Asolo Repertory Theatre patrons might have been cheated of a full 2019-20 season due to COVID-19 cancellations, but the company is forging ahead with its 2020-21 season, announced by producing artistic director Michael Donald Edwards in a virtual appearance via Facebook and YouTube, rather than the usual public gathering in the theater.
“In pretty dark times, we need a light at the end of the tunnel,” Edwards said. “We want to present great human stories that inspire, and when we get the all clear, we want you to come and take a close look at family” in the productions the company will offer.
Starting the season off will be the Tony-winning show Billy Elliot: The Musical, about a young boy in the struggling north of England during the 1980s who begins taking ballet lessons. Featuring music by Elton John, and directed and choreographed by frequent Asolo collaborator Josh Rhodes, the show takes the stage here Nov. 18-Jan. 2.
Asolo Rep then launches into its rotating repertory season with a “thrill ride” of a show, Ken Ludwig’s adaptation of the classic Alexandre Dumas novel The Three Musketeers. The company had a hit this past season with Ludwig’s version of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express; Peter Amster returns to direct this show, as he did Murder. Edwards said the “all for one and one for all” motto of the musketeers feels apropos right now. The show runs Jan. 13-March 13.
More laughs are promised in a new comedy by Bess Wohl, Grand Horizons, that Edwards said seems pretty targeted at Sarasota audiences, with its tale of a couple married 50 years, until the wife suddenly wants a divorce. After seeing the New York production, which starred Jane Alexander and James Cromwell, Edwards knew he wanted to bring this one here. It will run Jan. 20-March 25.
The next show, which Edwards says he only decided to schedule a couple of weeks ago, is one he’s directing himself: Thornton Wilder’s classic Our Town, onstage Feb. 10-March 27. “Personally, it’s very meaningful,” he said. The 1938 Pulitzer Prize winner is “about us, all of us,” he added, and it should provide some acting opportunities for the FSU/Asolo Conservatory’s third-year acting students.
Next up, a work Edwards says was championed by associate artistic director Celine Rosenthal: a “buddy bromance” between two Orthodox Jewish friends entitled Trayf (which means not kosher). This play by Lindsay Joelle is, Edwards says, “as cool and interesting as the latest product on Netflix,” as one of the friends begins exploring more of the secular world outside his community. Trayf will be staged in the Cook Theatre, March 24-April 18.
The world premiere of Knoxville, postponed from this month due to the pandemic, will still take place, with performance dates of May 14-June 5, 2021 instead. This adaptation by Frank Galati of James Agee’s A Death in the Family, with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty, was a much-anticipated new work; the team, including Galati as director and Josh Rhodes as choreographer, will return for this rescheduled production. Hood, an adaptation of the classic Robin Hood tale that had likewise been postponed, will also still be presented next season, April 9-May 1. A summer family-friendly production set for June 15-27 will be announced later.
FSU/Asolo Conservatory director Greg Leaming also announced the Conservatory’s season line-up (although not the summer season of Dog Days Theatre, which he reluctantly canceled for this season but promises will return next summer). After teaming with Asolo Rep to present its touring production of a 45-minute adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Florida schools, Conservatory students will open the season in the Cook Theatre with Leaming’s own adaptation of Theodore Dreiser’s novel Sister Carrie, about a young girl seeking a new life in the big city, circa 1900. That will run Nov. 4-22 and is followed by what Leaming calls a “smart, quirky comedy, Exit Pursued by a Bear by Lauren Gunderson, about a woman who takes revenge upon her husband in a most unusual way. That bows Jan. 5-24.
A “laugh-out-loud dark comedy” follows: Christopher Durang’s Baby with the Bathwater, about a couple so unprepared for parenthood they don’t even know the sex of their new baby, takes the stage Feb. 17-March 7. And the season will close with Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, at Selby Gardens (where this season’s Romeo and Juliet was originally set to take place before being canceled), April 6-26.
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