A Sneak Peek At Bay Street’s Season Ahead
By Annette Hinkle
You can feel it in the air — the weekend crowds are arriving, the days are getting warmer and soon, things will be heating up in a major way on the Bay Street Theater stage.
With the start of high season just a month away, last Friday Scott Schwartz, artistic director of Bay Street Theater, offered a sneak peak of what’s in store for audiences when the mainstage season kicks off on May 30.
And just for the record, he’s very excited about it.
“So much has happened. This is my fourth season as artistic director. I think the theater has always been fantastic — the foundation laid by Steve, Emma and Sybil was amazing,” he said as he spoke in the theater’s lobby. “All I’ve done is try to be loyal to that vision, and the way it speaks to me personally.”
“The theater is thriving, subscriptions are up and you can feel this energy,” he added.
“This is our 26th anniversary season. It feels like this fresh new page is being turned in our story, not because things are changing, but because we’re continuing to build on what the next 25 years are going to be.”
This summer, Bay Street will present three plays — the first of which is a world premiere musical based on “The Man in the Ceiling,” novel for young adults by Pulitzer Prize winning East End writer and artist Jules Feiffer.
Mr. Feiffer wrote the book for this musical version of his novel, while music and lyrics are by Andrew Lippa (“Big Fish,” “The Addams Family,” “The Wild Party”). Directing the show will be Jeffrey Seller, a producer of “Hamilton,” “Rent,” “Avenue Q” and “In the Heights.”
Mr. Schwartz explained that “The Man in the Ceiling” was presented at Bay Street Theater last spring in a staged reading at its annual New Works Festival. But this is the first time one of those works has become a full production at Bay Street the following year.
“We’re so excited,” Mr. Schwartz said. “Rehearsals began last Monday in New York with this amazing cast and group of artists.”
“The Main in the Ceiling” tells the story of Jimmy Jibbett, a young boy who loves drawing cartoons, but is frustrated by the lack of support he receives from his parents. His father wishes he would be more into sports than cartooning, while his mother is too busy to take note of much of anything. The only member of the household who understands his dream is his Uncle Lester, who writes flop Broadway musicals, but, like Jimmy, longs to be recognized for what he loves doing most. In the end, Jimmy finds a way to see failure in a new light.
Mr. Schwartz pointed out that with this musical, all three members of the creative team are stepping out of their comfort zones by taking on a role they have never before tackled in the theater.
Though Mr. Feiffer is a renowned cartoonist and writer, he’s never before written the book for a musical. Similarly, Mr. Lippa, a Tony nominated composer who wrote the music and lyrics for “The Man in the Ceiling,” is also one of the stars of the show.
“It’s a very personal part — he plays Uncle Lester, the struggling musical theater composer,” said Mr. Feiffer. “It’s an amazingly brave performance, having seen what he’s done in the reading.”
Finally Mr. Seller, a Tony Award winning producer, takes on the role of director for this Bay Street production.
“At the beginning of his career, he started off wanting to be a director,” explained Mr. Schwartz. “Things happened, he got lucky and the opportunity to produce came up. But he’s always had an artist’s heart — now he’s exploring that part of who he is again.”
There are some heavy hitters behind the scenes for this show as well — including production designer David Korins (“Hamilton”), puppet designer Rick Lyon (“Avenue Q”) and Tony Award winning lighting designer Howell Binkley (“Hamilton”). In addition, the role of Jimmy’s mother will be played by Nicole Parker, who played Elphaba in “Wicked” on Broadway.
“Given the artists involved and what I’ve seen in rehearsal, I think this is going to be one of the biggest arts events on the East End all summer,” said Mr. Schwartz. “This will be a thrilling world premiere.”
“The Man in the Ceiling” runs May 30 to June 25.
The second play in Bay Street’s summer season is “Intimate Apparel” by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright and screenwriter Lynn Nottage. Set in New York in 1905 at the turn of the century, it tells the story of Esther Mills, an African American woman who works as a successful seamstress making intimate apparel both for upper class women and ladies of the night.
The play will star Kelly McCreary, who portrays Dr. Maggie Pierce on the ABC drama “Grey’s Anatomy,” and will be directed by Scott Schwartz.
“I saw this play in its original production about 14 years ago at the Roundabout Theater,” said Mr. Schwartz. “I’m very passionate about this work. It’s such a beautiful play and it transcends class and culture.”
“Esther is successful, but she’s lonely. She hasn’t found a partner and lives on her own in at transitory neighborhood in Manhattan,” he added. “She finds a man working on the Panama Canal and begins to write letters and strikes up this relationship with him. The letters are incredibly beautiful.”
“It’s a play about all of us — love, intimacy, feeling alone and together. It explores race to a certain extent, but how we are all the same, regardless of skin color, which I think is a lovely thing to explore at this time,” said Mr. Schwartz.
“Intimate Apparel” runs July 4 to July 30.
The final play of the summer season at Bay Street will be Shakespeare’s comedy “As You Like It.” This will be a co-production with the Classic Stage Company (CSC) in New York and will be directed by the theater’s artistic director and Tony award winner John Doyle. After the play’s run at Bay Street in August, “As You Like it” will move to CSC for a fall run.
The play tells the story of Rosalind as she travels in the Forest of Arden to escape the politics of the city. Disguising herself as a man and accompanied by her cousin Celia and Touchstone the clown, they embark on a journey where Rosalind finds love, laughter and perhaps even herself.
Mr. Schwartz explained that because “As You Like It” is one of Shakespeare’s most musical plays, it will be presented as such at Bay Street. The setting will be a 1930s jazz era nightclub — inspired by the Cotton Club in Harlem — and the music will be original compositions by Academy, Tony and Grammy award winning composer Stephen Schwartz (who, for the record, is Scott Schwartz’s father).
“It will be inspired by the great music of Porter and Gershwin and some of the actors will play instruments,” said Mr. Schwartz. “It’s almost a musical and we’re sort of treating it as such, but with the original Shakespeare text.”
“André De Shields, the Obie winner and Broadway legend will play Touchstone,” added Mr. Schwartz. “He was the original Wiz. He’s amazing.”
“As You Like It” runs August 8 to September 3.
For all three plays this season, Talkback Tuesdays will be offered after each Tuesday performance (with the exception of the Tuesday of the opening week). Cast, creative team and members of the community with experiences related to the subject matter of each play will take part.
“I think this might be the most exciting season yet,” said Mr. Schwartz. “The works are very different but speak to issues of identity, imagination and self discovery.”
“I think it will be a really thrilling summer. I can’t wait for each of these shows.”
Tickets and subscriptions for the summer season are available now by going to the baystreet.org or calling the box office at (631) 725-9500.
Comedy and More Also on Tap
In addition to the three mainstage plays, Bay Street Theater has a full slate of events lined up for the summer season, including Comedy Club stand up on three Saturday nights this summer (Colin Quinn will be first up on May 27 at 8 p.m.)
The theater will also host six Music Mondays beginning with Betty Buckley on July 10, and on August 25 and 26, Bay Street will present a free outdoor reading of “Kiss Me Kate,” the musical based on Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew” at Mashashimuet Park.
“It’s totally free for the community. I view it as Bay Street’s ‘thank you’ to our community every summer,” said Mr. Schwartz.
Also offered this summer is an expanded line up of educational programs and theater camps for ages 4 through high school. Among the new offerings for teens this year is a series of master classes — including a trio of “triple threat” classes over three Mondays in July and August — one each focused on acting, singing and dancing. Teens can also take part in acting, directing and design workshops or one focused on costume design.