The Alliance Theatre touted its upcoming 2014–2015 schedule with its “Taste of the Season” event on Tuesday evening, top-heavy with talent from the new season, including playwright Robert Harling of Steel Magnolias fame.
It’s an ambitious schedule with its share of world premieres and remounts, as well as a returning favorite. The big fall premiere will be Bull Durham, based on the 1988 hit movie. The musical will bring together the characters of Crash Davis, “Nuke” LaLoosh and baseball groupie Annie Savoy, brought to life in the film by Kevin Costner, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon.
Susan Werner, the musical’s composer and lyricist, was present to share one of the original numbers. She attended her first Atlanta Braves game while in town and is eager to take a beloved sports tale and place it in a sports city, especially one with a character as rich as Savoy. Her score will feature its share of southern rock and country music.
Casting for the project has not been announced but is coming along nicely. “The creative team has a sense of who we want,” says Werner. “We are just waiting for some confirmations.” Susan Booth, the Alliance’s artistic director, added that there will be strong Atlanta contingent in the cast.
Werner mentioned that people had been seeking the rights for Bull Durham awhile, but this collaboration felt right. “It’s been spirited and fun,” she says. She is hopeful that the musical will move to Broadway after its local premiere.
Another Broadway wannabe is the musical Tuck Everlasting, based on the novel by Natalie Babbitt and having its world premiere at the Alliance in the spring. Composer Chris Miller and lyricist Nathan Tysen introduced one of the songs. The two met at NYU and began collaborating on a thesis musical. After a few projects, they questioned what was next for them and were able to get the rights to Tuck. It will be directed and choreographed by Tony Award nominee Casey Nicholaw of The Book of Mormon and Aladdin fame.
Other new work includes local writer Phillip DePoy’s Gothic murder mystery Edward Foote, a twist on Oepidus Rex (“like it needs a twist,” DePoy cracks) set in Depression-era Appalachia, and this year’s winner of the 2015 Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition, The C.A. Lyons Project, written by Tsehaye Geralyn Hebert. In it, three dancers try to keep their company afloat as their leader battles AIDS.
Actress January LaVoy will be working with U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey on a stage version of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Native Guard, directed by Booth. The creative team is still determining how it will look onstage. “We are not adapting it; we are performing it,” says LaVoy. Pearl Cleage’s Blues for an Alabama Sky will get an anniversary production. It replaces Cleage’s previously announced world premiere Tell Me My Dream, which will be part of the Alliance’s 2015–2016 season. Cleage was en route to a book tour and could not make the event.
The Alliance holiday season will be a particularly robust one. Kevin Gillese, the artistic director of Dad’s Garage, will bring It’s A Wonderful Laugh to the Hertz Stage. “As some of you know, Dad’s Garage is homeless now,” he says. “We got booted out of our building. Instead of just bumming for change and cigarettes in Little Five Points, we have been partnering with other theaters to do what we do.” Laugh is an improvised show — every night a new character will come into the Christmas fold. Gillese looks forward to bringing the hyperactive Dad’s aesthetic to the staider Alliance one — and Booth has been receptive. “We are looking forward to being the rascals that we are,” he says.
A Christmas Carol will return for its 25th anniversary gig, sans an important face — Chris Kayser, who has retired from playing Scrooge. Booth says the journey to find a new Scrooge has not been an easy, straightforward one, perhaps because of the daunting task of following someone so closely identified with the character. Yet a casting announcement will come soon. A Christmas Carol is part of the company’s family series, alongside James and the Giant Peach and Scott Warren’s Courage, a world premiere based on Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage.
As one of the first theaters outside of New York to stage Steel Magnolias, it’s fitting that the play will return to the Alliance in the fall. It will be helmed by Judith Ivey, who directed the Alliance’s Carapace a few seasons ago. Harling praises her ability to find the “real” — and the humor — in everything.
His play is based on a true story, based on the lives of his sister Susan and his mother, Margaret. Atlanta has always been a special place for him. “I have relatives all over the Atlanta area,” he says. “My mother was born in Georgia. My brother was born in Piedmont Hospital. I have roots here. It means a lot to be in Atlanta with this.”
All the play’s characters are based on real people, which posed a challenge. The character of Ouiser Boudreaux became a real concern to him. “She is irascible, cantankerous,” he says. “Not mean; she just says what everyone else is afraid to say. The play opened and I kept it a secret who [Ouiser] was based on. I thought I would be persona non grata when I got back [home]. I was nervous to go to church or the grocery stores or other places. I begin to hear that a woman said ‘he based Ouiser on me.’ And then another. All of a sudden there was a town full of Ouisers.”
Harling’s mother passed away not long ago and the play keeps her alive. “The thrill is that [she and the other characters] are not gone,” he says. “In October they’ll be on stage.”