The Berkshire Theatre Group Prepares For an Entertaining Summer Season
By Doug Hall, Contributing Writer, April 13, 2017
What do famous Hollywood legends and current film stars have in common with Western Massachusetts? A history and a connection to the Berkshire Theatre Group. Gracing the stage of the Colonial Theatre from when it first opened its doors in 1903, you will find a starry list of performers that includes Maude Adams, Ethel Barrymore, John Barrymore, Sarah Bernhardt, Eubie Blake, Helen Hayes, Al Jolson and Buster Keaton, to name only a few. More recently productions have included Anne Bancroft, Estelle Parsons, Rita Moreno, Al Pacino, Lou Gossett, Frank Langella, Cicely Tyson and Sigourney Weaver. The BTG continues to carry on the tradition of superb theater productions while eliciting pride from any number of these artists in knowing they were part of this famed company’s lineage.
The Berkshire Theater Group (representing the merger in 2010 of two of the oldest cultural organizations in the Berkshires: The Colonial Theater, founded in 1903; and the Berkshire Theatre Festival, founded in 1928), is preparing for its 2017 summer season which includes a splash of musical productions, drama and farcical comedy. The featured productions offer a wonderful variety of talent and story for every taste this side of Broadway — a destination where several BTG productions have landed, as well as launching some film careers in the process.
At the Fitzpatrick Main Stage, in Stockbridge (cataloged by the National Register of Historic Places and home to the Berkshire Theatre Festival since 1928) the two main attractions will provide a thought-provoking contemporary drama and a classic comedic farce.
Mark Medoff’s Tony award-winning play Children of a Lesser God opens on Saturday, June 24 and runs through Saturday, July 22. An affecting and moving story about communication and contemporary relationships, penetrating and boldly facing the division between the question, “Are we truly listening to one another?” as a speech therapist approaches the challenge of friendship and falling in love with his patient, a beautiful and very independent deaf woman. In the lead role as the infatuated speech therapist is veteran actor Joshua Jackson (TV: The Affair, Dawson’s Creek; Film: Cruel Intentions, Lay the Favorite; Off-Broadway: Smart People), matched equally with the lead female role, played by Lauren Ridloff, a former Miss Deaf America and film actress (Wonderstruck), both playing-off each other in this intense and relevant drama, under the direction of Tony award-winner Kenny Leon (Raisin In the Sun).
As a counter-weight to the drama, the dark comical farce, Arsenic and Old Lace makes a revival debut on the Fitzpatrick Main Stage. First debuting on Broadway in 1941, it later became a film classic; directed by Frank Capra and widely adored, in particular, for Cary Grant’s manic performance in the lead role. Celebrating playwright Joseph Kesselring’s most successful Broadway play, Arsenic and Old Lace opens Saturday, July 29 and runs through Saturday, August 19. This old American classic comes alive with performances by Tony and Drama Desk Award-winning actress Harriet Harris (Broadway: Thoroughly Modern Millie; Film: Addams Family Values; TV: Desperate Housewives and Frasier) in the role of Abbey Brewster, and Mia Dillon (Broadway: Our Town with Paul Newman, Crimes of the Heart and 5 seasons with BTG) in the role of Martha Brewster – the spinster aunts engaging in murderous but charitable acts upon “long-suffering” older gentlemen. This production receives strong direction by the Tony Award-nominated Gregg Edelman.
At BTG’s Stockbridge campus in their most intimate setting, The Unicorn Theatre (a 122 seat “theatrical jewel”), the Tony award-winning jukebox musical and an epic night of rock n’ roll will be re-lived with Million Dollar Quartet. Memorializing a night when the four pillars of early rock, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash came together at Sun Records in Memphis under famed record producer Sam Phillips. Taking their lead from listening to early R&B black singers and then mixing it with country twang, they gave birth to rock n’ roll with hits like “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Fever”,” “Walk the Line,” “Sixteen Tons,” “Who Do You Love?” “Great Balls of Fire,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Hound Dog,” and many more. Come listen again to the songbook of music that took center stage on the radio airwaves in the 1950’s, and took dance halls and bandstands by storm. Million Dollar Quartet opens Friday June 17, and runs until Saturday, July 15. This powerhouse production is directed by James Barry (Broadway: Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson; BTG: A Thousand Clowns, Tommy, The Caretaker), originally performing the role of Carl Perkins in the first National Tour of Million Dollar Quartet.
At BTG’s Colonial Theatre, “one of Americas finest turn-of-the-century theaters to survive intact,” in nearby Pittsfield, MA, the 2017 summer season presents a revival of the Meredith Willson’s classic musical, The Music Man. The 6-time Tony award winning Broadway show will receive an extended run of 37 performances with a score that features indelible numbers such as “Ya Got Trouble,” Seventy-six Trombones,” “Till There Was You,” and “Goodnight, My Someone,” there is plenty to sing about (especially since it also won the first Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album). The Music Man opens on Saturday, July 8 and runs through Sunday, August 6.
A BTG premiere of the Edward Albee Pulitzer–prize-winning drama, “At Home at the Zoo (Zoo-story)” will play at The Unicorn Stage. BTG acknowledges one of America’s greatest playwrights in presenting Albee’s searing vision and brilliant interplay of human loneliness and social disparity in this compelling drama. The play that launched Albee’s sensational career is directed by Eric Hill (BTG: The Homecoming, Thoreau or, Return to Walden; Poe), who is particularly “inspired” to not only re-present the original “Zoo story” but also to incorporate the new one-act that is the first half of the evening, “At Home at the Zoo (Zoo story).” This production features David Adkins (BTG: Thoreau or, Return to Walden; Poe), Joey Collins (BTG: The Homecoming, Broadway: The Glass Menagerie) and Tara Franklin (BTG: The Homecoming, Lion in Winter, Equus). “At Home at the Zoo (Zoo story)” opens July 22 and runs through Saturday August 26.
Along with a beautiful rural New England countryside setting, and the experience to see live performances on the stage of two of the oldest classical theater venues in Massachusetts, The Berkshire Theatre Group’s 2017 summer season offers a full variety of drama, comedy and musicals for every taste. Come see why The Berkshire Theatre Group carries the reputation as the “ultimate” in summer theatre and is one of the largest and most exciting art organizations in the area. For more information on their season and to purchase tickets click here.
Cover: The Colonial Theatre (1903) in Pittsfield, MA; all photos courtesy of the Berkshire Theatre Group.