Upcoming Theater Season is Challenging, Diverse and Socially Relevant

Broadway in KC presents “Hadestown,” Jan. 17-22, at the Music Hall. (Right), Chibueze Ihuoma (Orpheus) and company in the “Hadestown” North American tour (Broadway in KC / photo by Kevin Berne)

Productions include “Hamilton,” “The Color Purple,” Lydia R. Diamond’s “Toni Stone,” August Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson” and the first full production of “Flood,” by Mashuq Mushtag Deen

Most theater companies in Kansas City prepare seasons that run from early fall to late spring — although some produce plays year-round, and the Kansas City Shakespeare Festival normally stages a single midsummer production. That means most theater companies are gearing up for their fall openings.

Mashuq Mushtag Deen, playwright (Gurman Agency LLC)

Kansas City Repertory Theatre, the region’s leading nonprofit theater company, offers a varied and challenging 2022-23 season, beginning with William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” scheduled to run Sept. 6-25 at the Spencer Theatre. Associate artistic director Nelson T. Eusebio III will direct. The play, written in 1601-02, is one of Shakespeare’s durable comedies involving gender confusion and cross-dressing. When it’s done right, it can be very funny, indeed.

Following the Rep’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol,” scheduled Nov. 18-Dec. 24 at the Spencer, the season continues with “Flood,” by Mashuq Mushtag Deen, in what the Rep is describing as the first full production of Deen’s play. The show will be at Copaken Stage, the Rep’s downtown venue. (The show was initially scheduled to play Kansas City in 2021 but was cancelled due to COVID-19.) The play is set in a 19th-floor condo under a slow but certain threat from rising floodwaters. The play runs Jan. 31-Feb. 19, 2023.

Christina Anderson, playwright (KCRep)

Distinguished playwright Christina Anderson, a native of Kansas City, Kansas, returns to the Rep with “the ripple, the wave that carried me home,” March 14-April 2, 2023. The production will be directed by Khanisha Foster at Copaken Stage. The Rep describes the piece as a “moving exploration of a family’s response to injustice and a daughter’s reckoning with her political inheritance.” Personal note: The Rep’s 2017 production of Anderson’s “Man in Love,” a unique and riveting depiction of a serial killer in a fictional Midwestern city, was an astonishing piece of theater.

To close out the season, the Rep offers a new interpretation of a classic of children’s literature: “Peter Pan and Wendy,” by Lauren Gunderson, May 2-21, 2023. The show will be directed by the Rep’s artistic director Stuart Carden. Gunderson’s website describes the piece as being “reimagined for a new generation of theatergoers as a bright, charming, feminist, anti-colonial, empowering play for all ages.”

The Rep’s annual outdoor production of “Ghost Light: A Haunted Night of Songs and Stories from KC’s Cultural Crossroads” will be staged Oct. 21 and 22 at Roanoke Park. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.kcrep.org.

Like the Rep, the Unicorn Theatre has prepared a lineup heavy on diversity and social relevance. The season opens with “Toni Stone,” by Lydia R. Diamond, Sept. 7-25. Stone was the first female full-time professional baseball player when she signed with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues. She later played for the Kansas City Monarchs. The show is not a musical, but it does incorporate dance elements. The play was staged off-Broadway and at several regional theaters.

“The Sound Inside,” by Adam Rapp, continues the Unicorn season, running Oct. 19-Nov. 6. This piece, which was also staged in New York, is a two-character play about the relationship between a middle-aged writing teacher and her talented 18-year-old student. “(T)here’s a novel-within-novel, a hall-of-mirrors aspect that’s hard to miss,” one critic wrote. “The result is not so much a play is being performed but that a novel…has been adapted for the stage.”

The Unicorn season continues with an uncharacteristic comedy by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage. “Clyde’s” is set in a diner on a stretch of Pennsylvania highway where the owner and her crew of cooks have all spent time behind bars. As you might expect, their dreams of a better life are linked with food, which becomes a revealing metaphor. The show runs Nov. 30-Dec. 18.

Also on the Unicorn season is “Refuge,” by Satya Jnani Chavez and Andrew Rosendorf (Jan. 25-Feb. 12). Developed by the Curious Theatre Company in Denver, the show incorporates music and puppetry as it depicts a young woman’s journey from the Honduras to Texas.

Next will be “Marys Seacole,” by Jackie Sibblies Drury, running March 15-April 2, based on the life of a Jamaican-Scottish nurse and businesswoman who documented her world travels in an 1857 autobiography, “Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands.”

The season wraps up with “Lungs,” May 10-28. This well-received seriocomic play from British playwright Duncan Macmillan depicts a couple’s uncertainty about bringing a child into a world facing climate change. More information is available at www.unicorn.org.

KC Melting Pot Theatre will present a season spanning the fall and spring that includes “Mother/son,” Sept. 15-22, the third installment of a trilogy by Lewis Morrow, directed by Nicole Hodges Persley, the company’s artistic director; August Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson,” Dec. 1-10, directed by Melonnie Walker; “Fairview,” by Jackie Sibblies Drury, Feb. 9-23, 2023, directed by Lynn King, and “Stew,” by Zora Howard, May 11-20, 2023, directed by Ile Haggins. Learn more at kcmeltingpot.com.

Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre has prepared an ambitious season, which includes “The Last Wife,” Canadian playwright Kate Hening’s modern-dress exploration of the relationship between Henry VIII and his last wife, Katharine Parr; “The Color Purple,” the hit Broadway musical based on Alice Walker’s novel and Steven Spielberg’s film version; Eugene O’Neill’s epic-length barroom tragedy, “The Iceman Cometh”; “Once,” the hit stage version of the indy movie about the could-have-been romance between an Irish street busker and a young pianist; and “That Day in Tucson,” a play by Guillermo Reyes, a fact-based account of young Daniel Hernandez Jr., who rushed to the aid of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords when she was shot in the head by an attacker. Reyes is now a member of the Arizona State Legislature. Visit www.metkc.org.

Nedra Dixon stars as Dot in Kansas City Actors Theatre’s Sept. 7-18 production of “Dot,” by Colman Domingo, directed by Damron Russel Armstrong. (from the artist)

Kansas City Actors Theatre continues a season that began in May with “Dot,” by Colman Domingo, running Sept. 7-18. The show premiered at the Actors Theatre of Louisville and depicts a matriarch’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s with humor and compassion. The season wraps up with “Smart People,” by Lydia R. Diamond. The play depicts the gathering of four educated friends on the eve of Barack Obama’s 2008 election to discuss questions about race and prejudice. The show runs Jan. 18-29, 2023. Learn more at kcactors.org.

The Black Repertory Theatre of Kansas City opens its seventh season with “After Midnight,” billed as the Cotton Club Musical, in October; “Angry, Raucous, and Shamelessly Gorgeous,” about a celebrated Black actress who returns home after years of touring in Europe, in November; Lorraine Hansberry’s classic drama “A Raisin in the Sun,” a co-production with the White Theatre at the Jewish Community Center, March 2023; and a new playwright series in May 2023. Find out more at BRTKC.org.

Ensemble Ibérica will collaborate with Music Theater Heritage at Crown Center in the theater’s October production of “Man of La Mancha.” (photo by Jeff Evrard)

Music Theater Heritage at Crown Center continues its season with main stage productions as well as smaller shows in other venues. The season continues with the classic “Man of La Mancha,” a collaboration with Ensemble Ibérica, Oct. 6-23 on the Main Stage on the third floor of Crown Center. And Dec. 8-23, the company brings back its annual “A Spectacular Christmas,” on the Main Stage. The company has also prepared specialized programming for its intimate venue, the Ruby Room. Learn more at www.musictheaterheritage.com.

Broadway in KC presents “Hamilton” in the second national tour, with Joseph Morales as Hamilton, March 21-April 2, 2023, at the Music Hall. (Broadway in KC)

Broadway in KC will present a slate of touring musicals and concerts, beginning with “Respect,” featuring the music of Aretha Franklin, Nov. 15-16 at the Kauffman Theatre; “Pretty Woman, the Musical,” Dec. 6-11 at the Music Hall; “9 to 5,” Jan. 3-8 at the Kauffman; “Hadestown,” Jan. 17-22, at the Music Hall; “My Fair Lady,” Feb. 7-12, 2023, at the Kauffman; “Six,” Feb. 28-March 5, 2023, at the Music Hall; “Hamilton,” March 21-April 2, 2023, at the Music Hall; “Les Misérables,” May 2-7, 2023, at the Music Hall; and “Disney’s Aladdin,” May 30-June 4, 2023, at the Music Hall. More details at kansascity.broadway.com/shows.

R.H. Wilhoit and Alisa Lynn in the Coterie’s production of “Electric Poe” at Union Cemetery last year. This fall the Coterie will present a new edition of the play, “Tell-Tale Electric Poe.” (photo by Jordan Rice)

The Coterie 2022-23 season opens with “Akeelah and the Bee,” by Cheryl L. West from a screenplay by Doug Atchison, running Sept. 20-Oct. 16. Akeelah, a kid growing up on the South Side of Chicago, has a hidden talent: She’s a phenomenal speller, a gift she reveals only after being encouraged to enter the national spelling bee. The season continues with a new edition of “Tell-Tale Electric Poe,” featuring the music of Rex Hobart, with R.H. Wilhoit reading the works of Edgar Allan Poe. The show runs Oct. 20-30. Next up will be “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” featuring the original TV special’s piano arrangements by Vince Geraldi, Nov. 15-Dec. 31.

The theater moves into the new year with “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! The Musical,” April 4-May 21, 2023, based on Mo Willems’ book, with music by Deborah Wicks La Puma. The show mixes actors, puppets and live music. Next up will be “Doctor Dolittle,” with music and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, June 27-Aug. 6, 2023. www.thecoterie.org

Theatre for Young America, based at Union Station, had not announced a season at press time. www.tya.org

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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