Theater, like all art forms, reflects its audience and the emotions stirring among us. In times of great tragedy, joy or fear, theater has always been a mirror, not to mention an escape. So as you settle back in for another draining semester and all the hard work it brings, take some time to enjoy all that Philadelphia’s theater community has to offer.
In Philadelphia, theater artists are working on an array of new works, and avant-garde interpretations of familiar stories. Like those in New York, Philadelphia’s theaters are all in close proximity. But here, many artists are encouraged to take risks and make bold choices, without having to worry as much about the bottom line or skyrocketing rents.
In the harsh winter months, theaters have trouble getting audiences, so they tend to spiff up their winter shows and offer discounts. At this time of year, there are endless options. Theater in Philadelphia offers much more than run-of-the-mill remakes, and prices can be as low as $5, so why not go out on the town and do it up right? Here’s a look at some of the highlights for the winter theater season in Philly:
If you’re in the mood for an acid trip down memory lane, check out Arden Theater Company’s production of James and the Giant Peach. Based on Roald Dahl’s classic children’s novel of the same name, James tells the story of a young boy and his adventures in an enormous magical peach. James and the Giant Peach is directed by Whit MacLaughlin, who has helmed numerous Arden children’s productions.
“I am always striving to invent new and exciting worlds for families at the Arden,” MacLaughlin said. “I created a world of puppets, humans and gigantic scale shifts in The Big Friendly Giant, a world of time and adventure in Sleeping Beauty and a safe haven for friendship in A Year with Frog and Toad. Now, in James and the Giant Peach, we are building a whole imaginative universe out of live actors interacting with animations. It’s kind of like Pixar, but live.”
James and the Giant Peach plays at Arden Theater Company, 40 N. Second St., Old City Philadelphia, through Feb. 8.
For a more dramatic alternative, Walnut Street Theatre is producing Tennessee Williams’ masterpiece A Streetcar Named Desire. Set in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Streetcar tells the tragic tale of a faded southern belle, Blanche DuBois. This journey of delicate indiscretion and lost dreams leads DuBois to madness, aided by her masculine and brutish brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski. If you’ve never seen a production of Streetcar, this is the one to see.
A Streetcar Named Desire opens Jan. 21 and closes March 1 at the Walnut Street Theatre, located on the corner of Ninth and Walnut streets.
While national tours can be mass-produced and overpriced, they are a great way to see a blockbuster Broadway show if you can’t make it to Manhattan. The Kimmel Center is the go-to place for national tour tickets.
As a part of the Kimmel Center’s Broadway Series, Jonathan Larson’s Rent is coming to the Academy of Music Feb. 3-8. What makes this production especially exciting is that Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal will be reprising the roles of Mark Cohen and Roger Davis, respectively. Rapp and Pascal originated in the Broadway production 13 years ago. Tickets start at $25 – a small price to pay for this legendary show.
Of course, some of Philly’s best theater comes from our own campus. Temple Theaters, now in its 41st season, has seen a lot of excitement this year. In Conflict opened off-Broadway in September, a first for collegiate theater. Now, for the latter half of the season, Temple Theaters is offering a diverse package of shows. First is a brand new show titled The Seven by Will Power. The Seven is a take on the Greek tragedy Seven Against Thebes by Aeschylus, but in this interpretation, we are transported to the world of hip-hop. Ancient Greece and hip-hop are hardly a natural match, so it will be interesting to see how it all shapes up on the Tomlinson stage.
For the final two shows, directing majors in the MFA program will present Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle and John Kander’s and Fred Ebb’s musical Cabaret.
While all of Philadelphia’s theaters can seem overwhelming, there is certainly something for everyone. Whether you want to feel like a kid again or feel enthralled by haunting characters, simply go see a show.
Max McCormack can be reached at email@example.com.