|Above: Marianna Bassham and Robert Serrell star in “Gaslight’’ at Stoneham Theatre. (Neil Reynolds)|
At Stoneham: ‘Gaslight’ and more
Stoneham Theatre raises the curtain this week on a 1938 thriller that was made into an Ingrid Bergman movie. But Stoneham’s fall season opener will be an up-to-the-moment New York Fringe musical headed for an off-Broadway run. And so it goes for a suburban theater like Stoneham, where booking requires a balance between new and old, between artistic reach and box office grasp.
“Our audience is something that we’re proud of and it’s a little difficult for us at other times,’’ says Weylin Symes, Stoneham’s producing artistic director, who was on staff when the renovated 1917 moviehouse reopened in 2000 and took his current job a year later. “We have a lot of folks that don’t go to the theater regularly or who didn’t until they came to Stoneham, and that’s kind of exciting for us, that we’re introducing a lot of people to theater for the first time.’’
Stoneham’s 2010-2011 season will kick off with a show that he hopes is both an audience-pleaser and a pop culture bull’s-eye. “Perfect Harmony’’ (Sept. 9-Oct. 3) is a satirical “a cappella comedy’’ about rival high school singing groups. Think Fox’s “Glee’’ meets NBC’s “The Sing-Off.’’ In its infancy, the show was buzzed about at the 2006 New York Fringe Festival, and now writer-director Andrew Grosso will use the Stoneham performances as a tune-up for what’s hoped to be an extended run off-Broadway.
“What I hope is that . . . my existing audience will love it, but we certainly hope we will get a lot of high school/college kids and some of the city theatergoers out to see it as well,’’ Symes said.
The rest of next season features a two-handed version of Henry James’s spooky “Turn of the Screw’’ (Oct. 21-Nov. 7); two Christmas shows in repertory, the kid-friendly “Best Christmas Pageant Ever’’ and the naughtier “Sister’s Christmas Catechism’’ (Nov. 26-Dec. 23); the
Symes is busy directing Stoneham’s current production, Patrick Hamilton’s chamber mystery “Gaslight,’’ running through June 13. Local favorite Marianna Bassham stars as Bella, who thinks she might be going mad. Robert Serrell plays her husband, Jack, who is secretly driving her that way, and Christopher Webb is Inspector Rough, who’ll try to get to the bottom of the matter.
“We have some of the best actors in town in this show, and I think we’re going to show [the audience] a version of ‘Gaslight’ that is really exciting and hopefully whets their appetite for more straight plays in the future,’’ Symes says.
That will include a little stage razzle-dazzle, with lights and sound suggesting Bella’s flirtation with madness. Audiences might once have been titillated by mere mention of past crimes off-stage; Stoneham will offer glimpses of the action in vivid, fast tableaux.
They’ll close out the season with “Always . . . Patsy Cline’’ (July 8-July 25).
“Our audience really likes musicals a lot,’’ Symes says. “It is hard to find the programming model for some of the straight plays that speaks to our suburban audience. That’s our goal. We want to find theater across the board, from plays to musicals, that our suburbanites relate to, that speaks to their lives, and that’s harder to do with plays than musicals.
“We can’t simply look to New York and say, gee, what was hot off-Broadway last year and bring that to Stoneham Theatre. That simply may not be what our audience wants to see. They may not want to see ‘God of Carnage,’ because it’s a very urban piece and that just may not speak to our audience.’’
“Gaslight’’ tickets, $38-$44, at the box office, 781-279-2200 or www.stonehamtheatre.org. Subscriptions for next season are now on sale; single tickets will be available in August.
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