When it comes to television, people expect reruns in the summertime. Networks depend on them to fill empty airtime and to generate new money from old episodes. Theater doesn't usually work that way, but, in the coming months, an uncommon number of productions will reopen on Richmond stages after closing only months before. Has the economy forced local companies to recycle old material?
“It costs about as much to remount a production as it does to stage it the first time,” counters Grant Mudge, artistic director for Richmond Shakespeare. His company will offer “A Midsummer Night's Dream” (July 2-12) and “Hamlet” (July 16-Aug. 2) outdoors at Agecroft Hall. They're two productions that originated during the group's 2008-2009 indoor season. Mudge cites numerous reasons for presenting these shows again, none having to do with economics.
“We know a large percentage of our summer audience hasn't found us downtown [at Second Presbyterian Church] yet,” he says. “These productions, which were well-received by both critics and audiences, are a way of showing folks that we do good work all year round.” Mudge is keenly focused on the fall when Richmond Shakespeare will take residence at the new CenterStage complex downtown: “We hope [these shows] will serve as an incentive for people join us in the fall.”
The two remounted productions will follow the first selection in the company's summer festival, “Henry V” (June 11-28), the conclusion of one of Shakespeare's history cycles that Mudge has been highlighting for the past several years. “For the first time, we'll have a comedy, a drama, and a history — all in one summer,” Mudge says, “another reason to bring back these popular titles.”
Judi Crenshaw, publicist for the Barksdale Theatre, gives similar reasons for reopening “Driving Miss Daisy” (June 26-Aug. 2) at the theater's Willow Lawn venue. The production ran at Hanover Tavern last fall. “When we looked at ticket sales, most of the people who attended the Tavern show were from the Hanover-Mechanicsville area,” Crenshaw says. “We really wanted to bring this show to a wider audience.”
“Miss Daisy” will serve as a counterpoint to Barksdale's splashier offering of the summer, an elaborate production of the musical “Thoroughly Modern Millie” (June 19-Aug. 2) at the Empire Theatre. “If people want a big fun musical, they'll be able to go downtown,” Crenshaw says. “But if they'd prefer a quieter story that explores human relationships, they'll have an alternative.”
The two other major productions opening in the coming months share a connection to the World War II era but otherwise couldn't be more different.
Stage 1 will present a musical adaptation of “Summer of '42” (June 19-July 18), about a war bride and the teenager who falls in love with her — a story The New York Times called “a coming-of-age piece drenched in nostalgia.” Perennial Richmond favorite Robyn O'Neill headlines this production.
Swift Creek Mill Theatre's “Arsenic and Old Lace” (June 18-Aug. 1), on the other hand, is a pitch-black comedy involving a drama-hating theater critic with a whacked-out family, including a pair of spinster aunts who murder lonely old men. It may be just the kind of chilly comedy that theatergoers will find refreshing in the dog days to come. S