MetroStage theater is on a mission

Chris Banks - Tracey Stephens and Russell Sunday in MetroStage’s "A Broadway Christmas Carol" with puppets singing "It Sucks to Be Thee," a parody of "Avenue Q."

MetroStage producing artistic director Carolyn Griffin says the theater’s 2013-14 season is “mission-driven.”

It's not about picking a theme and jamming the square pegs of plays into the round holes of a grand vision. Griffin sounds much more pragmatic about her process. “We have a certain size space, a certain configuration, a certain relationship between the audience and the stage, and we have one dressing room. . . . When I find a show that fits what we like to do, which is small, intimate, powerful, entertaining, with an emotional core, then you know what? We’re going to produce it.”

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Gee’s Bend

Sept. 12-Nov. 3

Written by Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder, directed by Thomas W. Jones II

Music direction by William Knowles and William Hubbard

Griffin was drawn to the African American themes and backdrop of gospel music in this play set during the civil rights movement in Alabama. Based on a true story, “Gee’s Bend” follows the women of the titular town and their use of quilting as a way to cope with segregation and family strife. The real quilts were on display at the Corcoran in 2004, Griffin said, and the play has not been performed in Washington before.

A Broadway Christmas Carol

Nov. 21-Dec. 22

Created by Kathy Feininger, directed by Michael Sharp

This will be the fourth season of MetroStage’s holiday show, a retelling of “A Christmas Carol” set to 33 Broadway show tunes. “People still, as of yesterday, are talking about it and how they’re coming back to see it again. The last week of the run last season, I had people taking me aside saying, ‘What do we have to do to guarantee that you will bring this back next year?’ ”

Ella: First Lady of Song

Jan. 16-March 9, 2014

Written by Lee Summers, directed and choreographed by Maurice Hines

Hines, who directed and choreographed last season’s “Josephine Tonight,” brought this musical about Ella Fitzgerald, her cousin/traveling buddy Georgiana, and Fitzgerald’s manager, the legendary jazz impresario Norman Grantz, to MetroStage’s attention. The show will feature a five-piece band.

In rep April 3-May 18, 2014:

The Thousandth Night

Written by Carol Wolf, directed by John Vreeke

Underneath the Lintel

Written by Glen Berger, directed by John Vreeke

MetroStage has produced “The Thousandth Night” before, in 2002, “and it’s a stunning, very amazing one-man show” that takes place during the Holocaust. The plan was to just produce “The Thousandth Night,” but Paul Morella, who is currently performing in MetroStage’s “Ghost-Writer” (which has just been extended through June 16), had done “Underneath the Lintel,” also a one-man show, and suggested Griffin consider it for a future season.

“It has such an interesting, intriguing compatibility and synthesis with ‘Thousandth Night’ and I just thought, I would love to do this together so we can really have a dialogue about these two plays,” Griffin said. “They both speak, to be perfectly global about it, to the meaning of life, the strength of the individual, the search for meaning. And they both have a Jewish underpinning.”

Kennedy Center

“Anything Goes”

Ask Rachel York what she needs to do to get inside the head of Reno Sweeney, the singing-and-dancing nightclub evangelist at the center of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” and she slides right into that 1930s “His Girl Friday” accent to say, “When you’ve been doing this for as long as I have, dot, dot, dot,” and then she bursts out laughing.

York has been at the Sweeney gig for a while, first in 2001 in Los Angeles, where she earned an Ovation nomination, then in Kansas City, Mo., and finally in the Roundabout Theatre Company’s touring production that will arrive at the Kennedy Center on June 11.

“When I read the script and I read the character,” York said, “I saw her as a sort of quintessential 1930s dame. I grew up watching a lot of ’30s and ’40s films, so I based her on several different women from that era: a little bit of Mae West, a little bit of Jean Harlow, a little bit of Barbara Stanwyck [and] Ginger Rogers.

“There was a style from that period of time, a style of talking and walking, so I sort of instilled that into the character.”

Reno Sweeney is a flexible icon, instantly recognizable yet open to interpretation. “I think that’s why she’s a great character,” York said. “Everybody from Ethel Merman,” who originated the role on Broadway in 1934, “to Sutton Foster,” who won a Tony for her performance in the 2011 Broadway revival, “can play the character as very different people.”

Because she would like to spend as much time as possible with her 2-year-old daughter, York has the modern-mom-to-tap-dancing-dame transformation down to a neat 30 minutes. “There are many times you may see some woman just rushing by you as you’re entering the theater, and it might be Rachel York, sprinting,” she says.

“Once you get into your makeup and your costume, it’s sort of a conditioned response at this point,” York adds. “My body just kind of goes there. And it’s a wonderful escape for me, because if I’ve had a rough day or what have you, I can just, bam, go into Reno mode and I’m suddenly on the S.S. American. I’m on a cruise, and I get to fall in love and get swept off my feet and get married.” Eight times a week.

June 11-July 7 at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F Street NW, kennedy-center.org, 202-467-4600

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