush of adrenaline, passion, energy and joy is boldly and immersively reimagined in Signature style for a triumphant reopening.

At the end of the millennium, a group of bohemians in the East Village of New York City struggle with gentrification, love, loss and legacies amidst the HIV/AIDS crisis. Through songs such as “Seasons of Love,” “One Song Glory,” “I’ll Cover You,” “Out Tonight” and more, they embrace hope, find strength and survive.

Winner of the Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize, Jonathan Larson’s groundbreaking phenomenon defined a generation as it redefined the American musical and has never been more essential in today’s world.

Book, Music & Lyrics by Jonathan Larson
Music Directed by Mark G. Meadows
Choreographed by James Alsop
Directed by Matthew Gardiner


DC Premiere
Daphne’s Dive
February 1 – March 20, 2022
ARK Theatre

Colorful characters create a makeshift ménage at the neighborhood watering hole in a vivid and vibrant play by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of Water by the Spoonful and In the Heights.

Run by the warm and enterprising Daphne, a north Philadelphia bar becomes home for a disparate band of society’s outsiders; among them an offbeat artist, eccentric activist, ambitious businessman, retired biker, abandoned teenager and Daphne’s vivacious sister. Over the course of nearly twenty years, they drink, dance, rejoice and grieve together in a captivating weave of interconnection.

Both poignant and joyful, this tribute to found family serves hospitality with a twist of heart in every pour.

By Quiara Alegría Hudes
Directed by Paige Hernandez


She Loves Me
March 1 – April 24, 2022
MAX Theatre

A romantic, witty, and effervescent musical comedy by the creators of Fiddler on the Roof.

In a charming 1930s European perfumery, two salesclerks spar endlessly, saving their sweetest words for an anonymous pen pal. Unbeknownst to them, however, their “dear friend” happens to be each other in a joyful, transcendent, and perfectly crafted escapade featuring the treasured songs “Vanilla Ice Cream,” “A Trip to the Library” and the irrepressible title song.

Book by Joe Masteroff
Music by Jerry Bock
Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Based on a play by Miklos Laszlo
Originally Directed on Broadway by Harold Prince
Originally Produced on Broadway by Harold Prince in Association with Lawrence N. Kasha and Philip C. McKenna
Original Orchestrations by Don Walker
Adapted by Frank Matosich, Jr.
Music Directed by Jon Kalbfleisch
Choreographed by Kelly Crandall d’Amboise
Directed by Matthew Gardiner


World Premiere
The Upstairs Department
April 26 – June 12, 2022
ARK Theatre

Playwright Chelsea Marcantel (AirnessEverything Is Wonderful) channels the unexpected in an ethereal journey of familial love, the limits of cynicism and how to explain the unexplainable.

After a serious illness, a young man wakes up with the power to communicate with the dead (or so he believes). Desperate for guidance and to connect with their late father, he and his skeptic sister set out to test his paranormal talent at the Lily Dale Spiritualist community where their discoveries summon more than the afterlife.

Signature’s latest Heidi Thomas Writers’ Initiative play is an enlightening tale of an unlikely psychic directed by Holly Twyford.

By Chelsea Marcantel
Directed by Holly Twyford


World Premiere
We Won’t Sleep
May 31 – July 3, 2022
MAX Theatre

A new, innovative musical based on the true story of a proud Montanan who became the first congresswoman in United States history.

After a life of public service and suffrage activism, Jeannette Rankin shocks the world when she is elected to Congress in 1916 – four years before white women got the right to vote. However, after just a few days in Congress she faces a choice that could destroy her life’s mission.

Through invigorating pop music, We Won’t Sleep theatrically disrupts then and now in an exuberant and inspiring experience by America’s most produced playwright Lauren M. Gunderson and singer, composer and activist Ari Afsar (American IdolHamilton), that explores the dream of an equal vote for all Americans, a dream that remains unfulfilled even today.

Music & Lyrics by Ari Afsar
Book by Lauren M. Gunderson
Choreographed by Yusha-Marie Sorzano
Directed by Erin Ortman
Produced in Association with Jen Bender

 


The Color Purple
August 16 – October 9, 2022
MAX Theatre

Felicia Curry (The Scottsboro Boys) stars in the triumphant musical adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of human fortitude, redemption and love directed by Timothy Douglas (Spunk).

A teenage Celie is torn from her beloved sister and forced into an abusive marriage. Over the next forty years, while Celie encounters repression, despair, and heartbreak, she also discovers hope in a group of friends who inspire her to find her voice, discover her beauty and change her life.

Nominated for 11 Tony Awards and featuring a soaring score of jazz, gospel, blues and ragtime, ,The Color Purple brilliantly illuminates the lives of Southern Black women in breathtaking scope.

“An exuberant celebration of community and female empowerment.” – The Guardian

Based upon the novel written by Alice Walker and the Warner Bros./Amblin Entertainment Motion Picture
Book by Marsha Norman
Music & Lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis & Stephen Bray
The Color Purple was produced on Broadway at the Broadway Theater by Oprah Winfrey, Scott Sanders, Roy Furman and Quincy Jones. The world premiere of The Color Purple was produced by the Alliance Theatre, Atlanta, Georgia
Music directed by Mark G. Meadows
Choreographed by Dane Figueroa Edidi
Directed by Timothy Douglas


Pre-Broadway Engagement
KPOP: The Broadway Musical
December 2021 – January 2022
At The Anthem

This exhilarating Broadway-bound musical extends a backstage pass inside the high-stakes world of the Korean pop music sensation that’s sweeping the globe.

As K-pop superstars put everything on the line for a special one-night-only concert, one singer’s inner struggle threatens to dismantle their entire label.

Pulsing with infectious beats, electrifying choreography, and breathtaking joy, this multimedia experience explores the relentless discipline, raw talent, and commercial ambition behind the heart-pumping international phenomenon.

Conceived by Woodshed Collective & Jason Kim
Book by Jason Kim
Music, Lyrics, Music Production & Arrangements by Helen Park
Music & Lyrics by Max Vernon
Choreographed by Jennifer Weber
Directed by Teddy Bergman
Produced by Special Arrangement with Tim Forbes and Joey Parnes


ABOUT MATTHEW GARDINER

At Signature Theatre, Matthew Gardiner has directed and/or choreographed more than 25 productions, including much lauded revivals of A Chorus LineWest Side StoryLa Cage aux FollesJelly’s Last Jam, and The Threepenny Opera, as well as several world premieres including Paul Downs Colaizzo’s Really Really, Nick Blaemire’s Soon, and Josh Schmidt and Royce Vavrek’s Midwestern Gothic. With Signature’s special commitment to producing the work of Stephen Sondheim, Matthew has directed and/or choreographed many Sondheim musicals including PassionSunday in the Park with GeorgeCompanySweeney Todd and the world premiere theatrical concert Simply Sondheim. As The Washington Post said about Matthew’s work, “an overarching keen intelligence seems to be a hallmark of Matthew Gardiner’s direction, from brassy musicals to taut intimate dramas…all have been first-rate in execution.”

As Signature’s Associate Artistic Director for over a decade, Matthew helped to build several groundbreaking seasons, cultivated relationships with prominent and emerging artists, and oversaw several of Signature’s new work development initiatives, including the American Musical Voices Project (one of the largest musical theater commissioning programs in the country), SigWorks: Monday Night Play Reading Series (highlighting the work of DC area playwrights) and the Signature/Yale Composer Partnership, which seeks to give opportunity to early career composers.

Over the past year, in the midst of a global pandemic that has made live performance impossible, Matthew has worked to make certain Signature continues to engage its current audience with bold and exciting new artistic content, while also actively working to expand Signature’s reach to a broader audience. Matthew selected and planned Signature’s current 2021 Season, Signature Features, which includes five fully produced productions that can be streamed from home in partnership with Marquee TV.

Outside of Signature, Matthew has directed and/or choreographed at most of the prominent regional theaters in the Washington, DC area including Arena Stage, Ford’s Theatre, The Kennedy Center, Round House Theatre, Shakespeare Theatre Company, and Studio Theatre. Matthew has also worked abroad, choreographing Titanic and directing and choreographing Doctor Zhivago for OD Musical Company in Seoul, Korea. Matthew is the recipient of three Helen Hayes Awards for Outstanding Director of a Musical and has been honored with more than a dozen nominations.


ABOUT SIGNATURE

Signature is widely recognized as the premiere venue in Washington to see musical theater, especially new musicals. Recently called “a dream for patrons” and “the gold standard for producing musicals” by The Washington Post, Signature is renowned for its interpretations of Stephen Sondheim’s work, inventive adaptations of overlooked or forgotten musicals, and investment in fresh new projects. The Theatre is an industry leader in developing and producing new work and is home to the largest musical theater development program in the United States.

Signature features the finest talent from the D.C. metropolitan area and New York on its stages and has been a creative home to such luminaries as Chita Rivera, Sheryl Crow, Barry Levinson, George Hearn, Emily Skinner, Kathleen Marshall, Ann Reinking, Marc Kudisch, Judy Kuhn, Deborah Monk, Boyd Gaines, Heidi Blickenstaff, James Lapine, Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, John Kander and Fred Ebb, Cameron Mackintosh, Terrence McNally, and the company’s signature composer, Stephen Sondheim. Under the leadership of Maggie Boland, Managing Director and Matthew Gardiner, Artistic Director, Signature draws more than 100,000 patrons annually to its Arlington home and has been cited for its achievements by a wide range of local and national media.

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