A Great Season of Theater: 2019-2020
By Laurie Fundukian
Yes, there is life after Hamilton, last year’s smash that was a must-see at the Fisher. Local theaters are in full swing with their offerings, and as the days get shorter and crisper, it’s a great time support them.
Detroit Public Theatre, housed in the Max M. Fisher complex along with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, has been producing great theater for a few years now, but you may not yet have experienced this hidden gem. Now’s the time! DPT kicked off their fifth season with Dominque Morisseau’s Paradise Blue, another in her three-play cycle “The Detroit Project.” Detroit 67 (about the protests and violence and how it affected a family that summer) and Skeleton Crew (about Detroit auto workers) were produced in earlier seasons, but Paradise Blue is actually the second play in the trilogy. Morisseau’s works are real and raw and important, and her Detroit connection is, as well—she was born in Detroit and is a University of Michigan grad. DPT gives Detroit audiences the chance to see new and innovative plays in our city. Broadway is important (in fact, Birthday Candles, which was DPT’s first commissioned play and produced last season, is debuting on Broadway in 2020) but good theater abounds in Detroit, too. Another highlight this season from DPT should be Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which is a unique cult-favorite rock musical written and performed by John Cameron Mitchell (and revived in recent years on Broadway with actors such as Neil Patrick Harris). DPT is sure to put their own spin on it.
Speaking of Broadway, Broadway in Detroit (which hosts touring shows mostly at the Fisher Theatre), has a good season that will be almost as popular as last season when Hamilton reigned, with the highlight shows Come from Away (October) and Dear Evan Hansen (March-April) leading the lineup of touring musicals. Based on the book The Day the World Came to Town, the musical Come from Away (a term Newfoundlanders use for those who live far away) is a look into the day that many planes had to be re-routed into Canada due to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. 38 jets carrying people from all over the world landed in Gander, Newfoundland, and those aboard were taken care of by the Newfies in Gander and neighboring towns. Newfies are a unique bunch of people who came out in droves to help feed, comfort, and clothe the stranded passengers (and pets!). There is so much heart and excellent music in this wonderful show. Dear Evan Hansen is for the high-school crowd and addresses suicide and belonging in a technically fresh and visually stunning way. It’s one of those musicals that leads audiences from laughing to crying and back. Don’t miss these. Form your own opinion about Cats, which is a love/hate classic. The Bronx Tale and Summer: The Donna Summer Musical should be great fun as well. And it’s always amazing to go into that beautiful Fisher Building or the Detroit Opera House!
Wayne State University continues to produce excellent theater and dance within its programs, and the Hilberry (Wayne’s graduate program theater) is renowned. This season has many offerings between the Hilberry, the Underground (formerly the Studio Theatre) and the Bonstelle (undergraduate theater). They kick off with the spooky and funny classic Blithe Spirit, and in October, the Underground has Heathers the Musical, based on the cult-classic movie, which should be a blast. For their full season schedule: https://www.theatreanddanceatwayne.com/season-tickets/
The Detroit Repertory Theatre, Michigan’s longest-running nonprofit theater, is staging the Michigan premiere of a new play by popular Michigan playwright Joseph Zettlemaier. Channel Cat opens in early November and is about a small southern town unveiling some long-held secrets. At the show’s center is the town joint, Cully Shack BBQ. For information and tickets for this season: http://www.detroitreptheatre.com/
Other smaller, independent theaters in Detroit produce interesting, unique, and sometimes edgy shows, so don’t forget to support them as well. One such example is Hamtramck’s Planet Ant: https://www.planetant.com/livetheatre
Outside the city, regional theaters thrive and continue to entertain and move audiences. We can’t list them all, but a here are a few highlights: this year The Purple Rose Theatre (https://www.purplerosetheatre.org/) in Chelsea, founded by Jeff Daniels, will, as always, feature a few world premieres, including Daniels’s latest, Roadsigns. This play “follows Lance, a young poet, as he embarks on a journey to find the way to himself. This nostalgic tale is filled with rich characters who dwell on the outskirts of life, each following a dream or hoping to bump into one.” Daniels is also a musician and the production will feature original music by him and Ben Daniels.
Tipping Pointe Theatre in downtown historic Northville, founded with the help of former weather-caster and television personality Chuck Gaidica, is celebrating lucky season 13! Fans of the classic A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen will not want to miss the chance to find out what happened to Nora, in A Doll’s House, Part 2, a sequel that recently hit the Broadway stage. Glimpses at the set and early reviews point to this production being a must-see. https://www.tippingpointtheatre.com/
We can’t mention all the wonderful theaters in and around the Detroit area, but we think we’ve given you a good start as you support local theater!