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Less is less for 2024 theater summer season

For theater people, spring is a time of anticipation. That’s because most summer theater companies have released their seasons.

2024 is, as usual, plentiful. Indeed, during some weeks it is too much for the average individual to handle, especially, if you love all the arts and also wish to attend some classical music performances or dance offerings. 

Too, the openings tend to bunch together. For example between June 15 and July 5 there are 17 plays or musicals opening in the area, which includes the Berkshires.

It’s impossible to judge success ahead of time, but once again Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, MA, appears a good bet. They have announced five summer productions in two spaces. Among them the musicals “La Cage aux Folles” and “Next to Normal” seem highlights for the summer.

The quantity leader is Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, MA. They are offering seven titles. Oddly, only two are by Shakespeare, and one, “The Winter’s Tale,” is what they term “an enhanced reading.” But, there is also a week-long run of a Shakespeare-themed cabaret.

Berkshire Theatre Group in Stockbridge, MA, starts their five play season early. From May 16-June 1 it is offering “4,000 Miles” starring Maria Tucci. In the grandmother role, Tucci seems to be perfect casting.

The rest of BTG’s season seems heavy on nostalgia with the 1938 Robert Sherwood play “Abe Lincoln in Illinois” and the 1955 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “Pipe Dream” on the schedule. Both offer opportunities to see rarely produced classics.

However, looking at the larger picture, if there is a key to the 2024 summer season, it’s to think small. One or two person shows, as well as play readings and concert versions of musicals are everywhere.

Theater is trying to rebuild audiences and being fiscally responsible is prudent. In theater there is a saying that less is more. However, in my mind, when it comes to scheduling, less is less. At what point when theaters cut down on cast sizes and production values do audiences stop coming?

A prime example is Williamstown Theatre Festival. In 2002 they were the gold standard of summer theaters. Four main stage productions of Broadway-caliber work and four productions of mostly world premieres were offered in their smaller theater. There were cabarets, free outdoor theater and bold choices. Indeed, that year, the organization was awarded a Tony Award for being the Best Regional Theatre in the country. 

What was once a season of eight major plays, and numerous other activities is now reduced to three productions, two of which are one-person shows. Only one show, “Pamela Palmer”, a world premiere written by David Ives, is playing on the CenterStage. It’s a four-character play. There is also a series of four Friday afternoon play readings, a weekend minifestival within the Festival and an immersive art installation in collaboration with MASS MoCA called “The Plastic Bag Store”.

No matter how the organization touts 2024 as being progressive, it is clearly a frugal move that greatly diminishes a once mighty theater company.

Adirondack Theatre Festival in Glens Falls is also reducing its presence in the area. They are promoting the season as having three plays. Considering that “King’s Wife” is a concert that plays one weekend July 19-21, it really means it’s a two-play season. Add to that, the opening show “Todd vs Titanic” is a one- person musical. “Dial M For Murder” is a new version of the classic suspense drama. It has a cast of five. It certainly seems like there is a lot of shrinkage going on in Glens Falls.

More diminishment is taking place with Park Playhouse. They usually do a big, contemporary Broadway musical and a youth-oriented musical in Washington Park. 

This year, the big musical is replaced by the small juke box musical, “The Marvelous Wonderettes”. The show that opened Off-Broadway in 2008 uses four female vocalists who sing pop songs from the 1950s and 60s. In what is likely a weather-related move, the company’s other musical, “Legally Blonde,” will not be at the park, but will be performed at Cohoes Music Hall July 17-August 11.

Yes, the summer of 2024 will be smaller than in pre-COVID seasons, but there is still a lot to see and enjoy. Subscriptions and single tickets are on sale at most organizations.

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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