Another sign that the arts scene is returning to some kind of normalcy after a long Covid-impacted year: Asolo Repertory Theatre has announced its return to live, indoor performances for the 2021-22 season.
The announcement came Wednesday via a video on the theater’s website from producing artistic director Michael Donald Edwards, who noted both the challenges and the rewards of the past year, which saw stages dark around the country. Asolo Rep ventured into live performances outdoors at its Terrace Stage in December, presenting several productions there successfully.
Now it plans to be back inside the Mertz Theatre, with the FSU/Asolo Conservatory also returning to its home in the Cook Theatre. Seven productions are scheduled for Asolo Rep, including several that had previously been scheduled earlier but were postponed due to Covid. But a couple of new titles also popped up in the video announcement.
First, the season will launch with a production of the rock musical Hair, Nov. 17 through Jan. 1, 2022. Featuring book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado and music by Galt McDermot, the 1960s-era show, under the direction of Josh Rhodes (who has previously helmed Evita, The Sound of Music and Guys and Dolls here) may boast something of a more contemporary approach, if the look of the marketing materials during the announcement are anything to go by. (This also is a show easy to imagine taking place outdoors if it became necessary.)
As is its long tradition, Asolo Rep will continue to produce three works in rotating repertory as the heart of the season, January through March, arrives. First up is the previously planned Pulitzer Prize-winning Our Town, Thornton Wilder’s classic play about life, love and death in a small American town. Originally, Edwards was set to direct this production, but it will now be directed by Desdemona Chiang. Onstage Jan. 12 through March 26.
Another show planned for last season, Bess Wohl’s Grand Horizons, is a comedy that had a successful run on Broadway. And, with its look at a long-married couple who settle into their Florida retirement home, only to find the wife declaring her intention to divorce, it seems like a natural for Sarasota audiences. Directed by Asolo Rep associate artistic director Celine Rosenthal, the show runs Jan. 19 through April 1.
The Great Leap, a production that was actually in rehearsal when theaters were forced to shut down last year, will be brought to the stage Feb. 9 through April 2. This Lauren Yee play, directed by Vanessa Stalling, centers on an American basketball team traveling to China in the 1980s, especially one young player and his family.
At long last, Asolo Rep will present the world premiere of Knoxville (April 15 through May 11), a much-awaited musical adaptation of James Agee’s A Death in the Family with music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and a book and direction by Frank Galati. The three worked together previously on the Tony-winning musical Ragtime, and snippets from the show performed when the production was originally set to take place promised a score and a story that feel uniquely American.
A new play, Eureka Day (May 11 through June 4 in the Cook Theatre), is next in the lineup, and it has a Sarasota connection: It’s written by New College alum Jonathan Spector. In telling the story of an illness spreading through a private school, this new comedy explores the division that ensues while asking “When does ‘us’ become ‘them?’”
Lastly for the Asolo Rep season, another previously planned musical, Hood (June 3-26), a retelling of the folk tales of outlaw Robin Hood and his merry band featuring music and lyrics by Lewis Flinn and a book by Douglas Carter Beane. It offers a fresh new look at the well-known stories.
Meanwhile, FSU/Asolo Conservatory director Greg Leaming has also announced its season schedule, which may owe something to last year’s protests following the George Floyd murder and the issuance of a call to action by Black Conservatory students and others about a lack of diversity in the actor training program’s offerings. The season will open Nov. 2-21 with a Pulitzer Prize nominee by Black playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins (whose Gloria was seen a while ago on Asolo’s mainstage), Everybody. It’s an interesting take on the 15th-century morality play Everyman, which follows the character on a journey through the meaning of life and death. In this production, the actor performing the lead role will be chosen from the cast by lottery at each performance, guaranteeing that no two performances will be quite the same.
Playwright Amy Herzog (whose 4000 Miles was also an Asolo Rep show a few seasons back) turns up with Belleville (Jan. 4-23), centered on a young American couple in Paris who seem to have the perfect life, until she returns home on afternoon to find him there when he’s supposed to be at work. Conservatory alum and Urbanite Theatre co-artistic director Summer Dawn Wallace will direct.
Recently hired Venice Theatre artistic director Benny Sato Ambush, a veteran Black director, will helm a production of the Moliere classic The Learned Ladies, Feb. 22 through March 13; and the Conservatory will return to its Shakespearean offerings with a season-closing production of Twelfth Night (April 5-23) directed by Jonathan Epstein.
In addition, the Conservatory and Asolo Rep team once more to present a 45-minute adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing designed to tour in schools and the community in the BardWired program of the theaters.
Asolo Rep subscriptions are on sale now at asolorep.org or by calling (941) 351-8000; single tickets will go on sale later. Conservatory subscriptions go on sale at 10 a.m. Tuesday, May 18.