That the Alliance is collaborating with Manilow became something of an open secret ever since Manilow was spotted last year dining with the theater’s artistic director, Susan Booth, just before the premiere of the Alliance’s production of the musical “Next to Normal.”
“We started a conversation with Barry and Bruce Sussman several years ago about possibly doing it in an early season, and ultimately it needed to delay,” Booth said. “Then about a year and a half ago, my phone rings one day and it’s Barry Manilow saying, ‘If you still like the piece,’ we’d really like to talk.’ ”
The show opened at California’s La Jolla Playhouse in 1997 and was bound for Broadway in 2003, when production was abruptly halted after financing fell through. Booth said the theater was excited to get the chance to finally do the work in Atlanta because “we take really good care of new work.”
“It’s a house aesthetic that we make sure that writers and composers are surrounded by people who are supporting their vision,” Booth said. “If you do that slow, and steady and well, word gets out.”
Next the season shifts to Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage’s “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark,” a wry comedy about what Hollywood was like back when the best, if not the only, roles an African-American actress could get was as a domestic. While that narrative echoes in contemporary cinema, “Vera Stark” is set in the early cinematic era of Hattie McDaniel and Butterfly McQueen.
A couple of the four world premieres in the upcoming season have Atlanta roots. Atlantan Janece Shaffer’s “The Geller Girls” is her fifth play premiered at the Alliance and will be directed by Booth. As the city changed during the 1895 Cotton Exposition, so did the lives of two Jewish sisters who called the city home. How they move forward, or not, in the midst of the event is the question.
The second such premiere is by the Alliance/Kendada National Graduate Playwriting Competition winner for 2014, Madhuri Shekar. Scores of graduate students from across the nation vie for the award, which has evolved into a coveted steppingstone to a career in professional theater. Four of the 2014 finalists will have their plays performed as readings in the Alliance’s annual Festival of New Plays in February. As the winner, Shekar’s work, “In Love and Warcraft,” will be performed on the Hertz stage, also in February. “In Love and Warcraft” deals with a dilemma that was just taking hold when the prize was established a decade ago: the very real internal battle some people face between their Internet identity and their real-life identity. In addition to Shekar’s, three other plays to be produced at the Hertz this year are by previous Kendada winners.
Concluding the main stage season next spring will be “Tappin’ Thru Life,” written by and starring Maurice Hines, one of the distinguished Hines Brothers who reinvigorated the discipline of tap for late 20th-century audiences. Maurice and his late brother, Gregory, were masters of the dance form through the late 1970s and 1990s, with Gregory becoming a major crossover actor and winning a Tony Award for his role in “Jelly’s Last Jam.” “Tappin’ Thru Life” tells their story, and by extension the history of American tap. Hines will perform with the Manzari Brothers and the Diva Orchestra, a nine-piece, all-female big band.
Here’s an overview of the complete 2013/2014 season.
On the Alliance main stage
“Harmony — A New Musical,” music by Barry Manilow, book and lyrics by Bruce Sussman, directed by Tony Speciale. Sept. 6-Oct. 6
“By the Way, Meet Vera Stark,” written by Lynn Nottage, directed by Leah Gardiner, Oct. 16-Nov. 10
“A Christmas Carol,” written by Charles Dickens, adapted by David H. Bell, directed by Rosemary Newcott
“The Geller Girls,” written by Janece Shaffer, directed by Susan Booth, Jan. 15-Feb. 9
“Tappin’ Thru Life,” written by and starring Maurice Hines, directed by Jeff Calhoun, April 2-May 4
On the Hertz Stage
“Choir Boy,” by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Sept. 20-Oct.13
“Warrior Class,” by Kenneth Lin, Oct. 25-Nov. 17
“In Love and Warcraft,” by Madhuri Shekar, Jan. 31-Feb. 23
“The Tall Girls,” by Meg Miroshnik, directed by Susan Booth, March 7-30