There are not many things I enjoy more than seeing a classic book or historical figure come to life on stage. For me, it is a magical experience to see something that I have previously read become transformed into a live performance. It is as if the words from a page come alive onstage. I have seen classic pieces of literature transformed into remarkable plays and musicals, as well as historical figures and events turned into shows where I am reminded of how profound live theatre can be.
In the first few months of 2015, a number of Philadelphia theatres are offering productions where they are bringing to life a novel or stories about historical figures on their stage. These shows include plays about novelists and a musical based on a 1975 novel by E.L . Doctorow. Here are a few shows I am looking forward to this winter in Philadelphia theatre.
The first show I am looking forward to is Mark Twain Unplugged at Act II Playhouse in Ambler, Pa, which runs January 20 – February 8, 2015. This original play, written and starring Tom Teti, will feature an evening with one of America’s literary icons, Mark Twain. According to a press release from Act II, “Mark Twain Unplugged is a recreation of one of Twain's legendary speeches in the mid-19th Century. The show features live music from the time period.” The fact that audiences get to listen to stories from one of America’s greatest storytellers is something I am eagerly looking forward to this season.
Next up is Mickle Street at Walnut Street Theatre. This show is at the Walnut’s Independence Studio on 3 and runs February 17 – March 8, 2015. Mickle Street is a world premiere play written by local playwright, Michael Whistler. This play tells the story of Oscar Wilde, and about how during a visit to Philadelphia in 1882 he crossed the Delaware River to Camden to visit America’s great poet, Walt Whitman. This show will be a play where audiences get to spend time with two great writers, and I am curious to see this meeting between Wilde and Whitman come to life on stage.
Lastly, the musical I am really looking forward to is Ragtime. This show will be at Bristol Riverside Theatre in Bristol on March 17 – April 12, 2015. Ragtime is based on the 1975 novel by E.L. Doctorow with a book by Terrance McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. The musical is a portrait of life in America at the turn of the century. As with any musical based on a piece of literature, for me it is remarkable to see the words and characters from this written work come to life on stage.
Anytime a show, whether it is a play or musical, is able to capture the essence of a writing or author is mesmerizing. It is a reminder of not only how powerful live theatre can be, but also that there are so many stories worth telling in live theatre. Composer/lyricist Neil Bartram expresses this in wonderful lyrics as he conveys this idea of the beauty of writing, and how it can withstand time. He captures it beautifully in the song “1876” from the musical The Story of My Life. Bartram’s lyrics, “When things are written down/They don’t just disappear like vapor/They travel on through time/Beyond that one specific year.”
Kelli Curtin is editor and writer for theatresensation.com. In addition, she is a contributor for the online site broadwayworld.com and is a freelance writer. Kelli is excited to share her passion about theatre and the Arts with her readers. Kelli can be found on twitter @theatrescribe and on Facebook/theatresensation.