The new season opens with all of the Tampa Bay area's professional theaters intact. Here are the lineups and highlights.
American Stage Theatre Company
"In Search of America," this season's grouping of plays, invites audiences to "investigate a dynamic range of American experiences, asking questions about the world in which we live," said producing artistic director Stephanie Gularte. After inheriting a lineup of shows in 2015-16, this season marks Gularte's debut in shaping the future of American Stage, one of two Equity theaters in St. Petersburg. Good People (Wednesday-Oct. 2) asks whether it's really character or a few lucky breaks that determine a person's fate.
"Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire has created the ideal theatergoing experience," Gularte said. "Good People is an entertaining, smart, funny and thought-provoking play. It's a bitingly witty play with dynamic characters and a compelling story that will leave audiences with a lot to talk about."
A new American Stage version of Moliere's Tartuffe, adapted by Robert Caisley, comes next (Oct. 26-Nov. 20), followed by Joe Turner's Come and Gone (Jan. 18-Feb. 19), by August Wilson, the final installment of the August Wilson Century Cycle Series; the Tampa Bay area premiere of Deborah Zoe Laufer's Informed Consent (March 15-April 9); and Pulitzer-winning playwright Ayad Akhtar's The Invisible Hand (May 31-June 25). The season closes with Sex With Strangers, by House of Cards lead writer Laura Eason (July 12-Aug. 6). The American Stage in the Park selection is the musical Hairspray (April 19-May 14), with the annual Gala Under the Stars on April 21. The year's holiday show is It's a Wonderful Life — A Live Radio Play by Joe Landry (Dec. 10-24).
Freefall Theatre Company
Freefall bases the new season on plays and musicals "Inspired by a True Story," from disturbed assassins to complicated legends. Stephen Sondheim's musical Assassins (Oct. 8-Nov. 6) "asks a lot of questions about class, power and gun violence," said producing artistic director Eric Davis. "These issues are at the forefront of the nation's psyche right now. Even though this play has many funny moments, it is deeply disturbing because it looks inside the minds of a group of characters that believe their only path to the American dream involves using a gun to kill the president of the United States."
J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan will alternate performances with the prequel audiences loved this year, Peter and the Starcatcher (Dec. 10-Jan. 29), followed by Red Velvet (Feb. 25-March 26), about Ira Aldridge, the first African-American actor to play Othello at London's Theatre Royal in 1883. The last two shows examine the relationship between the public and its icons. A musical, End of the Rainbow (April 29-May 28), zeros in on the life of Judy Garland. The season closes with Marie Antoinette (July 15-Aug. 13), which places the let-'em-eat-cake queen in the midst of today's Kardashian culture. "In both plays, we see celebrities that are being devoured by the very public that has adored them," Davis said.
Billed as a campy "Beach Blanket Bingo meets Sybil," Charles Busch's Psycho Beach Party (Oct. 6-23) "holds a special place in my heart," said producing artistic director Karla Hartley. The "drag trifecta" of Matthew McGee, Zachary Hines and Ricky Cona "makes this a play I have looked forward to for a while now," Hartley said. Next is The Great Gatsby (Dec. 1-18), Simon Levy's adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald book. The new year offers The Aliens (Feb. 9-26), about young people on the margins of society discussing art and life; and the musical Avenue Q (May 4-21), about the workplace as seen by adults who grew up on Sesame Street.
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity (June 2-18), a satire on professional wrestling and a Pulitzer finalist, brings back memories for Hartley.
"When I was a kid I watched Gordon Solie every Saturday," she said. "Dusty Rhodes, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Mr. Perfect, Jake the Snake, the Hulk — it was all great theater. I think this show will be like nothing people have seen here."
Steve Martin's farce The Underpants (Friday-Oct. 2) opens the season. Lizzie (Oct. 14-Nov. 6) is this year's musical extravaganza, a rock treatment of the life of Lizzie Borden. After a present-day version of Shakespeare's As You Like It (Jan. 13-Feb. 5) and the dark comedy A Skull in Connemara (March 17-April 9), renowned playwright Israel Horovitz returns to Jobsite for Gloucester Blue (May 19-June 11), his story about the relationships between house painters in a fishing village and a couple who are renovating their home.
Gloucester Blue is "about class warfare, adultery and gentrification," producing artistic director David Jenkins said. Finally, Cloud 9 by Caryl Churchill (July 14-Aug. 6) satirizes British colonialism in Africa.
The Straz Center
The touring Broadway season at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts starts with the Tony-winning exploration of autism, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Nov. 8-13), and turns whimsical with Into the Woods (Nov. 29-Dec. 4), a fairy tale mashup with music by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine. A World War II romance scored by George Gershwin, An American in Paris (Dec. 20-25), won more awards than any other musical in the 2014-15 season. The cabaret revue Forbidden Broadway (Jan. 10-March 12) targets Broadway legends from Carol Channing to Julie Andrews. Cabaret (Jan. 24-29), Wicked (Feb. 1-26) and the comedy Something Rotten! (March 7-12) make way for The King and I (May 2-7). The kid-friendly Finding Neverland (May 30-June 4) and The Little Mermaid (July 11-16) set up the pulsating season closer, Motown the Musical (Aug. 8-13), the story of promoter Berry Gordy and the careers he launched.
Ruth Eckerd Hall
While better known for bringing in popular music stars than theater, Pinellas County's mega venue does snag its share of Broadway shows. A Christmas Carol (Dec. 18) ushers in the Christmas season, followed by Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical (Dec. 22), which heightens the rosacea-stricken deer's social crisis and throws in a blizzard. Beehive: The 60s Musical (Feb. 6) takes you back a half-centuryntury, and an Irish street musician wrestles with art and romance in Once (March 18). Drag queens save a floundering factory in Kinky Boots (April 11-16), a tribute to underdogs. Then it's going once, going twice for Mamma Mia! (April 21-22), which weaves a tropical romance around Abba hits on the blockbuster's farewell tour. The season closes with the adrenaline-pumping Dirty Dancing (May 5-7).
Tampa Repertory Theatre
The itinerant theater has lost its performing space at Tampa Preparatory School and will divide its three productions between Hillsborough Community College's Ybor City campus and the University of South Florida. Its season of three shows starts with The Realistic Joneses (Nov. 11-20) and wraps up with Grounded (Jan. 6-22), a one-woman show about a fighter pilot turned drone operator, and The Other Place (June 9-25), which delves into family trauma and dementia.
"All three of these plays are related in their exploration of self and identify," said producing artistic director C. David Frankel. "Who do we think we are, and how do we know who we are?"
A Simple Theatre
Though based at Eckerd College, this theater specializing in staged readings can go anywhere. The readings "focus exclusively on the beauty of a gifted playwright's words being given life by the vocal talents of excellent actors in a bare-bones setting," artistic director Gavin Hawk said in his introduction to "A Season of Legends," this year's theme. Here's the lineup: A Bicycle Country by Nilo Cruz, about three Cuban exiles (Oct. 18, Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg); The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance by Jethro Compton (Nov. 15, Eckerd College); Seasonal Allergies, about family chaos over the holidays, by Katherine DiSavino and Kevin Mead (Dec. 13, Duncan McClellan Gallery); The Time Trial by Jack Gilhooly, a mystery wrapped up in auto racing (Jan. 18, Eckerd College); Shipwrecked! An Entertainment — The Amazing Adventures of Louis De Rougemont (as Told by Himself) by Donald Marguiles (Feb. 7, St. Petersburg Museum of History); The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek by Naomi Wallace (March 14, 22nd Street S Historic Train Station); Mass Appeal by Bill C. Davis, about a priest who is challenged over the ordination of women (April 18, the Cathedral Church of St. Peter); and Perfect Arrangement by Topher Payne, about two gay men in the 1950s tasked with rooting out homosexuality in the State Department (May 2, Eckerd College).