Fall Arts Preview, the Redux

Take your choice – indoors or out.

Take your choice this week – indoors or out. A fat schedule of seasonal celebrations and Halloween events offers plenty of opportunities to scare up some family fun amid the glorious colors of a northeastern Ohio fall.

If you prefer your entertainment in the comfort of a theater seat or well-appointed museum or gallery, there's plenty of that as well.

Herewith, the best of the coming months in arts, entertainment, pumpkins, parades, and hair-raising fright sites.


Of the hundreds of plays on Cleveland-area stages this season, perhaps the best title belongs to The Motherf**ker With the Hat, the Tony-nominated dark comedy by Stephen Adly Guirgis, which opened the 53rd season this month at Dobama, northeast Ohio's oldest alternative theater. The play is about a drug dealer who's trying to stay sober and in love with his coke-addicted girlfriend—until he spots another man's hat in their hotel room.

"It's been described as a really low-class, modern Honeymooners," says Nathan Motta, Dobama's associate artistic director. "It's really funny, and you fall in love with the characters." (The play, which runs through October 7, was reviewed in Scene last week.)

Motta is equally excited about A Bright New Boise (Oct. 26-Nov. 18), in which Will, a disgraced evangelical, works at an Idaho craft store and tries to reconnect with his estranged teenage son. "This playwright, Samuel D. Hunter, is only 30 and has already won the Obie Award," Motta marvels. "The play continually surprises you. At first it's quirky, but then it hits you with these sharp left and right turns. And the ending – which is epic, huge and theatrical – everyone will be talking about it."

Also on the Cleveland Heights theater's fall schedule: Amy Herzog's 4000 Miles (Dec. 7-Jan. 6), in which 21-year-old Leo moves in with his feisty 91-year-old grandmother, played by Cleveland treasure Dorothy Silver.

The very popular Playhouse Square Broadway Series is saving its best for 2013. The coming months feature two staples: The sweetly nostalgic, Tony Award-winning revival of Cole Porter's Anything Goes (Oct. 2-14), a 1930s musical confection about love and deception aboard a London-bound luxury liner; and Disney's Beauty and the Beast (Nov. 6-18), based on the animated film, which should be a big draw for families.

The new year opens with another musical based on a movie, Priscilla: Queen of the Desert (Jan. 15-27). Inspired by a 1994 film about three Australian drag queens on a road trip through the outback, it's a gaudy, bawdy, extravaganza with a karaoke soundtrack and more than 500 outrageous, Tony-winning costumes. Next up is the exuberant Sister Act (March 5-17), a musical based on the Whoopi Goldberg movie.

One of the season's hottest tickets will be War Horse (April 9-21), which began life as a children's book, then metamorphosed into a play, then a Steven Spielberg movie. This production features life-sized horse puppets created by the Handspring Puppet Company of South Africa. The action shifts to the Hanna Theatre for Guys and Dolls, (May 1-June 23), Frank Loesser's durable classic about small-time gamblers in New York, which is being produced by the local Great Lakes Theater company.

And whatever Mitt Romney's showing in the November election, the Mormons will have their day onstage at the Palace Theatre in The Book of Mormon (June 18-July 7), the musical comedy by South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, in collaboration with Avenue Q composer Robert Lopez.

At the elegantly renovated Allen Theatre in Playhouse Square, the venerable Cleveland Play House has opened its 98th season with Lombardi (through Oct. 7, reviewed in this issue). Eric Simonson's biographical portrait of the storied football coach portrays his relationships with his loyal wife, players, and a reporter determined to uncover the man behind the legend.

Playwright Matthew Lopez has become a hot property with his debut, The Whipping Man (Nov. 2-25), a Civil War drama about a Jewish Confederate soldier and two former slaves raised as Jews, who celebrate Passover together and must decide what their future holds. The talents of two local scribes converge in A Carol for Cleveland (Nov. 30-Dec. 23), Cleveland-based playwright Eric Coble's adaptation of a novella by local mystery novelist Les Roberts. Set in the 1970s, the holiday play is about a desperate man who is welcomed into a family's home, where he finds love and forgiveness.

The new year will bring John Van Druten's Bell, Book and Candle (Jan. 11-Feb. 3), about a comely witch who sets her sights on a handsome neighbor; The Devil's Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith (Feb. 15-March 10), with Miche Braden portraying the great blues singer; Good People (March 22-April 14), David Lindsay-Abaire's Tony-nominated comedy about a hard-luck Boston woman who looks up an old flame as a path out of poverty; and Rich Girl (April 19-May 12), Victoria Stewart's modern reimagining of The Heiress, in which the title character's financial-whiz mom tries to vet her daughter's beau, a starving artist.

Karamu House will open its season with Marsha Norman's musical adaptation of Alice Walker's The Color Purple (Oct. 5-28), the story of Celie, who triumphs over a lifetime of abuse. Langston Hughes' beloved gospel musical Black Nativity (Dec. 7-30) retells the birth of Christ based on the Gospel of St. Luke.

A young African American girl in 1960s rural Louisiana is torn between caring for her family and going to college in Judi Ann Mason's comedy-drama A Star Ain't Nothin' But a Hole in Heaven (Feb. 1-24); and John Guare's 6 Degrees of Separation (March 15-April 7) tells the story of a young con man who fools wealthy New Yorkers by claiming he's the son of Sidney Poitier. The Karamu season concludes with Regina Taylor's musical Crowns (May 24-June 16), a celebration of black history told through stories of women and their hats.

Great Lakes Theater started life in 1961 in a high school auditorium on a shoestring budget. It has grown into a $3.7-million-a-year operation producing first-rate classic plays, now permanently housed in Playhouse Square's refurbished Hanna Theatre. GLT launches its season with Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale (Sept. 28-Nov. 4), one of the most popular plays in the Bard's canon.

GLT will update Moliére's The Imaginary Invalid (Oct. 5-Nov. 3), a comedy about a hypochondriac who tries to marry off his daughter to a doctor, to the 1960s, with music of that era. The holiday perennial A Christmas Carol (Nov. 30-Dec. 23) is followed by Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit (Feb. 22-March 10), in which a novelist is haunted by the spirits of his two deceased wives. Then it's back to the Bard for a closer – Much Ado About Nothing (March 29-April 14), Shakespeare's tale of young romance.

Cleveland Public Theatre has been presenting adventurous, cutting-edge theater and educational programs since opening its doors 31 years ago on the second floor of a Detroit Ave. Irish dance hall. The company now resides in the James Levin Theatre, named for CPT's visionary founder, which is the centerpiece of the remarkably successful Gordon Square Arts District renaissance.

CPT's season kicks off with The Kardiak Kid (Oct. 4-20). Though the Browns are now owned by Jimmy Haslam, the team's storied history belongs to its long-suffering fans, who will recognize themselves in Clevelander Eric Schmiedl's play about a fan certain that the Dawgs' epic 1981 defeat was caused by his failure to adhere to his superstitious rituals on that fateful day.

Eight noted playwrights, including Neil LaBute and Paul Rudnick, contributed to Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays (Oct. 4-20), a collection of comedies promoting marriage equality directed by Craig George. CPT shows its social justice side with the annual Y-Haven Theatre Project (Nov. 8-11), which enables residents of Y-Haven transitional housing to create and perform plays about their experiences with addiction and homelessness.

Conni's Avant-Garde Restaurant is not so much a place as a concept, created by a New York theater troupe and named after an abandoned eatery. Conni's brings its immersive dance-hall experience – cabaret seating, supper and cash bar – to CPT with The Secret Social (Dec. 6-23).

The centerpiece of CPT's season is Big Box (January 17-March 9), a showcase of new work by local artists. "Elements Cycle," an ecology-themed collaboration with Oberlin College, includes Water Ways (Jan. 24-Feb. 4) and Earth Plays (Feb. 21-March 9). Nick & Jeremy (March 21-April 6) incorporates conspiracy theories, group hypnosis, propaganda and, naturally, puppets, to reveal secrets of the universe.

Tannis Kowalchuk's one-woman show struck (March 21-April 6) is about her experience after suffering a stroke; Philip Ridley's Tender Napalm (May 2-18) is described as a "high-impact, high-concept" play exploring passion and destruction.

The poetry of William Blake gets an airing in Mickle Maher's There Is a Happiness That Morning Is (May 9-25), and local playwright/director Raymond Bobgan's Rusted Heart Broadcast (May 23-June 8) imagines what happens after a pandemic destroys most of the world, leaving a group of Clevelanders to find a way to stay alive.

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