Next Season Preview: National Theatre

The revivified National Theatre rolls out its 2014-15 season in our 11th installment of looking ahead at D.C.’s theater offerings. It’s a roster that includes the Washington debuts of “Newsies” and the Tony-winning revival of “Pippin.” Plus Dame Edna and Donny and Marie Osmond! (Our previous glimpses have been at the new seasons at Shakespeare Theatre Company, Woolly Mammoth Theatre, Arena Stage, the Kennedy Center, Round House Theatre, Synetic Theater, Signature Theatre, Ford’s Theatre, Studio Theatre and Folger Theatre.)


Aaron J. Albano (left) and Jess LeProtto with the cast of “Newsies.” (Photo by Deen van Meer)

Company trademark: Broadway on the Potomac.

The season:

— “Dirty Dancing, The Classic Story on Stage,” based on Eleanor Bergstein’s screenplay, directed by James Powell (Aug. 26-Sept. 14)

— “Donny & Marie: Christmas at the National” (Dec. 2-7)

— “Pippin,” by Stephen Schwartz and Roger O. Hirson, directed by Diane Paulus (Dec. 16-Jan.4, 2015)

— “Chicago the Musical,” by John Kander, Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, directed by David Hyslop (Feb. 10-15, 2015)

— “Dame Edna and Barry Humphries’s The Final Farewell Tour” (April 21-26, 2015)

— “Newsies,” by Alan Menken, Jack Feldman and Harvey Fierstein, directed by Jeff Calhoun (June 9-21, 2015)

Highlights: Paulus’s “Pippin” is a rethought version of the 1972 musical, a soft-rock fusion of modern vaudeville and medieval history. The director (“Hair,” “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess”) has added a New Circus overlay; the show arrives in D.C. complete with acrobatic acts and the 2013 Tony for best musical revival. “Newsies” is the other major offering of a musical on a national tour; it’s a high-energy Broadway translation of Disney’s 1992 live-action movie musical, about a strike by New York newsboys at the turn of the 20th Century. “Dirty Dancing,” an adaptation of the popular 1987 movie, is also new to Washington. “Chicago,” on the other hand, has been to town many times. The season is rounded off by two wildly divergent entertainment acts: the perennially spoofy Dame Edna and the perpetually smiley Donny and Marie Osmond.

Analysis: It’s nice to see the National providing credible competition to the Kennedy Center as a stopping place for national tours. Maybe its rejuvenated efforts will push the bigger institution to up its wobbly game, when it comes to theater offerings. That the National snared both “Pippin” and “Newsies” while the Kennedy Center has to sell tickets to the tired “Evita” and, oy, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” suggests that it is being aggressive about filling the gaps the Kennedy Center is leaving. Granted, the center has an original musical, “Little Dancer,” on its 2014-15 agenda, and the National does not–though the National was the birthplace this season of “If/Then” with Idina Menzel, now running on Broadway. In any event, there’s a rivalry brewing that can accrue to theatergoers’ benefit. “Dirty Dancing” and “Chicago,” meanwhile, feel like the least interesting entries on the National’s calendar–compared, anyway, to the cheeky Dame Edna and yes, even the caffeinated Donny & Marie!

 

Peter Marks joined the Washington Post as its chief theater critic in 2002. Prior to that he worked for nine years at the New York Times, on the culture, metropolitan and national desks, and spent about four years as its off-Broadway drama critic.
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