Heritage Theater Festival Explores the American Experience in its 2018 Season


New Artistic Director And UVA Drama Alum Jenny Wales Unveils Slate That Mixes Powerful Contemporary Themes With Classic Fun And Will Feature Leading Directors And Performers From Across the Country


CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA – February 1, 2018 – New Heritage Theatre Festival Artistic Director Jenny Wales will mark her official return to her alma mater with a season that celebrates American stories, delivers entertaining and engaging professional theatre, and reflects on our uniquely challenging times.

Wales, a UVA graduate and Drama major, will produce a first season that begins on June 21 with the Tony award-winning, classic musical A Chorus Line. The season will also include the 1945 Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy Harvey, the madcap Marx Brothers musical comedy The Cocoanuts and the powerful contemporary play The Mountaintop.

“In putting this season together, I wanted to focus on the idea of looking forward by looking back,” Wales said. “What that means to me is going back to the 1974 founding of Heritage and its original mission to explore the American canon. We have this extraordinary collection of playwrights and stories that many of us know,” Wales said “and we will look at them through a different lens, allowing us to entertain while shedding light on the sometimes challenging realities of living in today’s world.”

A Chorus Line will be presented from June 21 through July 1 in the Culbreth Theatre. The production will be directed and choreographed by UVA alum Matthew Steffens, an internationally-acclaimed actor/director/choreographer whose Broadway credits include Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown with Patti LuPone and Promises, Promises alongside Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth.

At the time of its 1975 Broadway debut, A Chorus Line was a groundbreaking, genre-melding force that incorporated documentary elements into the traditional musical theatre format to tell the real life stories of aspiring artists chasing their dreams. With music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban and a book by James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante, the show would go on to become its very own “singular sensation,” winning fans around the globe with its sizzling dance numbers and collection of unforgettable Broadway hits including “What I Did for Love,” “I Hope I Get It,” and “I Can Do That.”

“We all know A Chorus Line as an incredible song and dance show,” Wales said, “and one of the quintessential modern American musicals. But its themes feel more relevant than ever. At its core, this is a show about the struggle to be seen for who you are and what you can bring to the world and it speaks in so many ways to the moment we are in right now.”

Next up, Mary Chase’s 1945 Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy Harvey, will be presented from July 5-15 in the Ruth Caplin Theatre, and will be directed by Seattle-based director Desdemona Chiang. Chiang’s credits include shows at leading regional theatres and companies across the country including Seattle Repertory Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, California Shakespeare Theater and Playmakers Repertory Company, among others.

Harvey is the charming story of Elwood P. Dowd, a kind and mild-mannered gentleman with a best friend who just happens to be a 6-foot-3 rabbit that only Elwood can see. When Elwood’s sister Veta prepares to launch her daughter into society, the family’s reputation is at stake and the wheels are set in motion for a story that shocks, entertains, and explores a variety of universal issues. “Harvey is about embracing exactly who we are, and about the love, hope and complications that family brings. It is a fun evening and provides us with a space to come together and experience joy.”

Joy is also at the heart of The Cocoanuts, a madcap comedy with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin and a book by George S. Kaufman. In this new adaptation by Mark Bedard, The Cocoanuts comes to the Culbreth stage from July 19-29 and marks the Heritage return of actor/writer/director Frank Ferrante, who wowed audiences here in his award-winning one-man show An Evening with Groucho in 2014.

This time, we find Ferrante’s Groucho as the owner of a 1920’s no-star motel trying to bamboozle gullible tourists into toxic land deals as the great crash looms. Once Chico, Harpo, and company arrive on the scene, the comic mayhem meter goes to 11. “I had the pleasure of seeing Frank star in and direct A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum last fall,” Wales said, “and I was completely blown away by his talent, energy, and ability to connect with an audience.” Ferrante’s performance in Forum was recently cited by the Wall Street Journal as one of the top 10 performances of 2017.

The 2018 Heritage season will close with The Mountaintop, which will be presented in the Ruth Caplin Theatre from July 26 through August 5. The Mountaintop will be directed by Kathryn Hunter-Williams. Hunter-Williams is a company member and director at PlayMakers Repertory Company and the Associate Director of Hidden Voices, a company committed to challenging, strengthening, and connecting diverse communities through the transformative power of the individual voice.

The Olivier award-winning play from Katori Hall is a fantastical imagining of Dr. Martin Luther King’s last night on earth. The story takes audiences inside room 306 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 3, 1968, where an encounter between Dr. King and an anything-but-ordinary motel maid forces the civil rights icon to examine his own life and work. At turns moving, whimsical, and deeply human, Wales says “Producing this piece during the 50th anniversary year of Dr. King’s assassination and having it close almost a year after the tragic events of August 11 and 12 in Charlottesville, brings the opportunity for robust conversations around Dr. King’s legacy through this poetic re-imagining of his final night.”

The 2018 Heritage Theatre Festival season will be dedicated to the memory of David W. Weiss, a founder of Heritage Theatre Festival and former Chair of the Department of Drama.

Heritage’s 2017 season subscribers will receive information on how to renew their subscriptions for the 2018 season in March. New subscription sales will begin April 2, and single tickets will go on sale May 31.

The Cocoanuts is pending final confirmation of rights.

For more information, visit www.heritagetheatrefestival.org.

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