Ambitious plans: 'Trying to build a Broadway spirit'

  • Article by: GRAYDON ROYCE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 5, 2011 - 5:29 PM

Season includes three big Tony winners, new work and the theater's first Neil Simon production.

Park Square Theatre has announced a 2011-12 season that includes three Tony winners, a new commissioned work and its first-ever Neil Simon play. It's the most firepower Park Square has shown in its 36 years.

"It's not accidental, because we're trying to build a Broadway spirit for this theater," said artistic director Richard Cook.

As part of that ambitious mission, Park Square is in the midst of a campaign intended to bring a second stage to fruition, possibly as early as next January. It would be a 140-seat thrust in the same downtown St. Paul complex, and Cook sees that space as an analog to off-Broadway.

But first comes the new season. Perhaps the biggest surprise is "August: Osage County," which opens the festivities on Sept. 16. Securing the rights for the first local production of Tracy Letts' searing, Shakespearean drama (a national tour played the Ordway) is a coup for the St. Paul theater. The Broadway production won the best-play Tony, and Letts was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for drama. Leah Cooper will direct and Barbara Kingsley will play the central part of Violet. Kingsley understudied Estelle Parsons in that role on the national tour.

Joel Sass directs a new adaptation of "Oliver Twist," opening Oct. 21. British playwright Neil Bartlett wrote the script, combining Dickens' original text with Victorian musical-hall tunes.

Park Square, which until a few years ago did no holiday show, presents two pieces during December. "Hot Chocolate," a new musical revue created by Thomasina Petrus and Austene Van, opens in previews Nov. 30. It will run in repertory with "The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer," which previews Dec. 8. Park Square first produced "Klezmer" in 1999. Michael Paul Levin returns to play George Gershwin.

Gary Gisselman will direct "Ragtime," which won Tonys for best score and best book, opening Jan. 27. Denise Prosek, Theater Latté Da's musical director, comes over to assist Gisselman.

Playwright Carlyle Brown brings a new play to the stage, starting March 16. "American Family" is about a woman who revisits her past -- searching for her mother and finding her half-brother.

"Doubt," which just had a sterling production by Ten Thousand Things, will be on the Park Square stage April 27, 2012. Linda Kelsey will play the key role of Sister Aloysius.

Simon's early comedy "Laughter on the 23rd Floor" is the summer show, opening June 8, 2012. Zach Curtis, who has produced this show three times, will direct.

Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299

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