When a theater's artistic director puts together a season, there are plays he feels he has to do and plays he wants to do. Then there are plays that complement the package, and when it's all decided, a theme emerges.
At Freefall Theatre in St. Petersburg, the theme of seven new shows is escaping from reality. The company announced its 2014-15 season Monday night at a party at Green Bench Brewing.
"It's really a series of plays that approach that from varying points of view," said Freefall's artistic director, Eric Davis. "It's fantasy, or it's not by choice."
There's Into the Woods (Oct. 11-Nov. 9), Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Tony Award-winning witty, subversive venture into Grimm's fairy tales. The musical's witch, made famous by Bernadette Peters, will be played at Freefall by Ann Morrison.
A Christmas Carol (Nov. 29-Dec. 24) stars David Mann as Ebenezer Scrooge. Keith Ferguson and Bruce Greer adapted Dickens' 1843 story into a holiday musical.
Freefall added a world premiere of Natalie Symons' The Buffalo Kings (Jan. 17-Feb. 8), a comedy that tells the story of the dysfunctional King family, gathered at Christmas and trying to heal after a hate crime.
Bright Lights, Big City (Feb. 28-March 22) stars Lucas Wells as Jamie in the rock musical adaptation of Jay McInerney's 1984 novel. Jamie gets caught up in New York City's 1980s fast life of drugs and parties.
Larry Alexander will play Elwood P. Dowd in Harvey (April 11-May 3, 2015), the play by Mary Chase that pairs Dowd with a large rabbit only he can see. Harvey has been done in countless high schools, but Davis said he wants to remind audiences how good the Pulitzer Prize-winning play actually is.
Davis himself hits the stage in The Tempest: Esta Isla es Mia (May 23-June 14, 2015). Davis adapted Shakespeare's play into a one-man show seen through the lens of Cuba's fight for independence from Spain.
Freefall's season closes with Mame (July 11-Aug. 9, 2015), the tale of a lady living a glamorous life when she takes in her nephew. Played at different times by Angela Lansbury, Beatrice Arthur and, on film, Lucille Ball, at Freefall Auntie Mame falls into the hands of Matthew McGee, a noted comic performer and sometimes drag star.
Freefall isn't the only professional St. Petersburg theater with a packed new season. American Stage has also released its slate of scheduled plays, which all give audiences a view into new worlds.
In The Chosen (Sept. 5-28), adapted from the Chaim Potok novel, two Jewish boys in 1944 Brooklyn grow up close in geography, yet far apart in reality. It comes from the creators of My Name is Asher Lev, performed in 2013 at American Stage.
In its Florida premiere, David Rush's Nureyev's Eyes (Oct. 17-26) will be produced in conjunction with the art exhibit "Rudolf Nureyev by James Wyeth: Images of the Dancer from the Brandywine River Museum" at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg. The play tells the story of a painter and a ballet dancer and how they came to create together.
Things lighten up with Laughter on the 23rd Floor (Nov. 21-Dec. 14), the Neil Simon comedy inspired by Simon's years writing for Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows. Caesar died earlier this year. And for American Stage's eighth installment of its August Wilson century cycle, the pick is Radio Golf (Jan. 23-Feb. 22), Wilson's 10th and final play that posits political ambition against history.
Gutenberg! the Musical! (March 13-April 5), stars Matthew McGee and Chris Crawford in a musical spoof about a pair of playwrights who try to get a Broadway contract for their musical about printing press inventor Gutenberg.
For the 30th anniversary of American Stage's park production, artistic director Todd Olson, below, picked In the Heights (April 24-May 17, 2015), the Tony winner for best musical that chronicles a change in New York's Washington Heights. The modern musical is full of Latin flair, upbeat music and rap.
The musical in the park is the toughest choice, Olson said.
"I'm slow to love musicals," he said. "My degree is in musical theater. You think I would just love all musicals, but I don't. I'm really picky about them, and I always find picking our musical is the hardest thing to do every year."
Red (May 29-June 21, 2015) tells of a young assistant to expressionist Mark Rothko challenging the master. The season closes with One Slight Hitch (July 10-Aug. 2, 2015), the regional premiere of a play by comedian Lewis Black that brings mayhem to an otherwise perfect wedding day.
"It is a smart new comedy," Olson, above, said. "And I do think that seasons need a real balance of all those things. ... Whenever you come to American Stage, you get a balance. The meat balances out the dessert."
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For information on tickets and subscription packages, visit freefalltheatre.com or americanstage.org. American Stage is offering an early bird ticket deal through Sunday.