You can’t blame the folks at the Connecticut Critics Circle (full disclosure, I’m one of them) for feeling pretty proud as they prepare for the 27th annual awards ceremony June 26 at 7:30 p.m at the Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield. After all, last year’s winners — Yale Rep’s premiere of Paula Vogel’s Indecent and Hartford Stage’s premiere of the musical Anastasia — went on to Broadway and to an armful of Tony Award nominations. (The 2017 Tony Awards will be televised June 11 at 8 p.m. on CBS.) So this year’s Connecticut event — which is free and open to all theater lovers — will have an extra bit of cachet.
Also bringing some star power to the event will be master of ceremonies and three-time Tony Award-nominee Terrence Mann (Les Miserables, Beauty and the Beast, Pippin revival).
Besides recognizing outstanding work this past season at the state’s professional theaters, the celebratory event will also spotlight several special awards. One will be given to Paulette Haupt, who is stepping down after 40 years as the founding artistic director of the National Music Theater Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford. Among the musicals Haupt helped nurture are Nine, In the Heights, Avenue Q, In Transit and [title of show].
Also receiving a tribute will be veteran character actor Paxton Whitehead, who played a vengeful college dean in Rodney Dangerfield’s 1986 movie Back to School. Writer and actor James Lecesne will also be honored for his work with LGBTQ young people. The co-founder of The Trevor Project brought his solo show,
The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey, to Hartford Stage this spring.
Speaking of Mann, the busy actor — he was on Broadway last year in the musicals Tuck Everlasting and Finding Neverland — is taking over as artistic director of the Nutmeg Summer Series at the University of Connecticut.
“I love 1776,” says Mann, who chose the musical to open his three-show summer season. “I’ve done it several times. It’s a great story. It’s sort of the forerunner of Hamilton, in a way, by giving everyone a quick and dramatic history lesson about how fragile our system of government was as we just started to become a country.”
Mann, who succeeds Vincent Cardinal in that post, also selected the backstage farce Noises Off! and the kid-centric musical Newsies.
“I don’t have a particular plan of what shows we need to do,” says Mann. “I think we just have to test the waters with folks in the areas and see what they’re interested in, and what will make them get up and leave the house and go to the theater. But we’re also on a university campus, so I also want theater that’s young, vital and speaks to the tumultuous times we live in.
“I’m also calling all my friends who I’ve worked with over the years on Broadway, television and film and saying, ‘Come on up.’”
Nothing But Heartbreak
Darko Tresnjak, artistic director at Hartford Stage, can’t wait for the plays to be written that reflect the recent election and the times we’re living in.
In the meantime, he’ll be presenting George Bernard Shaw’s Heartbreak House, which replaces Shaw’s Saint Joan as the season ender.
So it was ta-ta Joan and hello Captain Shotover (who will be played by Miles Anderson, a veteran of the Royal Shakespeare Co.) with Heartbreak House, now playing through June 11.
“I’m very passionate about this play because it may feel even more alive right now,” says Tresnjak, fresh from staging Anastasia on Broadway, which is even more sumptuous than when it played Hartford Stage last year.
“It’s a play that succeeds on both a psychological and allegorical level,” says Tresnjak. “It’s a play that is both intimate and epic. And it’s one of the most prophetic plays ever written.”
Tresnjak says while the setting is 1914 England, the themes that the play explores are especially relevant today. “It asks the questions, how do people live in a country that is polarized. And who should and shouldn’t get into politics?”
And theaters with a political point of view?
“Even at Hartford Stage we got some complaints when we did the Ghostlight Project [a nationwide event in support of inclusion, following the divisive election] saying the theater shouldn’t get involved in politics. And that I won’t tolerate. That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard. Theaters have been involved in politics since the Greeks, since The Trojan Women.”
Coming Together on Stage
It’s kind of hard to describe, says Aaron Jafferis, talking about the show he created with composer Byron Au Yong, which will play New Haven’s International Festival of Arts & Ideas June 17-18 at Long Wharf Theatre.
Perhaps “theatrical oratorio” is the closest term to describe the show, but even that misses the community-based reflections surrounding the Virginia Tech and Newtown killings. The new piece is called [Be]longing, and it’s “a performance event” featuring locally cast singers, beatboxers and hip-hop artists.
Jafferis lives in New Haven and is a veteran of the festival, which presented Stuck Elevator, the intimate and claustrophobic opera he also created with Yong. (Theater fans may remember Jafferis when he was in the ensemble cast of The Good People of New Haven in 2000 at Long Wharf Theatre.)
“We knew it couldn’t be a show about the shooter, but rather about the community,” he says. “We wanted Be[longing] to look at what connects and disconnects. We wanted to create a show that bridges that gap and be a galvanizing force in New Haven, which has lost so much due to gun violence.”
Alan Cumming will perform at Long Wharf Theatre’s gala June 5. The ticketed concert portion of the event is open to the public. … John Waters will once again redefine camp. This Sept. 22-24, 300 lucky campers will be part of a decidedly off-beat, week-long outdoor camp experience in Kent. … New Haven Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies just had a new stage work, Long Lost, read at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, California. Casey Stangl directed. … Hamilton will first play Connecticut at Hartford’s Bushnell for a three-week run for the 2018-19 season (I bet it’s sometime in the first half, though.) First dibs for tickets begin in the spring for renewing subscribers of the 2017-18 season, followed by new subscribers, followed by the hoi polloi for single-ticket sales.
Frank Rizzo has covered the arts-entertainment scene in Connecticut since disco reigned in the ’70s, including nearly 34 years writing for The Hartford Courant. Email him at FrRiz@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter@ShowRiz.