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Summer and Smoke 

Some unusual offerings will shake up the season's stages.

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It used to be that, to the extent that any live theater was produced in the summertime, it was either Shakespeare or light and lively shows engineered for the broadest possible appeal.

Richmond's 2010 summer season certainly starts out that way, with high-spirited musicals such as “Crowns” and “The Sound of Music” opening in May (both co-produced by Barksdale Theatre; the former in cooperation with African American Repertory Theatre, the latter with Theatre IV). The slapstick humor of Chamberlayne Actors Theatre's “The Kitchen Witches” — a battle-of-wills comedy involving rival cooks that opens May 28 — also places it in that hot-weather sweet spot.

But there will be some changes of pace amidst the frothy good fun this summer, starting with Firehouse Theatre Project's production of the hit Broadway musical “Rent,” opening June 24. Loosely based on the Puccini opera, “La Boheme,” “Rent” includes characters coping with AIDS, drug addiction, and death — not exactly cheerful stuff. Adding to this seasonal dissonance is that many of the musical's scenes are set at Christmastime.

Still, Firehouse's artistic director, Carol Piersol, is confident audiences will flock to this production. “People will come because of how well known it is,” she says — “everyone knows the music so well.” And regardless of subject matter, the show is still a delight. “At the end, it's really uplifting,” Piersol says. “You're left with a really positive feeling.”

Meanwhile, the Barksdale will open “On Golden Pond” at Hanover Tavern on July 16, perhaps taking a cue from last summer's successful run of “Driving Miss Daisy” at Willow Lawn. Like “Daisy,” “Pond” is a relationship drama with strong comedic elements that appeals to an older audience, good counter-programming to the theater's kid-friendly “Sound of Music.”

 

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Barksdale's production of “The Sound of Music” represents the kind of light-hearted family entertainment normally featured on local stages during the summer months.

The Richmond Triangle Players will focus on a totally different audience with their restaging of “Pulp,” opening July 8. Originally produced at the Gay Community Center last spring, this campy “play with music” takes its tone from '50s-era pulp fiction, with a cast of characters looking for love in a lesbian nightclub. “Pulp” will cap a slate of short-running shows focused on bringing audiences into the Triangle Players' new space in Scott's Addition. “This show was a fan favorite that people really wanted to see in a real theater,” managing director Philip Crosby says. Opening earlier in the summer will be two cabaret-style shows, “Alan Palmer's Fabulous Divas of Broadway” (June 10) and “A Slice of Minnelli” with Rick Skye (June 24).

There will be Shakespeare, of course, and not just as part of the annual Richmond Shakespeare Festival. Sycamore Rouge takes the Bard outdoors for the first time in Petersburg, staging perennial summer favorite “A Midsummer Night's Dream” (opening July 16) at Battersea Park, a lovely 30-acre colonial estate. The Richmond festival will offer some enticements of its own, perhaps chief among them the return of Foster Solomon to the local stage. The actor left Richmond in 2006 after a slew of celebrated performances, including leading roles in “Hamlet” and “Topdog/Underdog.” He'll play Toby Belch in Richmond Shakespeare's “Twelfth Night” (opening June 10), one of the Bard's most romantic comedies.

When Richmond Shakespeare produced “Twelfth Night” in 2001, Solomon took the opportunity to propose to his now wife, Susan Sanford (appearing in “Sound of Music”), during one of the performances. That's a good reminder that there will be plenty of opportunities to see something you don't usually see on stage this summer — maybe even a real-life proposal. S

Details for shows can be found at barksdalerichmond.com, cattheatre.com, firehousetheatre.org, richmondtriangleplayers.com, sycamorerouge.org, and richmondshakespeare.com.

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