Raise the Curtain
The Heritage Theatre Festival opens on June 30 at the University of Virginia, ready to delight audiences with swashbuckling pirates, classic characters like Charlie Brown, the incisive wit of “Seinfeld” writer Pat Hazell and more.
In its 42nd year, the festival continues to attract renowned actors and directors to collaborate with UVA drama students and faculty. Below, UVA Today got a sneak peek of dress rehearsals for the opening show, “The Pirates of Penzance,” directed by associate professor of drama Colleen Kelly, the festival’s interim artistic director.
Audiences can also look forward to:
- “Souvenir”: “Souvenir” chronicles talentless would-be opera singer Florence Foster Jenkins and her accompanist, Cosme McMoon. A movie version starring Meryl Streep premieres in August. Director Cate Caplin calls the play “hilarious and deeply heart-wrenching,” challenging audiences to weigh dedication and persistence against talent. Caplin will direct the show in UVA’s Ruth Caplin Theatre – named for her late mother – as her father, Law Professor Emeritus Mortimer Caplin, celebrates his 100th birthday.
- “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”: Director Bryan Garey anticipates that “Peanuts” fans will discover even more to love in the musical. “The really terrific music adds a whole new dimension to the characters,” he said. “It’s fun, poignant and entertaining.” Garey, a festival veteran and UVA’s assistant vice president of human resources, will also direct a July 27 autism-friendly performance through UVA’s student-led Autism Theatre Project.
- “The Odd Couple”: UVA drama lecturer David Dalton directs this Neil Simon classic featuring divorced New York City roommates Oscar Madison and Felix Unger. The comedy has inspired several spinoffs in film and television. Dalton calls it “a hilarious play with many classic lines” and true-to-life characters.
- “The Wonder Bread Years”: Famed “Seinfeld” writer Pat Hazell writes and performs a one-man comedy that is a wry salute to Americana. Jerry Seinfeld himself calls it “milk-snortingly funny.”
“What I like about it is not just how humorous it is, but the sophisticated wit that is in both the music and the lyrics,” Kelly said of the show. “Overall, I think the festival is offering a very fun season this summer, which is something that we all need – to be able to just have some fun.”
“This is the place that our undergraduate students – actors, stage managers, set designers and artists – are able to find a professional network and gain professional experience,” Kelly said. “This partnership of professionals, young professionals and students is one of the festival’s strengths.”
After “The Pirates of Penzance,” the festival will feature another large-scale musical, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” and the operatic comedy, “Souvenir.”
“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” will also offer an autism-friendly performance through UVA’s student-led Autism Theatre Group. The group has sponsored three local performances this year with break rooms, volunteer support and other accommodations available for autistic children and their families.
“I was so excited when I heard that the Autism Theatre Project wanted to partner with our play,” Garey said. “I love the mission of the project, and I think the kids and their families will love the show.”
“This is such a fun and eclectic season, from ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ operetta to the unusual character of Florence Foster Jenkins, to some wonderful comedies,” Garey said.
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Beyond what is on stage, Kelly said, “the festival also allows the community to see the other side of theater.”
Each of the festival’s shows is produced entirely in Charlottesville, with students, faculty and professionals coming together for everything from lighting and set design to costumes, stage direction and acting.
“You can come in one month and see five originally produced pieces that are established musicals, plays and comedies,” Garey said. “It is a real treasure for the University and the local community.”