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Berkshire Theatre Group season reformatted for 2017

Looking at this ambitious season it is clear that rather than expanding they are doing just a differently formatted season filled with the potential of excellent and fascinating presentations.

“Due to Last Summer’s Banner Season, Berkshire Theatre Group Announces Expanded 2017 Summer Schedule” read the headline on the 2017 season press release issued after 5 p.m. on Thursday, February 16. It is an interesting set of statements for a number of reasons and worth looking at from a bunch of perspectives.

Starting with “expanded summer schedule,” let’s look at the schedule itself.  Million Dollar Quartet with book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, original concept and direction by Floyd Mutrux, inspired by Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins will be directed — with his own music direction — by James Barry at The Unicorn Theatre in Stockbridge. This plays four and a half weeks, June 14 through July 15, a one-month+ run. “Fiorello” which ran in the same spot last season played from June 19 through July 23 for five weeks, just a bit longer.

Berkshire Theatre Group's Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, Mass.
Berkshire Theatre Group’s Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, Mass.

“Fiorello,” with only piano and violin accompaniment, was much acclaimed as the hit of their season, and although its cast of mostly non-professionals gave good performances, it included a much miscast title character whose presence cast a curious light on the show’s two romantic relationships and destroyed the impact of the second act opener. The show transferred, with much ballyhoo, to a small New York City stage but, it has been reported, with the financial support of the company’s families and into a theater operated by the show’s stage director. This certainly was not the great transfer of, say, Barrington Stage Company’s production of “On The Town” the year before.

Actor David Adkins will be returning to the BTG this coming summer.
Actor David Adkins will be returning to the BTG this coming summer.

Next up on the schedule is “The Music Man,” book, music and lyrics by Meredith Willson, story by Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey, directed by Travis G. Daly with music direction by Mark Gionfriddo at The Colonial Theatre. It plays for one month, July 6 through August 6. Daly has been helming the big 100-person-plus community musical in the past so this show is a natural transition piece for him but with no community musical announced it leaves me wondering if this show will be exploded into that sort of transformational  work with scads of kids and adults onstage for the big 76 Trombones finale. In its position last season was “Little Shop of Horrors” which only ran a bit over two weeks, so this is certainly an expanded show, but without a “Beauty and the Beast” the total playing time of big musicals in the Colonial is reduced a bit, not expanded.

Eric Hill
Eric Hill will be directing Edward Albee’s ‘At Home in the Zoo (Zoo story).’

The second play in the Unicorn Theatre is Edward Albee’s “At Home at the Zoo (Zoo story),” directed by Eric Hill and running from July 19 to August 26. Here we have a classic American One-Act Play and its prequel written many years later as a manufactured full-length play. This five-and-a-half-week run fills the spot that last year showcased  “Constellations” which filled out the month of August, so this is a longer run this year, an expanded slot. It also has an additional actor.

The only show listed so far for the Fitzpatrick Main Stage in Stockbridge is Joseph Kesselring’s classic comedy “Arsenic and Old Lace” which used to be a staple on the strawhat (summer stock) circuit but which is much more rarely seen these days. It is scheduled to play July 27 through August 19, a short run of only a hair over three weeks. In this same space last season we had a world premiere, “The Stone Witch” which ran for a month.

There is one show still to be announced, presumably an earlier opening show on the Main Stage. Last season’s “Cat On a Hot Tin Roof” ran for just over three weeks. There are six possible weeks from the beginning of June through the middle of July into which the company can fit another play, but we’ll just have to wait and see how that works.

Director Daisy Walker.
Director Daisy Walker.

BTG’s autumn offering is a play by David Auburn, “Lost Lake,” directed by Daisy Walker. It runs from September 28 through October 22, another three and a half weeks at a time when theater buffs like me look forward to seeing something new. Last year, they hosted a WAM Theatre Production, “The Bakelite Masterpiece,” that ran for more than a month.

As for last summer’s “banner season” that takes some looking into. Last season, the theater removed all of the seats at the rear of the orchestra level in the Main Stage to install a café where theater-goers could enjoy a drink, a coffee, a sandwich before the show. This reduced the theater’s seating capacity by a lot of seats making it easier to present a fuller theater for each performance than had generally been seen over the past several years. This has to have reduced their potential income by a fair amount. Ticket prices this year range from $45 to $65 on the Stockbridge campus and for the Colonial’s offering from $22 to $52, with the lowest price tickets for children.

Actress -- and Berkshire native -- Tara Franklin.
Actress — and Berkshire native — Tara Franklin.

Some familiar faces are returning for this 2017 summer season including David Adkins, Tara Franklin, Gregg Eddleman, Travis G. Daly and, of course, Eric Hill. Most of the casting is still to come, but it is always nice to find familiar faces, voices and talents employed by the Berkshire Theatre Group.

Looking at this ambitious season it is clear that rather than expanding they are doing just a differently formatted season filled with the potential of excellent and fascinating presentations. Once the still missing play is announced it will be easier to tell whether it is expanded, contracted or about the same (my thought is the third option) and hopefully it will be successful enough to be again called a “banner season” when next year’s press release is sent out to the press for review.

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