June 5, 2024

“BRIGHT STAR”: Performances are underway for “Bright Star.” Presented by Kelsey Theatre and Maurer Productions OnStage, and directed by Judi Parrish, the musical runs through June 9 at Kelsey Theatre. Above: Alice Murphy (Lauren Pelaia, standing in front of members of the ensemble) makes a hopeful discovery that a heartbreaking incident from her past may have ended differently than she has been led to believe. (Photo by John M. Maurer)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

There is a striking duality in Bright Star, a musical that is being given an exuberant, heartfelt production at Kelsey Theatre. A story that has a devastating incident at its center is juxtaposed against a rousing, mostly jovial score infused with country and bluegrass songs.

The show’s often humorous but sensitive book is by comedian, actor, and musician Steve Martin. The lyrics are by singer-songwriter Edie Brickell (of Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians, and The Gaddabouts). Brickell and Martin share credit for the story and music. more

May 29, 2024

“PIPPIN”: Theatre Intime and Princeton University Players have staged “Pippin.” Directed by Solomon Bergquist, the musical was presented May 24-26 at the Hamilton Murray Theater. Above, from left: Pippin (Rowan Johnson) contemplates his future, under the dangerous guidance of the Leading Player (Isabella Rivera). (Photo by Elena Milliken)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Theatre Intime has collaborated with the Princeton University Players to present Pippin (May 24-26) to Reunions Weekend audiences. The musical is an apt fit for a college campus at graduation time; its title character, the fictional first son of Charlemagne, has just completed his studies. The show is an odyssey that follows the prince’s search for his life’s purpose.

Pippin has music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, composer and lyricist of the current Broadway hit (and upcoming film series) Wicked, in addition to several musicals that include Godspell, The Magic Show, Children of Eden, and the upcoming The Queen of Versailles. The book is by Roger O. Hirson, who also co-wrote the musical Walking Happy.  more

May 22, 2024

“CHOICE”: Performances are underway for “Choice.” Written by Winnie Holzman, and directed by Artistic Director Sarah Rasmussen, the play runs through June 2 at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre. Above, from left: The friendship between Erica (Kate A. Mulligan) and Zippy (Ilana Levine) is tested by an impassioned disagreement over the latter’s approach to writing an article about a very controversial subject. (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

American political discourse, which already is fraught and polarized, only intensifies when the subject has a religious or spiritual aspect to it.

With Choice, playwright Winnie Holzman examines one of the most polarizing subjects: a woman’s right to choose. On the surface, the play is about reproductive freedom — and the possible ramifications of the decision that is made. But the piece also examines a woman’s a right to choose something else: how to engage with complex moral issues. more

April 10, 2024

“FLIGHT OF A LEGLESS BIRD”: Performances are underway for “Flight of a Legless Bird.” Written by Ethan Luk, and directed by Luk in collaboration with retired Program in Theater faculty member R.N. Sandberg, the play runs through April 13 at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre. Above, from left: Disparate circumstances cause Robin (Wasif Sami) and Leslie (Luk) to meet, after which a unique, unexpected bond is formed. (Photo by James DeSalvo)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

In the film Days of Being Wild (1990), actor Leslie Cheung delivers this line: “I’ve heard that there’s a kind of bird without legs that can only fly and fly, and sleep in the wind when it is tired. The bird only lands once in its life … that’s when it dies.”

Flight of a Legless Bird is an exquisite, poignant play that portrays two queer artists who metaphorically, as Cheung’s dialogue says, “fly and fly.” Both are fleeing from circumstances in which they feel trapped. Certain events cause their “flight” paths to intersect, and they have a chance encounter that affects them in unexpected ways. more

April 3, 2024

“YAGA”: Performances are underway for “Yaga.” Directed by Kat McLaughlin, the play runs through April 7 at the Hamilton Murray Theater. Above, eager college student Henry Kalles (Tate Keuler) and the mysterious Anna (Kristen Tan) strike up a conversation, leading to dangerous events. (Photo by Lucy Shea)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

In an Encyclopedia of Legendary Creatures (1981), author Tom McGowen describes the “dreaded ogress Baba Yaga” as resembling a “frightfully ugly old woman” who had “stone teeth, and her food was people, especially children.” She lived in a hut “perched on four chicken legs” and “flew through the air after her prey in a large mortar, steered with a pestle.”

Noting the character’s basis in Slavic folklore, the website for World History Encyclopedia adds that she also is known “as guardian of the fountains of the waters of life and is sometimes seen as embodying female empowerment.”  more

March 13, 2024

“DREAMGIRLS”: Performances are underway for “Dreamgirls.” Directed by Lili-Anne Brown, the musical runs through March 24 at McCarter’s Matthews Theatre. Above, from left, sporting glittery costumes, the Dreams — Effie (Trejah Bostic), Deena (Ta-Tynisa Wilson), and Lorrell (Keirsten Hodgens) — perform with a backup ensemble that wears the same outfits worn by the Dreams earlier in the show, before they achieve stardom. (Photo by Diane Sobolewski)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

The Motown-inspired musical Dreamgirls has succeeded both as a Broadway show (1981) directed by Michael Bennett, and as a film (2006). But as the dazzling, energetic production that is playing at McCarter demonstrates, this piece is at its best when it can be seen — and heard — on a live stage.

This revival is a collaboration between Goodspeed Musicals, which presented the show in East Haddam, Conn., in late 2023, and McCarter Theatre. Insightfully directed by five-time Jeff Award winner Lili-Anne Brown (assisted by Vaughn Ryan Midder), the production spotlights both the glamour of the music business and the pain caused by machinations that take place behind the scenes. more

February 28, 2024

“PIPELINE”: Performances are underway for “Pipeline.” Directed by Alex Conboy, the play runs through March 3 at the Hamilton Murray Theater.Above, from left: Omari (Matthew Oke), a student who faces expulsion from a private school, and his mother, Nya (Alex Conboy), a public school teacher who desperately wants her son to have opportunities that her students may never have. (Photo by Lucy Shea)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Prior to her career as an actor and award-winning playwright, as well as a story editor and co-producer of the Showtime series Shameless, Dominique Morisseau taught drama at the Henry Ford Academy, a high school near Detroit, where her mother also taught.

So Morisseau’s moving and poetic drama Pipeline (2017), in which the central protagonist is a teacher, is informed by firsthand experience. The play won the Edgerton Foundation New Play Award, and premiered at Lincoln Center Theater. more

February 14, 2024

“GHETTO GODS IN DIVINELAND”: Performances are underway for “Ghetto Gods in Divineland.” Written by Richard Bradford and Anthony Martinez-Briggs, and directed by Ozzie Jones, the play with music runs through February 25 at Passage Theatre. Above, from left, Gekiyla (Tasha Holmes), Papi Shh (Carlo Campbell), and Ameen (Davon Cochran) meet on the Lower Trenton Bridge — a tableau that recalls the Poor Righteous Teachers’ 1990 video for their song “Rock Dis Funky Joint.” (Photo by Jeff Stewart)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

In honor of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, Passage Theatre is presenting the world premiere of Ghetto Gods in Divineland. The play — a vibrant and poignant blend of drama, music, and dance — is a salute to the Poor Righteous Teachers (PRT), a hip-hop group whose members — Wise Intelligent, Culture Freedom, and the late Father Shaheed — were from Trenton.

A press release describes the show as an “experimental Afrofuturism play” that portrays “Trenton’s political and social issues through the lens of the ‘Divineland’ neighborhood — also known as the Mayor Donnelly Project Homes, where the members of PRT met and grew up. The play dramatizes the social trauma of Trenton’s Divineland using progressiveness, modern science, technology, and wisdom from the ancestors.”  more

October 4, 2023

“LOW PAY? DON’T PAY!”: Performances are underway for “Low Pay? Don’t Pay!” Directed by Elena Milliken, the play runs through October 8 at the Hamilton Murray Theater. Above, from left: Fed up with exorbitant grocery prices, Margherita (Gabe Robare) and Antonia (Sophia Vernon) commit a theft that they must conceal, not only from the police, but from Antonia’s husband Giovanni (Tate Keuler). (Photo by Rilla McKeegan)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

The farce Low Pay? Don’t Pay! follows two women who become fed up with increasingly exorbitant food prices. The play’s action begins when they take matters — specifically, armfuls of groceries — into their own hands, and leave a store without paying.

A Google search for “high grocery prices” yields an abundance of articles, from a variety of sources, published within the past few months. Given the painful topicality of the subject matter, casual audiences might think that the play is recent.  more

September 27, 2023

“BULRUSHER”: Performances are underway for “Bulrusher.” Written by Eisa Davis and directed by Associate Artistic Director Nicole A. Watson, the play runs through October 7 at McCarter’s Berlind Theater. Above: The mysterious Vera (Cyndii Johnson, left) bonds with the free-spirited Bulrusher (Jordan Tyson), an orphan who has the gift of clairvoyance. (Photo by T Charles Erickson)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

The title character of Bulrusher has a unique backstory. Orphaned as an infant, she was sent down the river in a basket — the allegory to the story of Moses is obvious — and arrived in the rustic town of Boonville, California.

Now a young woman in 1955, Bulrusher has the gift of clairvoyance. She can tell a character’s future by reading the water that they have touched. In an equally perceptible reference to the story of Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams, Bulrusher has used her talent on behalf of many townspeople.

Playwright and songwriter Eisa Davis begins the multilayered drama with a poetic monologue for the mystic, free-spirited title character. “I float in a basket toward the Pacific, hands blue as huckleberries,” she recites to the river. “What is a motherless daughter but pure will? The river hears me and turns to molasses…. I am born into a new language.” more

July 26, 2023

“PEERLESS”: Performances are underway for Princeton Summer Theater’s production of “Peerless.” Written by Jiehae Park and directed by Eliyana Abraham, the play runs through July 30 at Princeton University’s Hamilton Murray Theater. Above: In a modern twist on “Macbeth,” M (Sydney Hwang, left) is pressured by L (Gaea Lawton) to murder a high school classmate who has been given a coveted spot at a competitive college. (Photo by Faith Wangermann)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Competition to get into universities often is justly described as “cutthroat,” but one would like to think that nobody would take that literally.

Yet that is precisely the plot of Peerless, with which Princeton Summer Theater (PST) is concluding its season. In playwright Jiehae Park’s modern, darkly humorous twist on Macbeth, a high school senior pressures her twin sister to murder a classmate who has been given a coveted spot at an elite institution, identified only as “The College.” more

July 12, 2023

“GHOST QUARTET”: Performances are underway for Princeton Summer Theater’s production of “Ghost Quartet.” Written by Dave Malloy, and directed by BT Hayes, the song cycle runs through July 16 at Princeton University’s Hamilton Murray Theater. Above, from left, are actor-musician storytellers Radon Belarmino, Sam Melton, Grace Zhao, and Kate Short. (Photo by Faith Wangermann)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Composer, lyricist, and performer Dave Malloy memorably describes his Ghost Quartet (2014) as a “song cycle about love, death, and whiskey. A camera breaks and four friends drink in an interwoven tale spanning seven centuries, with a murderous sister, a tree house astronomer, a bear, a subway, and the ghost of Thelonious Monk.” more

June 21, 2023

“BROADWAY’S NEXT HIT MUSICAL”: Princeton Festival has presented “Broadway’s Next Hit Musical.” George Luton was the music director and pianist for the improvised musical comedy, which played June 14 in a performance tent outside Morven Museum & Garden. Above, from left, are cast members Greg Triggs (Emcee), Deb Rabbai, Pat Swearingen, Heidi Gleichauf, and Annie Schiffmann. (Photo by Carolo Pascale)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

The Tony Awards were held earlier this month. As always, the cast and creative teams of several plays and musicals had hoped years of hard work — writing, design, rehearsals, and revision — would be rewarded with a Broadway opening, and the coveted trophy.

Broadway’s Next Hit Musical reverses that sequence of events. The improvised musical comedy, which Princeton Festival presented on June 14, begins with an awards ceremony, in which the audience votes (via applause) for their favorite imagined song and musical. In the second part, the winning show is staged. more

May 31, 2023

“CABARET”: Theatre Intime, CJL Play, and Princeton University Players have staged “Cabaret.” Directed by Andrew Duke ’25, the musical was presented May 25-28 at the Hamilton Murray Theater. Above: performers at the Kit Kat Klub, headlined by Sally Bowles (Juliette Carbonnier, third from left in the front row) exemplify the hedonistic decadence of pre-Nazi Berlin. (Photo by Jazmin Morales)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Set in Berlin at the time of the Nazis’ rise to power, Cabaret largely takes place at the decadent Kit Kat Klub. The musical follows an American author’s odyssey in Berlin as he watches political events unfold, as well as his complicated relationship with the British headlining performer of the nightclub.

Cabaret (1966) has a book by Joe Masteroff. It is adapted from John Van Druten’s play I Am a Camera (1951), which in turn is based on Goodbye to Berlin (1939), a semi-autobiographical novel for which author Christopher Isherwood drew on his experiences in the Weimar Republic, as well as his relationship with cabaret singer Jean Ross.  more

May 17, 2023

“BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY”: Performances are underway for “Blues for an Alabama Sky.” Written by Pearl Cleage, and directed by Associate Artistic Director Nicole A. Watson, the play runs through May 28 at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre. Above, from left, close friends Sam (Stephen Conrad Moore), Guy (Kevin R. Free), Delia (Maya Jackson), and Angel (Crystal A. Dickinson) face a major disruption when a conservative Southerner falls for Angel. (Photo by Matt Pilsner)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

McCarter is presenting Blues for an Alabama Sky. Deftly written by Pearl Cleage, the 1995 drama depicts a tight-knit circle of friends living in a Harlem apartment building in 1930.

The title reflects an unlikely relationship between two of the protagonists. The bohemian neighbors’ lives are upended when a free-spirited blues singer and nightclub performer, Angel (portrayed by Crystal A. Dickinson) is pursued by Leland (Brandon St. Clair), a conservative, religious widower from Tuskegee — who only has been in Harlem for a few weeks.

In a program note, Dramaturg Faye M. Price notes that the time setting captures a period of “great transition for African Americans, from the creative exhilaration of the Harlem Renaissance to the despair of the Great Depression to the migration from the Jim Crow South to cities in the North.”

Cleage probes a confluence of social issues: homophobia, racism, sexism, and reproductive rights. The compelling script — by turns funny and poignant — accomplishes this by letting events unfold as the characters, with vastly divergent worldviews and priorities, interact and collide.


May 3, 2023

“BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY”: McCarter Theatre Center will present “Blues for an Alabama Sky.” Written by Pearl Cleage, and directed by Associate Artistic Director Nicole A. Watson (above), the play will run May 6-28 at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre. (Photo courtesy of McCarter Theatre)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

McCarter will present Blues for an Alabama Sky. Written by Pearl Cleage, the 1995 drama depicts a circle of friends living in a Depression-era apartment building amid the Harlem Renaissance. Performances start May 6.

New roommates — Angel, a recently fired blues singer; and Guy, a promising costume designer with Paris in his sights — live across the hall from Delia, a social worker “who sparks a relationship with the hardworking doctor Sam,” states McCarter’s website, summarizing the plot. “Their lives are upturned when Southern newcomer Leland arrives and falls hard for Angel, who is torn between a stable life in New York City and an exhilarating overseas adventure with Guy. Angel chooses her path, but the decision leads to devastating consequences that shift the trajectory of everyone’s futures and long-held dreams.” more

March 15, 2023

“CLEAN SLATE”: Rider University and Passage Theatre presented “Clean Slate” March 10-12. Written by Kate Brennan and David Lee White, and directed by Artistic Director C. Ryanne Domingues, the musical will be available to stream March 21-26. Above, rehabilitation camp participant Andi (Ellie Pearlman, left) meets Cassie (Rylee Carpenter) from another time — and the two discover that they share a crucial bond. (Photo by Pete Borg. Courtesy of Rider University)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Passage Theatre has partnered with Rider University to present a world premiere musical, Clean Slate. The book is by David Lee White; the music and lyrics are by Kate Brennan. Artistic Director C. Ryanne Domingues directs the production, which was staged at Rider University two weeks before its presentation at Passage.

A feisty, embittered thief, 17-year-old Andi (portrayed by Ellie Pearlman) is sent to a rehabilitation camp, Clean Slate, when her overwhelmed foster mothers Sarah (Miriam White) and Gina (Jessy Gruver) no longer know how to discipline her.

Andi is not the character’s real name. Like all participants at Clean Slate, she is assigned a nickname on arrival, to protect her privacy. Per camp tradition, the nicknames are based on Greek mythology.  more

March 8, 2023

“AUTUMN REWIND”: Theatre Intime has staged “Autumn Rewind.” Written and directed by Le’Naya Wilkerson ’25, the play was presented February 24-March 5 at the Hamilton Murray Theater. Above: Saige (Lara Danisman, center) travels back in time to stop the assassination of Prince Rowan (Zach Lee, left). But this mission leads to encounters with dangerous people at court, including Rowan’s estranged cousin, Ernest (Orion Lopez-Ramirez, right). (Photo by Kate Stewart)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

In Autumn Rewind the protagonist, Saige, is given a chance to go back in time and prevent the assassination of her childhood friend and first love, Prince Rowan. This offer is Faustian, because it requires Saige to make an unthinkable moral decision.

Theatre Intime has presented (February 24-March 5) Autumn Rewind. The poignant fantasy was written and directed by Princeton University student Le’Naya Wilkerson. According to a program note, Wilkerson began writing the play in December 2021 — when she was “going through a difficult time” and “turned to writing, as I often do.”  more

March 1, 2023

WISE CHILDREN’S “WUTHERING HEIGHTS”: Performances are underway for Wise Children’s “Wuthering Heights.” Based on the novel by Emily Brontë; and adapted and directed by Emma Rice, the play with songs runs through March 12 at McCarter’s Matthews Theatre. Above, from left, are the Leader of the Moors (Jordan Laviniere), Heathcliff (Ricardo Castro), and Catherine (Eleanor Sutton) — with a band behind them. (Photo by Jimmy O’Shea)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

McCarter is presenting Wise Children’s Wuthering Heights. Emily Brontë’s 1847 novel, which depicts the idiosyncratic bond between the free-spirited Catherine Earnshaw and her embittered foster brother Heathcliff, is interpreted via a unique, contemporary aesthetic.

Adapted and directed by Emma Rice, this version resolutely avoids the naturalism and textual fidelity typically expected of a Masterpiece episode in favor of a lively, unabashedly theatrical presentation that incorporates music, dance, and puppetry.

Rice is the artistic director of Wise Children, the Bristol (U.K.)-based company that she founded in 2017. McCarter is the final stop on the U.S. tour of Wuthering Heights. more

February 1, 2023

“BETWEEN TWO KNEES”: McCarter Theatre Center presents “Between Two Knees.” Written by The 1491s, and directed by Eric Ting, the play runs through February 12 at McCarter’s Matthews Theatre. Above, back row (from left): Justin Gauthier, James Ryen (behind the parasol), Shaun Taylor-Corbett, Rachel Crowl, Wotko Long, and Jennifer Bobiwash. Front row: Derek Garza and Shyla Lefner. (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

“That was like three plays in one act,” Larry, portrayed by Justin “Jud” Gauthier, quips at the end of the first act of Between Two Knees. The play started performances January 31 at McCarter.

A January 26 “Director’s Cut” offers a glimpse into the rehearsal process (as the production entered tech week). A bright red curtain; Regina Garcia’s scenery; and Elizabeth Harper’s unabashedly, artfully gaudy lighting suggest that theater itself — especially from Vaudeville to the mid-20th century — will be satirized.

As a perk of membership at McCarter, the audience is given an opportunity to watch a brief excerpt until the actors are dismissed for a break. Subsequently, McCarter’s Director of Artistic Initiatives Julie Felise Dubiner co-hosts a discussion and Q&A with Director of Production Dixie Uffelman.

Written by the Intertribal sketch comedy troupe The 1491s, Between Two Knees blends Native American history with humor that multiple cast and production team members liken to that of Mel Brooks. Eric Ting directs the production. more

December 14, 2022

“A CHRISTMAS CAROL”: Performances are underway for “A Christmas Carol.” Adapted and directed by Lauren Keating, the new production runs through December 24 at McCarter’s Matthews Theatre. Above, from left, the Cratchits — Tiny Tim (Yoyo Huang), Margaret (Gisela Chípe), Belinda (Zuriaya Holliman-York), Peter (Desmond Elyseev), and Bob (Kenneth DeAbrew) — celebrate, as Scrooge (Dee Pelletier) watches. (Photo by Matt Pilsner)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

McCarter has resumed its annual tradition of presenting A Christmas Carol — with a new production adapted and directed by Lauren Keating. This version retains some conceptual and design elements that succeeded in past productions, while bringing a fresh viewpoint.

As Town Topics previously noted, “A woman, actor Dee Pelletier, plays Scrooge (as a male character) for the first time. Keating’s additional casting pays particularly close attention to diversity, based on research she has done on London’s population during Dickens’ time.”

It is worth mentioning that a female actor has played Scrooge in other recent productions. Sally Nystuen Vahle played the role for Dallas Theatre Center, and in 2021 Adrienne Sweeney starred in a production by Minnesota’s Commonweal Theatre. However, Pelletier is the first female actor to fill the role for McCarter.

Although Scrooge is still depicted as male in Keating’s version (the young adult version of the character is portrayed, with suitably intense brusqueness, by male actor Matt Monaco), a few other characters have been “re-gendered.”

The crooked Old Joe, to whom Scrooge’s housekeeper Mrs. Dilber (Polly Lee) sells his belongings (Keating develops this sequence, establishing a rapport between the characters much earlier in the story than Dickens does) is refashioned as the more kindly, wholesome Old Jo (Vilma Silva). The solicitors for charity, who usually are depicted as male, here are named Cate (Julie Ann Earls) and Mary (Legna Cedillo). more

November 9, 2022

“TWELFTH NIGHT”: Performances are underway for “Twelfth Night.” Directed by Solomon Bergquist, the play runs through November 13 at the Hamilton Murray Theater. Above, from left, are Maria (Alex Gjaja), Feste (Ava Kronman), Olivia (Alexis Maze), and Viola, disguised as “Cesario” (Rilla McKeegan). (Photo by Kate Stewart)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Twelfth Night reflects the “end of the Christmas season and was a time of revelry, in which the norms of society were inverted,” observes the play’s page on the Royal Shakespeare Company website. The work’s first noted performance took place in February 1602, on the feast of Candlemas.

Princeton University’s Theatre Intime is currently presenting Shakespeare’s comedy. The production’s first weekend coincided with another celebration, albeit a secular one. An alumni reunion (belatedly) celebrated the centennial of Theatre Intime (and the 50th anniversary of Princeton Summer Theater).

However, the script itself rarely feels festive; one could say that revelry is inverted. Countess Olivia, who mourns her brother, is determined not to consider suitors until seven years have passed. Meanwhile, her steward Malvolio is the victim of a cruel prank. By way of acknowledging the play’s gloomy undercurrent, Feste the Fool ends it by singing a song that reminds us that “the rain it raineth every day.”


November 2, 2022

A TRIPLE ANNIVERSARY WEEKEND: The 100th anniversary of Theatre Intime, and the 50th anniversary of Princeton Summer Theater (PST), will be honored at a three-day reunion of alumni “Princeton theater-makers.” Both troupes mount their productions at the Hamilton Murray Theater in Murray-Dodge Hall, above, where Theatre Intime has performed since their 1921-1922 season. (Photo by Bill Charrier ‘69. Courtesy of Friends of Intime)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Princeton University’s Theatre Intime was founded by a group of Princeton undergraduates in 1920. The Friends of Theatre Intime had hoped to schedule a centennial celebration for the fall of 2020, but the pandemic halted those plans.

However, after a two-year delay, “A Triple Anniversary Weekend” will be held from November 4-6. This commemorates the centennial of Theatre Intime, the 50th anniversary of Princeton Summer Theater, and the Hamilton Murray Theater’s centennial as a venue. The event’s website describes the celebration as a “reunion of Princeton theater-makers across the years.”

To ensure that the Princeton community can participate, a Community Pass ($50) is available. This pass provides admission to all events except the alumni meals.

A centerpiece of the reunion will be a gala dinner, “Théâtre Intime’s 100th & PST’s 50th Banquet Fete,” at which Winnie Holzman will be the keynote speaker. Among numerous writing credits, Holzman is especially known as the creator of the television series My So-Called Life;  and as the librettist of the musical Wicked. Acting credits include Thirtysomething, Roswell, and Curb Your Enthusiasm.

A Hamilton Murray Theater Centennial Film Festival will run throughout the weekend. The anniversary celebration’s website describes the festival as a “mix of full production features and short subjects expressly created for the festival.” The films will “play on big screens on campus throughout the celebration weekend.”

Friday’s events will include a “Welcome & Convocation” at Richardson Hall (this event is free and open to all, though registration is required); an “Intime & PST Archive & Exhibition” at Mudd Library, during which memorabilia such as programs, photos, letters, and newspaper articles will be on display; and an “Alumni Piano Bar,” a cabaret session at which pianists will be available to accompany any participants who would like to sing.

On Saturday there will be “Alumni All-Stars” panel discussions featuring alumni who work in the entertainment industry. The conversations are titled “Storytellers” and “How Theater influenced my (non-theater) career.” The gala dinner, at which Holzman will deliver the keynote address, will take place on Saturday evening. more

October 19, 2022

“BLUES IN MY SOUL”: Performances are underway for “Blues in My Soul: The Legend and Legacy of Lonnie Johnson.” Written by David Robson and directed by Ozzie Jones, the play runs through October 30 at Passage Theatre. Above, Lonnie (David Brandon Ross, left) reluctantly plays for an enthusiastic Chris (Jonathan Jacobs). (Photo by Liz Cisco)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

When a play dramatizes a true story, especially about a long-dead public figure, often the resolution can be learned from the subject’s Wikipedia entry. The challenge to the dramatist then becomes to build enough tension and suspense to make the audience wonder whether a historical event will happen — and if so, how.

That is what playwright David Robson accomplishes so successfully in Blues in My Soul: The Legend and Legacy of Lonnie Johnson, which is being presented by Passage Theatre (following its premiere at Delaware’s City Theater Company earlier this year). A play with music, Blues in My Soul depicts the meeting of blues and jazz luminary Alonzo “Lonnie” Johnson and DJ, journalist, and record producer Chris Albertson.

Johnson (1899-1970) was a singer, guitarist, violinist, and songwriter who performed with legends such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Bessie Smith. Gérard Herzhaft writes in the 1979 Encyclopedia of the Blues that Johnson was “undeniably the creator of the guitar solo played note by note with a pick, which has become the standard in jazz, blues, country, and rock.” Artists such as Elvis Presley, B.B. King, and Django Reinhardt were influenced by Johnson. But by the late 1950s, he largely had faded from the public memory.

Albertson (1931-2019) was a disc jockey at Keflavic Air Base in Iceland, before migrating to the United States. In Philadelphia he worked for WCAU and WHAT-FM. Later he authored Bessie. a 1972 biography of Bessie Smith. For his work producing reissues for Columbia Records, he won multiple accolades, including two Grammy Awards and a Prix du Disque.  more

October 12, 2022

“CELEBRATION/PARTY TIME”: Theatre Intime has staged two plays by Harold Pinter: “Celebration” and “Party Time.” Directed by Kat McLaughlin, the double bill was presented September 30-October 9 at the Hamilton Murray Theater. Above, from left,are Gavin (Andrew Duke), Melissa (Ellie Makar-Limanov), Terry (Solomon Bergquist), and Dusty (Lara Danisman) in “Party Time.” (Photo by Emily Yang)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Princeton University’s Theatre Intime has opened its season with a double bill of one-act plays by Harold Pinter (1930-2008): Celebration and Party Time. Both works offer a caustic look at social gatherings of the affluent and powerful.

Celebration (2000) depicts two concurrent dinners at an expensive restaurant, while the darker Party Time (1991) portrays a lavish house party, some of whose guests are connected with sinister political machinations.

Both plays are directed by Kat McLaughlin, who effectively uses the scripts’ examination of social hierarchies as a point of departure for an exploration of physical space. “What is it to exist in, to observe, to desperately maintain a space?” McLaughin asks rhetorically in a program note. She explains that she chose Celebration as a “comedy to mirror, reflect, and lighten the tensions raised in Party Time.” She acknowledges that the plays are “similar in tone.”

Celebration begins when a mild-mannered, dignified Waiter (Solomon Bergquist) strides from the audience to the dark stage. Lighting Designer Nicabec Casido lights the two tables only after the Waiter has approached them. Behind one of the tables is a bar, at which the Waiter stands for much of the play, further separated from the affluent clientele. Later, he moves claustrophobically between a wall and a chair to wait one of the tables. more