2023-24 Season Brings Old Favorites and New Contemporary Works

Jennifer Wolfe in the North American tour of “Moulin Rouge! The Musical,” a production of PNC Broadway in Kansas City coming next summer to the Music Hall (photo by Matthew Murphy for Murphymade)

From “Mockingbird” and “Virginia Woolf” to favorite musicals and explorations of searing historical events

Kansas City Repertory Theatre will celebrate its 60th anniversary during its 2023-24 season with a diverse lineup of plays that include new contemporary works, revived classics and recent shows that found audiences in New York.

Before we get to that, let’s refresh our memories a bit about the enduring significance of a theater that, like a number of others across the country, began life in the 1960s as a fledgling summer theater company. Founder Dr. Patricia McIlrath envisioned it as a way for theater students to work alongside professional actors. What was then called the UMKC Summer Repertory Theatre began life in 1964 with two productions: “The Corn is Green,” by Emlyn Williams, and “Private Lives,” by Noel Coward. They were performed in repertory within an un-air-conditioned building on the UMKC campus people called the Quonset hut.

For a number of years the Rep put out regional and national tours, exposing audiences to its work from coast to coast. In 1979 it moved into its new permanent home, the James Olson Center for the Performing Arts, under a new name: Missouri Repertory Theatre. A succession of artistic directors followed McIlrath’s retirement in 1985: George Keathley (1985-2000), Peter Altman (2000-2007), Eric Rosen (2007-2012) and the current artistic director, Stuart Carden.

(Worth noting: A major regional theater founded by a woman has had only male artistic directors since McIlrath’s retirement. The obvious question is: Why? On the other hand, Angela Gieras is the current executive director. We’ll save this discussion for a later time.)

The Rep’s season is as follows:

Edmond Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac” in a new free adaptation by British playwright Martin Crimp runs Sept. 5-24 at the Spencer Theatre. When first staged, this version of “Cyrano” was seen to be a radical update, in which the lead actor foregoes the traditional phony nose, and the action plays out on spare sets, with contemporary costumes and a stage environment where actors sometimes use hand-held mics.

“This is a Cyrano that dispenses with conventional spectacle, colorful costumes and visual flummery,” wrote critic Michael Billington of The Guardian.

“What the Constitution Means to Me,” by Heidi Schreck, will run Oct. 24-Nov. 12 at Copaken Stage, the Rep’s downtown venue. Schreck’s inventive, pointed, award-winning one-woman show was performed by the playwright in New York. It celebrates the Constitution’s strengths and lamentable weaknesses and will be directed by Amy Anders Corcoran.

Catey Sullivan of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote: “The line between comedy and tragedy in the script is whisker-thin: When the audience hears the (all-male) 1965 Supreme Court attempting to discuss female birth control, it sounds like an outtake from ‘Love, American Style’ starring The Three Stooges.”

“Nina Simone: Four Women,” by Christina Ham, directed by Malkia Stampley (co-founder of the Milwaukee Black Theater Festival) and co-produced with Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, runs Feb. 13-March 3 at Copaken Stage. The play’s point of departure is Simone’s song “Four Women,” a tribute to the young women murdered in the 1963 terrorist bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Michael Quintos, in a review for Broadway World, wrote that the piece “is a thoughtful, gut-wrenching play — punctuated by spectacular musical performances — that dives deep into the soul-baring creative process of an artist hoping to craft a seminal work of musical art.”

“Little Shop of Horrors,” with music by Alan Menken and book and lyrics by Howard Ashman, closes out the regular season April 30 through May 19 at the Spencer Theatre. The venerable musical, based on the 1960 low-budget Roger Corman movie about a man-eating plant, has been a hit at every stage, running five years off-Broadway, then on Broadway, and later became a favorite in community theaters and school groups. Oh, and a movie based on the musical was released in 1986. KCRep artistic director Stuart Carden will direct.

In addition to the regular season, the Rep will stage its two annual holiday shows. “Ghost Light,” a Halloween celebration, will be presented free at Roanoke Park Oct. 13-14. And, of course, the Rep’s production of A Christmas Carol returns to the Spencer Theatre, scheduled to run Nov. 21 through Dec. 24. For more information, visit www.kcrep.org or call the box office at 816-235-2700.

KC Melting Pot Theatre opens an audacious four-show season with “Is God Is,” by Aleshea Harris, depicting twin sisters who were burned and scarred as babies and set out to seek revenge against their father. The play collected three Obie awards when it ran off-Broadway in 2018. Melting Pot veteran Lynn King directs. Catey Sullivan of the Chicago Sun Times wrote that experiencing the play is “akin to watching Aeschylus filtered through ‘Kill Bill’ and sonically sprinkled with a dose of Spaghetti Western music landing like parmesan on blood.” The show runs Sept. 14-23.

Also on the season: “The Amen Corner,” James Baldwin’s first play, directed by Melonnie Walker, Nov. 30-Dec. 9; “The Session,” written by Melting Pot founder Harvey Williams, and which was part of the company’s very first season, directed by Lewis Morrow, February (specific dates to be determined); and Edward Albee’s classic “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” directed by Ile Haggins with an all-Black cast, May 2024. For more information visit www.kcmeltingpot.com.

Shon Ruffin stars in “Dreamgirls” at The New Theatre & Restaurant in Overland Park through Sept. 10. (The New Theatre & Restaurant)

The New Theatre in Overland Park will bring its production of “Dreamgirls,” starring dynamite Kansas City singer/actress Shon Ruffin, to a close Sept. 10. Then, in short order, the 2023-24 season gets underway with comedies, musicals and some of the New Theatre’s most popular guest stars.

The lineup includes Morgan Fairchild headlining “Always a Bridesmaid,” a comedy by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten, in which four friends who have known each other since middle school vow to be bridesmaids at each other’s weddings, no matter what. From the writers of “The Dixie Swim Club.” The show runs Sept. 13-Nov. 19.

The rest of the season includes “Catch Me If You Can,” with Jim O’Heir; a concert-style “Elvis: Aloha From Las Vegas”; “Squabbles,” a comedy starring George Wendt; and a full production of “Newsies,” a lively musical based on the 1992 movie about the 1899 newsboy strike in New York. For more information, call 913.649.7469 or go to www.newtheatre.com.

The Coterie’s 2023-24 season opens with “Justice at War,” a fact-based interactive drama depicting a challenge filed by Mitsuye Endo and other Japanese American civil service employees in California who were fired and sent to internment camps after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Mitsuye’s case reached the Supreme Court, where she and other plaintiffs argued that the internments were unconstitutional. Viewers are placed in the role of judges who consider testimony and question witnesses as they consider national security, government responsibility and the administration of justice. The writers are Mimi Jo Katano, Wendy Lement and Jordan Winer. This is a co-production with Tradewind Arts, a Kansas City-based theater group representing the experiences of Native Hawaiians, Asians and other Indigenous groups of the Pacific.

R.H. Wilhoit and Rex Hobart in Tell-Tale Electric Poe at the Coterie in fall 2022. This year “Electric Poe” runs Oct. 19 through Nov. 5 at Union Cemetery. (Jeff Church, courtesy of the Coterie Theatre)

The rest of the Coterie season:

Electric Poe,” co-produced with the Union Cemetery Historical Society, returns for another outdoor show, Oct. 19 through Nov. 5. The performance this year features three newly adapted Edgar Allan Poe pieces. Actor R.H. Wilhoit again will be the master of ceremonies and principal performer.

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical,” based on the animated TV classic, Nov. 7-Dec. 31.

“The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical,” Jan. 30-March 10, 2024. This show, an adaptation of the book by Rick Riordan, played Broadway in 2019.

“Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Rock Experience,” based on the book by Mo Willems, April 2-May 19, 2024.

“Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” featuring songs from the movie by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, June 18-Aug. 4, 2024.

Visit thecoterie.org or call 816-474-6552 for more information.

Richard Thomas as Atticus Finch in the PNC Broadway in Kansas City production of “Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird,” coming to the Music Hall Oct. 24-29. (photo by Julieta Cervantes)

PNC Broadway kicks off with the national tour of Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” directed by Bartlett Sher, with Richard Thomas as Atticus Finch. The show runs Oct. 24-29 at the Music Hall.

Naomi Rodgers as Tina Turner in the North American touring production of “Tina – The Tina Turner Musical,” presented by PNC Broadway in Kansas City in December. (photo by Matthew Murphy for Murphymade)

The rest of the season:

“Tina: The Tina Turner Musical,” written by Katori Hall and directed by Phyllida Lloyd, runs Dec. 5-10 at the Music Hall.

“Johnny Cash: The Official Concert Experience” will celebrate the legendary performer and songwriter with the participation of the Johnny Cash Estate. There will be performances at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 10, 2024. The show, according to its promoters, uses state-of-the-art technology to lift Cash’s voice from recordings and concert footage so that he once again can perform with a live band.

“Girl of the North Country,” the Tony Award-winning musical conceived and directed by Conor McPherson, in which a group of travelers during the Great Depression find solace in music. The show incorporates 20 Bob Dylan songs. It runs Jan. 23-28, 2024, at the Kauffman Center.

“Mamma Mia!” returns yet again for a five-day run at the Music Hall. The musical stitched together from ABBA songs depicts a young woman soon to be married but with some sorting to do since she has three possible dads. This show has been on the road almost 25 years! March 5-10, 2024, at the Music Hall.

“Clue,” based on a 1985 movie inspired by the ubiquitous board game, runs April 2-7, 2024, at the Kauffman.

“MJ The Musical,” the Tony-winning show about the making of Michael Jackson’s 1992 Dangerous World Tour, runs May 7-12, 2024, at the Music Hall.

“Moulin Rouge! The Musical,” derived from director Baz Luhrmann’s visually spectacular film, runs July 23-Aug. 4, 2024, at the Music Hall.

To learn more, visit kansascity.broadway.com or call 816.421.7500.

Kansas City Actors Theatre, which follows its own drummer in most matters, is now midway through its 2023/24 season. “Grand Horizons” is scheduled to run through Sept. 3 at Union Station, followed by “Skeleton Crew,” by Dominique Morisseau, Sept. 12-Oct. 1. Wrapping up the current season will be “Gaslight (Angel Street),” by Patrick Hamilton, Jan. 17-Feb. 4, 2024.

Find more information at www.kcactors.org.

“Buddy’s Holly Jolly Christmas,” conceived and performed by Zachary Stevenson, runs at Music Theater Heritage, Dec. 22-23. (Music Theater Heritage)

Music Theater Heritage at Crown Center continues its season with “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” a revue celebrating the music of Fats Waller, Oct. 12-29, followed by “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live Radio Play,” Dec. 7-23. The company’s intimate Ruby Room series continues with “Dolly,” celebrating the music of Dolly Parton, Sept. 15-18; “Ashley Pankow: Live at the Ruby Room,” Oct. 20-21; “The Sound of Silence,” a revue of music by Simon & Garfunkel, the Mamas and the Papas and Peter, Paul and Mary, Nov. 17-20; and “Buddy’s Holly Jolly Christmas,” conceived and performed by Zachary Stevenson, Dec. 22-23.

For more information, go to musictheaterheritage.com or call 816-221-6987.

Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre opens its season with “The Virgin Trial,” by Kate Hennig, part of her Queenmaker trilogy about different eras in the life of Elizabeth I. In this one Hennig explores “victim-shaming, sexual consent and the extraordinary ability of girls becoming women as she reimagines a scandalous and little-known story of Elizabeth I before she was queen.” The show runs Sept. 15-Oct. 1.

The rest of the season includes:

“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare,” by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, in which all the Bard’s work is condensed into 90 minutes of slapstick. The show runs Oct. 12-23.

“4000 Miles,” by Amy Herzog, Nov. 9-19. This comedy-drama tells the story of Leo Joseph-Connell, a “neo-hippie” who, after suffering a major loss, turns up at the apartment of his feisty grandmother.

“Judgment at Nuremberg,” Abby Mann’s stage adaptation of material he first wrote as a television play and then did the 1961 film version, Jan. 5-21, 2024. This drama, based on the Nazi war-crimes trials following World War II, was the first account of Nazi atrocities to reach a wide English-speaking audience.

“Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” by August Wilson, Feb. 23-March 3. Wilson’s award-winning drama about spiritual redemption is set in a Pittsburgh boarding house in 1911, when a wayfarer arrives in search of his lost wife. This is part of Wilson’s 10-play cycle about African American life in each decade of the 20th century. Because this is the last show of the season, an extension through March 10 is possible.

Visit metkc.org or call 816.569.3226.

Robert Trussell

Robert Trussell is a veteran journalist who has covered news, arts and theater in Kansas City for almost four decades.

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