The stage is set for a year of rousing musicals and thought-provoking community theater productions across the greater Modesto region.
With at least nine troupes set to stage multiple shows, from Modesto to the Mother Lode to Merced, the opportunities to support locally grown performing arts remain abundant for 2015.
Local actors as well as national performers will cross the region’s stages, both large and small, with high-caliber offerings that look to entertain, inspire and spark discussion.
“I struggle to find a better place than the theater to explore the often controversial topics dealing with our humanity,” said Traci Sprague, artistic director at Modesto’s Center Stage Conservatory. “It allows us to live through another character ... even if just for a few hours. Theater has the ability to move people, and in doing so we have the ability to improve the lives of ourselves as well as those we share our community with, both locally and worldwide.”
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At Sonora’s Sierra Repertory Theatre, a nod to musicals and the classics will be on tap going into the troupe’s 36th season.
“Audiences’ expectations of SRT are terrifically high and we wouldn’t want it any other way,” SRT’s artistic director Scot Viets said in an email. “Bringing a bit of ‘Broadway’ to the foothills is one of our hallmarks, so we aim to never disappoint. ”
Here’s a look, in alphabetical order by theater company, at what the region’s boards have to offer (some productions already are running or begin today):
Center Stage Conservatory
“Bullshot Crummond” – Playing now through Sunday. A parody of low-budget 1930s British detective movies, with villain Otto von Bruno and his evil mistress, Lenya, who crash their plane in the English countryside and kidnap Professor Fenton, who has discovered a formula for making synthetic diamonds. Hero Bullshot Crummond is called to the rescue.
“Fall to Earth” – March 6-22. This meditation on family bonds is about Kenny, who lived his life in secret. His mother and sister travel to an unfamiliar town looking for answers. With the help of a local policewoman, they uncover tragic truths.
“Gruesome Playground Injuries” – May 8-24. Billed as “a love story written in the scars,” the play is about an accident-prone daredevil and a masochist who navigate life through nonlinear vignettes.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” – July 17-26. William Shakespeare’s classic about mortals and fools follows star-crossed lovers in a wild night swirling with whimsical touches in this family-friendly comedy.
“Fool for Love” – Sept. 4-20. In a motel on the edge of the Mojave Desert, Sam Shepard’s play begins like a bronco released from the pen and continues to unravel at breakneck speed. It’s a story of love and betrayal with searing truth and dark humor.
“The Weir” – Oct. 16-Nov. 1. Conner McPherson’s play is set on a stormy evening in a rural Irish pub. In comes a young woman, and soon the men in the pub begin telling ghost stories. It turns out the woman has a ghost story of her own.
Center Stage Conservatory’s Lower Level Studio is at 948 11th St., Modesto, inside the City Center. General admission for all shows is $15, $10 for students. The theater offers a pay-what-you-can-performance the third Thursday of all shows. www.centerstagemodesto.com
Modesto Performing Arts
“Charlotte’s Web” – 2 p.m. Jan. 31, Johansen High School theater, 461 Norseman Drive, Modesto. This is one of the 45-year-old theater company’s small productions geared toward children. The play is based on the beloved book of the same name about a pig named Wilbur and the friends he makes on the farm. $5-$10. www.modestoperformingarts.com
“The Music Man” – June 20-28, Gallo Center’s Foster Family Theater, 1000 I St., Modesto. Harold Hill poses as a boys band organizer and leader and sells band instruments and uniforms to naive Iowa townsfolk. But Harold plans to skip town with the money. $19-$34. www.galloarts.org
“Guys and Dolls” – Aug. 8-16, Gallo Center’s Foster Family Theater. A musical about high-stakes gambler Sky Masterson, who tries to seduce stern missionary Sarah Brown so he can win a bet. $19-$34. www.galloarts.org
“The Pirates of Penzance: In Concert” – Through Feb. 2. Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera concerns Frederic, who, having completed his 21st year, is released from his apprenticeship to a band of tenderhearted pirates. He meets Mabel, the daughter of Major-General Stanley, and the two fall instantly in love.
“Crowns” – Feb. 6-15. The story of a young black woman who has gone to the South to stay with her aunt after her brother is killed in Brooklyn. Hats provide a theatrical springboard for an exploration of black history and identity.
“Into the Woods” – Feb. 27-March 15. James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim take everyone’s favorite storybook characters and bring them together. The story follows a baker and his wife who wish to have a child; Cinderella, who wishes to attend the King’s Festival; and Jack, who wishes his cow would give milk.
“The Crucible” – April 10-19. Drama about the Puritan purge of witchcraft in old Salem. The story focuses on a young farmer, his wife and a young servant girl who maliciously causes the wife’s arrest for witchcraft.
“Spamalot” – May 8-24. Lovingly ripped off from the classic film comedy “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” “Spamalot” retells the legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.
“Greater Tuna” – June 5-14. A series of four comedic plays each set in the fictional town of Tuna, Texas. The plays are at once an affectionate comment on small-town Southern life and attitudes and a withering satire of same.
Playhouse Merced is at 452 W. Main St., Merced. Tickets are $15-$22 with student rush tickets at $10 and family packages at $50. www.playhousemerced.com
Prospect Theater Project
“The Women” – Feb. 6-22. Women’s varied roles in society are explored in this modern classic comedy by Clare Boothe Luce about the demands of being female. A sophisticated group of women struggles to fill the narrowly defined roles of wife, mother, confidante and seductress. $20.
“Faith Healer” – April 24-May 10. Questions of reality and truth are raised by contradictory accounts of events among three characters: Frank Hardy, a traveling showman and healer; his bitter but loving wife; and his manager, who has given up much for Frank’s career. $20.
Short, Ten Minute and One-Act Play Festival – July 10-26. The art and craft of live theater will get distilled and condensed at the Prospect Theater Project’s annual event. The plays all are written, directed and acted by local artists. $10.
The above productions are part of the 2014-15 season; a June production is yet to be announced. The 2015-16 season will begin in the fall. Prospect Theater Project is at 1214 K St., Modesto. For more see www.prospecttheaterproject.org.
Sankofa Theatre Company
“The Journey ... the African-American Experience” – Feb. 12, Gallo Center for the Arts. This play will be open only to students, but excerpts from the play will be offered to the public by Sankofa performers March 3 at the Salida Library. Modesto’s only black theater company presents a show beginning in Africa and covering the journey to America, slavery, the Civil War, Harlem Renaissance, the civil rights movement and to President Barack Obama. High school actors will be joined by cameos from Sankofa troupe members.
The company also is looking to finalize a work to be produced later in the year, according to John Ervin III, one of the founders of the troupe.
Sierra Repertory Theatre
“Mary Poppins” – Feb. 28-May 3, East Sonora Theatre. One of the most popular Disney movies of all time is capturing hearts as a stage musical. The troubled Banks family has sent a nanny packing before Mary Poppins arrives on their doorstep.
“The Honky Tonk Angels” – April 24-May 31, Fallon House Theatre. A rollicking journey celebrates women in country music. A trio of women meets on a bus to Nashville and share laughter, friendship and tears as they search the Music City dream.
“Unnecessary Farce” – May 29-June 28, East Sonora Theatre. In a motel room, an embezzling mayor is supposed to meet with his accountant while two undercover cops wait to catch the meeting on videotape. Confusion ensues.
“The Music Man” – June 26-Aug. 16, Fallon House Theatre. This award-winning musical comedy follows traveling salesman Harold Hill as he cons the people of River City, Iowa, into buying instruments and uniforms for a boys band he vows to organize.
“Macbeth” – Aug. 21-Sept. 12, East Sonora Theatre. William Shakespeare’s tragedy takes place in a savage world of ghosts, witches and bloody battlefields. “Macbeth” is a journey through the souls of two extraordinary people to murder, madness and death.
“Always, Patsy Cline” – Sept. 18-Oct. 18, Fallon House Theatre. A tribute to the legendary country singer, the show is based on a true story about Cline’s friendship with a fan from Houston, who met the star in a Texas honky-tonk in 1961 and continued a correspondence with Cline until her death.
“The Drowsy Chaperone” – Oct. 16-Nov. 29, East Sonora Theatre. A fan of musicals dusts off his favorite cast album, a fictitious 1928 smash called “The Drowsy Chaperone.” The show bursts to life into the glamorous, hilarious tale of a celebrity bride and her wedding day.
“A Christmas Carol” – Nov. 13-Dec. 20, Fallon House Theatre. A new adaptation based on the novella by Charles Dickens about miser Ebenezer Scrooge, who encounters three visions – of his past, his present and his future – and takes a journey that awakens his heart to the true spirit of Christmas.
The East Sonora Theatre is at 13891 Mono Way; Fallon House is at 11175 Washington St., Columbia. Tickets are $18 for children age 17 and under, $28-$35 general.
Stage 3 Theatre
“Hughie” – Through Feb. 1. The work of revered playwright and Nobel laureate Eugene O’Neill. The one-act, two-man play was written by O’Neill in 1942 and is set in a Times Square hotel lobby in the 1920s. It follows down-on-his-luck gambling hustler Erie Smith and the new night clerk, Charlie Hughes.
“Five Women Wearing the Same Dress” – Feb. 20-March 22. During an ostentatious wedding reception at a Knoxville, Tenn., estate, five reluctant bridesmaids hide out in an upstairs bedroom. As the afternoon wears on, these five different women discover a bond.
“Seascape With Sharks and Dancer” – May 1-31. The young man who lives in a remote lighthouse has pulled a lost young woman from the ocean. Soon, she finds herself trapped in his life and torn between her need to come to rest somewhere and her certainty that all human relationships turn into nightmares.
“Blues in the Night” – July 10-Aug. 9. The soul of the blues wails in a scorching Tony-nominated musical. Music tells the story of the sweet, sexy and sorrowful experiences three women have with the lying, cheating snake of a man who does them wrong.
“The Glass Menagerie” – Sept. 11-Oct. 11. The Tennessee Williams classic is about Amanda Wingfield, a faded, tragic remnant of Southern gentility who lives in poverty in a dingy St. Louis apartment with her son, Tom, and daughter, Laura. Amanda strives to give meaning and direction to her life and the lives of her children.
“Almost, Maine” – Nov. 14-Dec. 20. All is not quite what it seems in the remote, mythical town of Almost, Maine. Residents find themselves falling in and out of love in unexpected and often hilarious ways.
Stage 3 Theatre is at 208 S. Green St., Sonora. Tickets are $17-$25. www.stage3.org
“A Streetcar Named Desire” – Today and Sunday. The story follows Southern belle Blanche DuBois as she stays at the New Orleans apartment of her sister and brother-in-law, Stella and Stanley Kowalski.
“Tosca” – May 1 and 3. Puccini’s masterful drama in which a famous singer, a rebellious painter and a corrupt police chief engage in a deadly test of wills.
Shows are at the Gallo Center for the Arts’ Mary Stuart Rogers Theater, 1000 I St., Modesto. Tickets are $10-$68.
“Alice in Wonderland” – Today through Sunday, Downey High School auditorium, 1000 Coffee Road, Modesto. YES Kids and Kidettes join to bring the magic of this fairy tale to life. $8-$12. www.yescompany.org
“Mary Poppins” – July 17-26, Gallo Center for the Arts’ Mary Stuart Rogers Theater. Enchanting mixture of story, songs, dance numbers and stagecraft. The troubled Banks family has sent a nanny packing before Mary Poppins arrives on their doorstep. $12-$45. www.galloarts.org