Riverside’s 2019-20 season: Variety packs a punch!

[Photo: Kaila Jones]

Months of busy preparation are about to emerge, promising another beautiful season at Riverside Theatre. From bouncy juke-box musicals to taut drama, the new season is chock full of entertainment and pizzazz, as well as provocative and important works.

While some theaters fashion their seasons with an overarching theme, Allen Cornell, Riverside’s producing artistic director and CEO, wants patrons to have a wide choice of theatrical works from which to choose.

“I try to find a balance in the materials,” he says. “There is a variety of styles and a blend between the most recent and traditional plays. So, there is a diversity of experiences for our patrons.

The cultural institution’s healthy $10 million budget earns Riverside Theatre the distinction of being Florida’s largest independent professional theater. It boasts of two beautiful venues in its main building: the Stark Stage is the larger and more traditional mainstage; the Waxlax Stage, smaller and more experimental, falls into the “black box” category.

This season, the Waxlax will be the place for two different types of theater works – “The 39 Steps,” a highly presentational piece, and one of dramatic realism, “Bakersfield Mist.”

While “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “La Cage Aux Folles” will dress the Stark Stage with glamor and high style, perhaps its most resonating work this season will be the drama “Lost in Yonkers,” a Pulitzer Prize-winner by the late, great Neil Simon.

“‘Lost in Yonkers’ will be the first time we’ve produced a Neil Simon play on the Stark Stage,” Cornell says. “With his passing, I thought it appropriate to produce one of his works that stands above the rest. He found a beautiful balance between comedy and drama, and this play holds up and is still relevant to audiences today.”

STARK STAGE:

“Beehive: The ’60s Musical,” directed by Richard Stafford, runs Oct. 29 to Nov. 17.

This jukebox musical is designed to engage anyone who grew up in the ’60s … or the children or grandchildren who want to know more about the iconic music which so informed the lives of their parents or grandparents.

There are feel-good, bubblegum pop songs like “The Name Game” and “My Boyfriend’s Back,” “It’s My Party” and “Wishin’ and Hopin.’” And of course, you can’t have a ’60s musical retrospective without addressing social change, with consciousness raising tunes like “Respect” and “A Natural Woman,” “Piece of my Heart” and “Me and Bobby McGee.”

“Thoroughly Modern Millie,” directed by James Brennan, runs Jan. 7-26.

The 2002 Tony Award- and Drama Desk-winner is adapted from the 1967 movie musical of the same name. Set during the roaring ’20s, it follows Millie Dillmount, who moves from Kansas to New York City in hopes of finding a husband. This musical “borders on cartoon,” says Brennan. “Expect to see people tap dancing on New York streets and at the office, villains getting huge laughs, and an entire period in history getting ‘sent up.’”

“Lost in Yonkers,” directed by Chris Clavelli, runs Feb. 4-23.

Set in 1942, the play revolves around two brothers who have lost their mother and live with their father at the home of their stern grandmother, above a candy store in Yonkers. It won a 1991 Tony, Drama Desk and Pulitzer Prize. Frank Rich, writing for the New York Times, penned: “While Mr. Simon’s autobiographical cycle officially ended with ‘Broadway Bound,’ it is in ‘Lost in Yonkers’ that he seems at last to be baring the most fundamental scar of all, that of a child rejected by a parent.”

“La Cage aux Folles,” directed by DJ Salisbury, runs March 10-29.

One of Broadway’s biggest hits, the multiple Tony Award-winning musical centers on a gay couple, George and Albin, who run a popular French drag show nightclub, where Albin is the headliner. Conflict arises when their son (George’s from a youthful dalliance) announces his engagement to a girl with ultra-conservative, traditional parents.

“The Bodyguard,” also directed by Richard Stafford, runs April 14 to May 3.

The musical features songs that were originally recorded by the late Whitney Houston, and is based on the movie in which she starred with Kevin Costner. It centers on the growing relationship between a bodyguard and the celebrity singer he is hired to protect. Although critics did not like it, it did run 15 months on Broadway, where it entertained tourists.

WAXLAX STAGE:

“The 39 Steps,” directed by Trey Compton, runs Jan. 21 to Feb. 9.

This madcap, laugh-a-minute comedy has been described as Alfred Hitchcock meets Monty Python. The clever send-up uses four actors to portray dozens of characters, some who appear as briefly as a firefly on a windy night. Props are also used in myriad different forms. The story line follows an innocent man who eludes police as he tries to solve a murder mystery in which he is implicated. The play received a 2008 Drama Desk award for “Unique Theatrical Experience.”

“Bakersfield Mist,” directed by Allen D. Cornell, runs March 24 to April 12.

Set in a trailer park in hot Bakersfield, Calif., this contemporary play has smart dialogue and unlikely pairings to explore the meaning of art and life. Inspired by a real event, it brings together an unemployed bartender, who believes she has a missing Jackson Pollock masterpiece, and a renowned art expert.

Single tickets are $35 to $85 for Stark Stage productions and $65 for Waxlax Stage shows. Money-saving subscriptions packages are $95 to $238 for a three-show package, $119 to $292 for a four-show package or $149 to $334 for a five-show package. Riverside Theatre is at 3250 Riverside Drive, Vero Beach. For more information, visit riversidetheatre.com or call the box office at 772-231-6990.

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