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Summer Stages: Top 5 Picks for Boston and New England

Great summer theater is less than a tankful away from Boston in any direction. Here are my top five picks of the 2012 season, whether staying at home or traveling to one of New England’s finest vacation destinations.

#1 The Berkshires

You could spend your whole summer in the beautiful Berkshires of Western Mass. and not see all there is to see on stage there. Venues include the Barrington Stage, Berkshire Actors Theatre, Berkshire Theatre Group, Shakespeare and Company, and Williamstown Theatre Festival. There’s also Jacob’s Pillow, Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Tanglewood, and The Theater Barn.

There are many temptations on the various schedules this summer: Brad Oscar as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof and Jeff McCarthy as Joe Keller in All My Sons at Barrington Stage; Charles Busch’s The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife with Annette Miller at Shakespeare and Company; and Tony Simotes’ re-envisioned production of The Tempest starring Olympia Dukakis as Duke Prospero, also at Shakespeare and Company.

However, I’ve narrowed down my top choices to a coin flip between seeing one of the “sexiest men alive” Bradley Cooper work against type in The Elephant Man or catching the world premiere of the new musical adaptation of Far from Heaven starring Kelli O’Hara in the role Julianne Moore portrayed so eloquently on film. Both are at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Which is the one that will definitely get me to drive out from Boston? Far from Heaven.

#2 Cape Cod

Summer Stock is alive and well at the Cape Playhouse in Dennis, Mass. Mixing old standbys with more recent plays and musicals, the 2012 season includes The Hound of the Baskervilles, As Bees in Honey Drown, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Legally Blonde, Kiss Me, Kate and Nunsense. Call me a sucker for a timeless story and score, but Kiss Me, Kate wins hands down. Since the national tour of Anything Goes doesn’t appear to be coming anywhere near Boston in the next year or so, I’ll have to settle for another opening of another Cole Porter show instead.

#3 Greater Boston

Now in its 44th summer season, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston continues its tradition of mixing Broadway stars with local talent on stage at the Robinson Theater in Waltham. This summer features A Chorus Line starring Lorenzo Lamas as Zach; Bye Bye Birdie with Anita Gillette as Mae Peterson; and My Fair Lady with Phantom of the Opera vets Rick Hilsabeck and Sarah Pfisterer as Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle.

All are Tony Award-winning musicals, and all promise to deliver Reagle’s trademark Broadway-style pizzazz. But since I have to choose, I’m going with A Chorus Line as my top pick. It was the very first Broadway show I saw – with the original cast. Be still, my heart! I never pass up a chance to relive that life-changing experience.

#4 North Shore

Those of us who live in the Boston area never get tired of thanking Bill Hanney for resurrecting North Shore Music Theatre from the ashes of bankruptcy a few years ago. Once again thriving at the landmark theater in the round in Beverly, NSMT is serving up a rich blend of classic and contemporary family-friendly shows this summer. Traditional fare includes Hello, Dolly!, Annie, and Guys and Dolls. More recent Broadway blasts on the schedule are All Shook Up and Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5.

While I always delight in those “little girls” who make Annie shine like the top of the Chrysler Building, I’m even more excited about seeing the upcoming Broadway revival of the show now that two-time Tony Award winner Katie Finneran has been tapped to play Miss Hannigan. So my number one pick of the NSMT is now 9 to 5. It will be an extra measure of fun to see local fave and good sport George Dvorsky get his due as the misogynistic boss Franklin Hart, Jr. I also look forward to seeing who gets cast in the employee roles played so memorably in the movie by Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton.

#5 Seacoast of Maine

The coast of Maine boasts many natural wonders, but the Ogunquit Playhouse along Maine’s scenic highway US 1 is the jewel in the region’s summer theater crown. Just 70 miles north of Boston – and now in its 80th season – the  playhouse caters to year-round residents, seasonal renters, frequent weekenders and occasional day-trippers. You can feel the ocean breezes as you sip a pre-show cocktail in the outside gazebo and gardens. The walls in the lobby are plastered with autographed photos of the stars past and present who have graced the  playhouse’s venerable stage.

The 2012 Ogunquit season features Always, Patsy Cline, South Pacific, Ballroom with a Twist, Damn Yankees (the Red Sox version), Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5, and Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story. Maine State Music Theatre, another 90 minutes north in Brunswick, also offers up first-class musical theater. Its season boasts A Chorus Line, Legally Blonde, Sunset Boulevard, and the tap-happy 42nd Street.

However, the show that will put gas in my tank for a Maine excursion this year is South Pacific. I missed the recent Broadway revival at LCT and was sorely disappointed in the national tour that passed through Boston last year. I’m hoping the always dependable Ogunquit Playhouse can wash that memory right out of my brain.



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