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Summer theater is cropping up in unexpected places

Consider a pilgrimage to see ‘Hamlet’ in Canada, Broadway shows in Kansas City and St. Louis, or ‘Cinderella’ in Utah

(Pierre Mornet/Illustration for The Washington Post)
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Theater percolates in nooks and crannies, small-town recesses, and big-city buckets, all across America. Some favorite memories are of encountering shows, festivals and drama-focused conversations in far-flung parts of the United States. Like the time a modest-size Kansas town mounted a Kander and Ebb celebration — with Kander and Ebb in attendance. Or the tiny venue that premiered a drama about the Civil War, just blocks from the onetime battlefield that was its setting. Or the slate of stage-whodunnits that improbably cropped up in a less-traveled part of Kentucky, not far from the world’s reportedly largest sassafras tree.

Even in the wake of a pandemic, this summer brings striking examples of the theater field’s breadth, depth and glorious eclecticism. So think of the season’s extra daylight hours as additional time to look beyond your standard artistic horizon and your usual entertainment suspects, and make a pilgrimage or two, at least in spirit.

‘Bakkhai’

The ads say, “Party like it’s 399 B.C.” Playwright Anne Carson brings a new adaptation of Euripides’s “The Bacchae” to Baltimore, in a production directed by Mike Donahue, with music by Diana Oh and choreography by Willia Noel Montague. The play is billed as containing “original music, debauchery, and a whole lot of wine.” Let the summertime revels begin. Through June 19 at Baltimore Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St., Baltimore. centerstage.org.

‘Common Ground Revisited’

Based partly on J. Anthony Lukas’s groundbreaking 1985 book “Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families,” this world-premiere play follows the history of mandated school busing in Boston through three families who represent a cross-section of the city. The piece, developed by Huntington Theatre Company in conjunction with ArtsEmerson, is directed by Melia Bensussen and Kirsten Greenidge. Through June 26 at the Huntington Theatre, 264 Huntington Ave., Boston. huntingtontheatre.org.

‘Hamlet’

Better late than never for the Stratford Festival in Canada: This summer marks the first time that the august Shakespeare company is staging “Hamlet” with a Black actor, Amaka Umeh, in the title role. The production in the company’s Festival Theatre is directed by Peter Pasyk and features Graham Abbey as Claudius, Maev Beaty as Gertrude and Andrea Rankin as Ophelia. Through Oct. 28 at the Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ontario. stratfordfestival.ca.

Oregon Shakespeare Festival

A dueling, lawbreaking, queer 17th-century opera singer will feint and parry at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival this summer. “Revenge Song,” a musical tale from playwright Qui Nguyen (“Vietgone,” Disney’s “Raya and the Last Dragon”), draws on the reportedly true story of Julie d’Aubigny, a French singer and sword fighter born around 1673. Other offerings this year at OSF include Mona Mansour’s “Unseen,” Dominique Morisseau’s “Confederates” and director Rosa Joshi’s production of Shakespeare’s “King John,” featuring female and nonbinary performers. Through Jan. 1, 2023, at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, 15 S. Pioneer St., Ashland, Ore. osfashland.org.

‘Noir’

Without a shadow of a doubt, if you find yourself in Houston, you should check out the world premiere musical “Noir” at the Alley Theatre. Duncan Sheik, the singer-songwriter and musical theater composer (“Spring Awakening”), and Kyle Jarrow (“The SpongeBob Musical”) wrote this homage to the classic crime-flick tradition. The pair are experienced at dramatizing atmospheric narrative genres, having collaborated on the ghost-story-steeped “Whisper House.” With direction by Tony Award winner Darko Tresnjak (“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder”), “Noir” might wing as nimbly as a Maltese falcon. Through July 3 at the Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Ave., Houston. alleytheatre.org.

‘Texas’

There may be no more idyllic setting for a theater production this summer — or any summer — than the long-running tradition that is the concisely named musical “Texas,” staged for the past 50-plus years at an amphitheater carved out of a natural basin in Palo Duro Canyon. A family-friendly show about 19th-century settlers in the Texas Panhandle, “Texas” features horses, pyrotechnics and water effects, and 60-plus actors, singers and dancers. Patrons who arrive early can partake in such pre-show offerings as a wagon ride to the venue and a chuck wagon dinner. Through Aug. 13 at the Pioneer Amphitheatre, 11450 State Park Hwy. Rd. 5, Canyon, Tex. texas-show.com.

San Diego’s Old Globe

Evoking the venerated Globe Theatre in London, San Diego’s Old Globe features a trio of venues, including the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, a 615-seat outdoor stage that capitalizes on Southern California’s hospitable temperatures and oceanside breeze. That theater will host a pair of Shakespearean classics this summer: “The Taming of the Shrew,” directed with a contemporary spin by Shana Cooper (June 5-July 10), and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” helmed by Patricia McGregor (July 31-Sept. 4). June 5-Sept. 4 at the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego. theoldglobe.org.

Starlight Theatre’s Broadway series

With an open-air setting in Kansas City’s Swope Park and space for nearly 8,000 spectators, the Starlight Theatre makes for a one-of-a-kind stop for touring Broadway shows. And it’s the second-longest-running self-producing outdoor theater in the nation, behind the Muny in St. Louis. This summer, audiences can catch “Hairspray” (June 7-12), “Anastasia” (Aug. 9-14), “Sister Act” (Aug. 16-21) and “The Prom” (Sept. 13-18) on the 72-year-old stage, which is framed by striking 60-foot towers. June 7-Sept. 18 at the Starlight Theatre, 4600 Starlight Rd., Kansas City, Mo. kcstarlight.com.

Burning Coal Theatre Company

In 35 height-of-summer minutes, you’d barely have time to watch a Popsicle melt, or apply your sunblock properly before a dip in the pool. But if you’re in Raleigh, N.C., in June, that half-hour-plus could deliver not one, but two short, mysterious plays by the great Caryl Churchill. Burning Coal Theatre Company’s production of the roughly 20-minute “What If If Only” is billed as a U.S. premiere, and the 15-minute “Air” (which debuted in May 2020 as part of “The Lockdown Plays,” a British-produced podcast series) as that script’s onstage world premiere. Blink and you miss them, so don’t blink. June 9-26 at the Burning Coal Theatre Company, 224 Polk St., Raleigh. burningcoal.org.

American Players Theatre

Even the town’s name conveys promise: Spring Green, Wis., is home to American Players Theatre, which in the summer and fall produces multiple shows in rotating repertory in a 1,089-seat outdoor amphitheater and 201-seat indoor venue. This year’s nine-play lineup includes Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s comedy “The Rivals,” directed by Aaron Posner, and Jessica Swale’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility,” directed by Marti Lyons. Jen Silverman’s Bronte riff “The Moors” will also be wuthering. June 11-Nov. 20 at the American Players Theatre, 5950 Golf Course Rd., Spring Green, Wis. americanplayers.org.

The Muny’s 104th season

Billing itself as the nation’s oldest and largest outdoor musical venue, the Muny has been staging productions in St. Louis’s Forest Park since the early 1900s. The amphitheater accommodates nearly 11,000 patrons, with the last nine rows — some 1,500 seats — free to the public on a first-come, first-served basis. This summer’s slate features productions of “Chicago,” “Camelot,” “Mary Poppins,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Legally Blonde,” “The Color Purple” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” with myriad Broadway veterans among the casts. June 13-Aug. 18 at the Muny, #1 Theatre Dr., St. Louis. muny.org.

Shakespeare Dallas

Shakespeare Dallas was born in 1972, when local actor and director Bob Glenn performed his one-man version of “Hamlet” free at Dallas’s Fair Park, and now the company is celebrating its 50th anniversary with another summer of Shakespeare in the Park. A pair of productions will take turns occupying East Dallas’s Samuell-Grand Amphitheatre: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” directed by Raphael Parry (June 15-July 23), and “The Tempest,” helmed by Jenni Stewart (June 22-July 22). June 15-July 23 at the Samuell-Grand Amphitheatre, 6200 E. Grand Ave., Dallas. shakespearedallas.org.

Free Shakespeare in the Park

For many, the Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in the Park programming is the first image conjured when discussing outdoor American theater. Staging Shakespeare at Central Park’s Delacorte Theater for six decades, the Public hands out same-day tickets via in-person distributions in Central Park and the five boroughs, plus an in-person lottery and a digital drawing. This summer, the Public will stage “Richard III” — directed by Robert O’Hara (“Slave Play”) and starring “Black Panther’s” Danai Gurira in the title role (June 17-July 17), followed by Shaina Taub’s musical adaptation of “As You Like It” (Aug. 10-Sept. 11). June 17-Sept. 11 at the Delacorte Theater, 81 Central Park West, New York. publictheater.org.

‘To Kill a Mockingbird’

The always incisive Richard Thomas seems an ideal choice to play Atticus Finch, the humane central character of both Harper Lee’s classic novel and Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation. A Broadway hit directed by Bartlett Sher, the play has commenced a national tour and arrives in Washington this summer after stops in Chicago, Cincinnati and Schenectady, N.Y. June 21-July 10 at the Kennedy Center. kennedy-center.org.

‘Broadway in the Park’

For the second straight summer, Arlington’s Signature Theatre is teaming up with Wolf Trap for an evening of show tunes under the stars. This year’s event is headlined by Tony winners Kelli O’Hara (“Kiss Me, Kate”) and Adrienne Warren (“Tina: The Tina Turner Musical”), with local favorites Erin Driscoll, Rayshun LaMarr, Kevin McAllister, Donna Migliaccio, Nova Y. Payton, Awa Sal Secka and Bobby Smith also on the docket. The performance is directed by Matthew Gardiner, Signature’s first-year artistic director who helmed vibrant productions of the musicals “Rent” and “She Loves Me” during the theater’s 2021-2022 season. June 24 at Wolf Trap, 1551 Trap Rd., Vienna, Va. wolftrap.org.

Williamstown Theatre Festival

Anyone who caught director Daniel Fish’s iconoclastic take on “Oklahoma!” will be at least curious about his “Most Happy in Concert,” running July 13-31 at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Conceived and directed by Fish, with choreography by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar and a cast slated to include Tina Fabrique and Mary Testa, the production bends a new lens on Frank Loesser’s score for the 1956 musical “The Most Happy Fella.” The festival’s other offerings include Alex Edelman’s “Just for Us” and Anna Ouyang Moench’s comedy thriller “Man of God.” July 5-Aug 14 at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, 1000 Main St., Williamstown, Mass. wtfestival.org.

‘Kinky Boots’

In terms of sheer spectacle, this summer’s marquee outdoor event may be the Hollywood Bowl’s production of “Kinky Boots,” the rollicking 2013 Broadway musical featuring a book by Harvey Fierstein and music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper. Original director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell returns to helm this special staging in the nearly 18,000-seat venue, which is marking its 100th anniversary. Emmy winner Wayne Brady and Scissors Sisters frontman Jake Shears are reprising the roles they played on Broadway, with “Star Wars” actress Kelly Marie Tran also starring. July 8-10 at the Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles. hollywoodbowl.com.

Contemporary American Theater Festival

Cyberwar. Antarctic research. A psychiatric hospital in 1935. These and other eclectic topics have inspired the playwrights represented at the Contemporary American Theater Festival this summer. The showcase at Shepherd University in West Virginia always rustles up a goodly number of world-premiere and newish works, and this year’s lineup is additionally gratifying as a feat of commitment: The six plays — by Chisa Hutchinson, Victor Lesniewski, Jacqueline Goldfinger, Caridad Svich, Terence Anthony and Kevin Artigue — were originally slated for 2020. July 8-31 at the Contemporary American Theater Festival, 92 W. Campus Dr., Shepherdstown, W.Va. catf.org.

‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

Two years after “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was set to occupy the National Building Museum, William Shakespeare’s fantastical forest will finally take root for a production amid the museum’s vast atrium and dramatic Corinthian columns. Victor Malana Maog directs this staging, which is produced by the Folger Theatre amid renovations to that company’s historic East Capitol Street headquarters. The Building Museum’s theatrical makeover — billed as “The Playhouse” and developed in association with the University of South Carolina — also will host sword-fighting demonstrations, a “Midsummer”-themed scavenger hunt and other activities between performances. July 12-Aug. 28 at the National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW. folger.edu.

‘American Prophet’

It doesn’t get more D.C. than this. A new musical is birthed at Arena Stage, transferring to the stage the oratory and ideas of Frederick Douglass, the great 19th-century abolitionist. (His Anacostia home, Cedar Hill, is a national historic site.) The production, which was delayed by pandemic shutdowns, is steered by director Charles Randolph-Wright, with an original score by Marcus Hummon. July 15-Aug. 28 at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St. SW. arenastage.org.

‘Cinderella’ in Utah

Utah’s Sundance Mountain Resort has been staging outdoor theater in the shadow of Mount Timpanogos since 1970, and collaborating on productions with Utah Valley University since 2008. Having previously staged the likes of “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Footloose,” “The Sound of Music” and “Mamma Mia!,” Sundance this summer is producing Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical adaptation of “Cinderella.” For more adventurous theatergoers, the picturesque resort also offers fly-fishing, horseback riding, ziplines and mountain biking. July 21-Aug. 13 at Sundance Mountain Resort, 8841 N. Alpine Loop Rd., Sundance, Utah. sundanceresort.com.

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