Variety of plays set to take stage

New Jersey’s major theaters are geared up to bring on the old and celebrate the new. From Shakespeare and Wilde to Shepard, McNally and Mamet, and with music by Sigmund Romberg and Duke Ellington to Stephen Schwartz and Jerry Herman, a diverse and colorful season of plays and musicals is scheduled on Jersey boards to bridge the new millennium.

New Brunswick’s Crossroads Theater Co., winner of the 1999 regional theater Tony Award, opens its doors on a 22nd season Sept. 30 with “Homework,” a play by Kim Coles and Charles Randolph-Wright. Coles, familiar to TV audiences for her role as Synclaire on “Living Single,” will appear in the comedy playing three roles, girlfriends who journey from grade school to college and onward together. The play runs through Oct. 31.

Celebrating the Duke Ellington centennial, the Crossroads season continues with “Play On!,” the 1997 Broadway musical inspired by Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” Tony winner Andre DeShields directs (Nov. 26-Jan. 2). “Yellow Eyes,” a world premiere by Migdalia Cruz and directed by Talvin Wilks, follows Feb. 3-27. “Venice,” a new play by Kathleen McGhee Anderson, premieres under the helm of Randolph-Wright (March 16-April 9).

Princeton Mann

The 1999-2000 season at Princeton’s McCarter Theater marks the 10th anniversary of artistic director Emily Mann. A revised version of Sam Shepard’s 1983 drama “Fool for Love,” personally supervised by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, will open the season Sept. 14-Oct. 3.

Daniel Fish then directs Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” (Oct. 19-Nov. 7), followed by the first major staging in 15 years of David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross.” Season wind-up focuses on two world premieres, with Mann directing “The Stonemason” by Cormac McCarthy (March 18-April 16), and a rare musical for the McCarter stage, “Night Governess.” The tuner by Polly Pen (“Goblin Market”) is inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s 19th century thriller “Behind a Mask.”

Christine Ebersole and Kelly Bishop will top the bill as the bosom buddies in Jerry Herman’s 1966 musical comedy “Mame” at the Paper Mill Playhouse Sept. 8-Oct. 24. Ebersole plays the title role, and Bishop co-stars as her acerbic pal Vera Charles. Artistic director Robert Johanson will direct.

Improved ‘Rags’

Perhaps the most eagerly awaited event of the Garden State season is the Paper Mill’s production of a revamped “Rags” (Nov. 3-Dec. 12), the 1986 musical with book by Joseph Stein, lyrics by Charles Strouse and music by Stephen Schwartz. Inspired by the Jewish immigrate experience early in the century, the ambitious musical closed at the Mark Hellinger Theatre after four performances. Jeff Moss directs and Stein, Schwartz and Strouse will collaborate on revisions.

The Paper Mill season also includes Michael Frayn’s “Noises Off,” directed by Brian Murray (Jan. 6-Feb. 13); Ira Levin’s “Deathtrap” (Feb. 29-April 2); Johanson’s staging of the Romberg operetta “The Student Prince” (April 12-May 23); and another Schwartz musical, “Pippin,” with Johanson again at the helm (June 7-July 23).

The New Jersey Shakespeare Festival offers the U.S. premiere of a musical adaptation of Ferenc Molnar’s “Enter the Guardsman.” (The comedy was previously musicalized as “The Chocolate Soldier,” with songs by Oscar Straus.) The new adaptation features a book by Scott Wentworth, music by Craig Bohmler and lyrics by Marion Adler. Robert Cuccioli, a Tony nominee for “Jekyll & Hyde,” will appear as the jealous actor, along with Dana Reeve (Sept. 7-26).

‘Romeo’ revived

Festival artistic director Bonnie Monte stages “Romeo and Juliet” next (Oct. 26-Nov. 21), followed by Dylan Thomas’ holiday perennial, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” (Nov. 30-Dec. 23). The festival is located on the campus of Drew U in Madison.

George Street Playhouse artistic director David Saint has announced a new version of Arthur Laurents’ “Do I Hear a Waltz?” (Oct. 9-Nov. 14), the 1965 musical with a score by Richard Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim. The latter has contributed some additional lyrics. Laurents has revised the original book, based on his own 1952 romantic comedy, “The Time of the Cuckoo,” for the New Brunswick stage. Saint will direct.

George Street’s “Down the Garden Path,” a new play by actress-playwright Anne Meara, focuses on a family celebration. Jerry Stiller, Meara’s husband, will appear in a filmed segment (Nov. 20-Dec. 19).

Actor-director Mark Nelson is skedded to star in the world premiere of “Syncopation” by Allan Knee (Jan. 8-Feb. 6). The play, set in 1912, follows the career of two mismatched immigrants who become professional ballroom dancers.

Saint will also mount a production of Terrence McNally’s “Master Class” starring Rita Moreno (Feb. 12-March 19), followed by Joe Orton’s “Loot” (March 25-April 23).

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