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Arts & Culture June 2019


Focusing on the new — and the fun

Adirondack festival plans three musicals and a thriller in milestone season


Sid Solomon, Sam Kedere, Janet Krupin and Luce Lavely perform in Adirondack Theatre Festival’s 2018 production of “The Jedi Handbook.” The festival will offer four new shows for its 25th season. Courtesy photo/Jim McLaughlin


Contributing writer


In the world of professional theater, a new play is something of a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, it’s a creative necessity: Contemporary playwrights need to have their imaginative works brought forth on the stage. Yet on the other hand, especially in regional theater where most new plays come to fruition, each one seems to teeter on a razor’s edge of becoming either beloved -- or a flop.

Although many will fall between the two extremes, those that wind up in the latter category can ruin a small company’s summer season, financially and otherwise. For this reason, stages that tout their development of new plays often do so in a series-type format: They help shepherd along one new play each season while also offering a slate of tried-and-true audience pleasers – shows that are a safer bet for keeping the seats filled and the coffers at least somewhat full.
But Adirondack Theatre Festival, which this summer will mark its 25th season, is staying true to its commitment of staging nothing but new plays – and making it work. Chad Rabinovitz, the festival’s artistic director, said the Glens Falls company is ramping up for the nearly impossible task of trying to surpass last summer’s season, the most successful in its history.
“I’m proud to be a part of an organization that plays such a vital role not only in the local arts scene but in the national theater community,” Rabinovitz said.

Prior to the company’s 2018 season, Rabinovitz reached back to his Indiana roots – where he also still serves as artistic director of Bloomington Playwrights Project – and brought in Jessica Reed to serve as Adirondack Theatre Festival’s new managing director in place of the departing Bridget Dunigan.

Reed, speaking recently in a break from briefing newly arrived student interns and organizing the festival’s growing summer staff, said the challenge to excel in this silver anniversary season is “something that everyone here at ATF is ready for.”

Of the four main-stage shows that will make up the 2019 season, three are musicals.
“Musicals are lively, vibrant and entertaining,” Reed said. “They engage people on so many different levels and tend to leave very positive vibes with audiences. But we didn’t set about to select them that way. All four of our plays for this summer are, we believe, the best four plays ATF considered to bring to our audiences.”


Four shows in a 25th season
Here are the details on the four main-stage productions:

• “Calling All Kates,” June 14-22. The season begins with this romantic comedy musical by Jeremy Schonfeld and Emily Goodson. The storyline was derived from the true story of Marc, who works out the intricate logistics of an around-the-world honeymoon.

“Not everything goes as planned,” Reed said. “Marc’s fiancee ends the relationship after all this crazy planning, and he has all these plane tickets and no way to return or transfer them.”
This being the age of social media, Marc trolls the Internet in search of someone with the exact same name as his ex to travel the globe with him. Then the fun begins.

Rabinovitz, who will direct the musical, said producing it this season was “as close to a no-brainer as we could get.”
“‘Calling All Kates’ was featured in our 2018 season as a developmental reading,” Rabinovitz said. “It was without a doubt the most successful and well-attended reading we’ve ever done. The show is even better now and is ready for a fully staged, hysterical and heartfelt production.”

• “The Enlightenment of Percival von Schmootz,” July 5-13. The season resumes right after Independence Day with another musical, this one by the celebrated comedic songwriting duo of Michael Kooman and Chris Dimond and directed by Scott Weinstein (“Knights of the Sales Office”).

The story has an absurdist streak.
“Think Monty Python reinvented for today,” Rabinovitz said.
Its main character, Percival von Schmootz, is a young man fed up with a world filled with plagues, pestilence and poor personal hygiene. He embarks on a mission to end the Dark Ages, and he meets with hysterically calamitous consequences throughout his often ill-advised attempts to bring the light of hope to the world.

• “Sequence,” July 23-27. The season’s third show changes the pace after two raucous musicals, as Adirondack Theatre serves up a razor’s-edge, sweat-inducing science thriller from Canadian playwright Arun Lakra, directed by Marshall Pailet (“Loch Ness” and “Nikola Tesla Drops the Beat”).

The plot of this suspenseful tale follows Theo, who has been named Time magazine’s “Luckiest Man Alive” after nailing a double-or-nothing bet on the Super Bowl coin toss for 20 years running. 

As the 21st coin toss approaches, he’s preparing to risk $800 million on the wager. Then, the mathematical algorithm through which he makes his annual predictions is purportedly exposed by a young woman. 

“‘Sequence’ came to us from our northern neighbors in Canada, and it has won so many honors geared toward new plays,” Reed said.

Rabinovitz said the play has earned the Woodward/Newman Drama Award and the Betty Mitchell Award for Outstanding New Play and topped the field in the Calgary Theatre Critics Award for Best New Script. “Sequence” also won the grand prize of the Alberta Playwriting Competition, a Gwen Pharis Ringwood Award for Drama, and was a finalist in the STAGE International Script Competition.

“The list of awards is so impressive, we just had to bring this play south of the border to begin its U.S. stage life here in Glens Falls,” Rabinovitz said.

• “Beau,” Aug. 3-9. The festival will close its 2019 season with a third musical, this one presented by special arrangement with R.K. Greene of The StoryLine Project LLC.
“Beau,” an uplifting story by Douglas Lyons and Ethan D. Pakchar, tells of young Ace Baker, who doesn’t have a father or father figure in his life -- until he turns 12, and a phone call discloses that his grandfather, Beau, is alive and well and wanting to be a part of his life – and that Ace’s mother had been aware of it.

Family secrets come to the forefront, and Ace rushes to make up for lost time with a man who changes his life and puts a guitar in his hand. A talented group of actor-musicians will do the honors in bringing Beau and Ace to life.

“There is drama, there is a guitar, and yet again a musical will lift up the audience with infinite promise,” Rabinovitz said.


Through laughter and music
The patterns of music and inspiration in Adirondack Theatre Festival’s four main-stage productions this season are unmistakable and unavoidable. They are also completely by design in this milestone period for the company.

“It’s difficult to top what we did last year: full houses, more than 10,000 tickets sold,” Reed said. “I think Chad really gave a lot of thought in terms of how to come up with something special for our 25th, after last year.”

Rabinovitz conceded that he felt this approach to the 2019 season “is needed now more than ever.”

“We are going through one of our most difficult times as a people,” Rabinovitz said. “More than anything, I wanted people to be lifted up through laughter, through music, and most of all, to be entertained.”

He explained that it would have been easy to “just insert the expected target politician joke” that a largely liberal audience might expect, but that such an approach would be “too simplistic, and not very enduring.”

“Instead, we hope that our audiences are thoroughly entertained without us dragging in the same things that are dragging them down in other parts of their lives,” Rabinovitz said.
For the few hours someone attends a show, he said, “they can escape it all, enjoy themselves, and be inspired by the stories we tell here at ATF.

“Can’t find these plays anywhere else but here, either,” he added.

For more information or tickets to Adirondack Theatre Festival shows, visit www.atfestival.org or call (518) 480-4878.