Maybe it’s the proximity between NYC and Boston. Or perhaps it’s the homegrown talent that performs at Trinity Rep and The Gamm during the “regular” season. But Rhode Island has a theater scene just as lively over the summer as it is during the months between September and June. In the mood for a splashy Broadway musical? Head to Theatre By the Sea. How about something edgier and more low-fi? Hit up FRINGEPVD.
“The weird stuff is the most exciting,” says Wilbury Theatre Group founder and artistic director Josh Short, who also founded FRINGEPVD in 2014. Short believes the affordability of work-life space in neighborhoods like Olneyville kept a number of accomplished artists within the city limits, which made producing the fringe festival a no-brainer. About 60 percent of this year’s festival features home-grown talent. “We have an audience that is enthusiastic and celebrates the weird and wonderful artists” that perform at the Fringe.
“Programming is the toughest thing I do. What are people going to want to see?” asks theater impresario Bill Hanney, who runs Theatre By the Sea in Matunuck. “Of course it’s summertime, so musicals! Nothing too heavy. And I always include a classic.” Hanney spares no expense in replicating the Broadway experience, complete with elaborate sets and costumes and a mix of New York City pros performing on stage beside local talent. Not to be missed is their Monday concert night series, which features performances from NYC musical comedy favorites like Sirius/XM’s Seth Rudetsky and John O’Hurley (of Seinfeld fame).
Whether you are looking for rib-tickling improv comedy, a classic Neil Simon play, an evening of theater under a blanket of stars, or a weird but wonderful stage delight, this small state buzzes with big theatrical offerings both indoors and out. Here are some picks for you to get your theater on this summer.
Rhody’s very own Shakespeare in the Park, The Colonial Theatre has been performing open-air theater in Wilcox Park since 1991. This year, they offer drama-lovers Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot under the stars. In Beckett’s absurdist masterpiece, Vladimir and Estragon ponder the meaning of life while waiting for the titular character. July 22 – August14
Contemporary Theater Company’s summer staple Shakespeare on the Saugatuck returns. Visit their performance patio for As You Like It, Shakespeare’s romantic comedy of mistaken identity between feisty heroine Rosalind and the love-struck Orlando, under a blanket of stars. July 24 – August 24
A favorite spot of comedian, celebrity, and part-time Newport resident Jay Leno, the long-running improv show The Bit Players continues on weekends all summer long.
It’s hard to pick just one from this smorgasbord of stage delights. Fringe shows are usually challenging, sometimes hilarious, and often downright weird, but that shouldn’t deter anyone from exploring their adventurous offerings. July 17 – 30
The Granite Theatre is in the midst of their season when summer rolls around. This year’s highlight is Neil Simon’s classic four-part confection California Suite, a comedic slice-of-life look at four different couples rotating through the same suite in the Beverly Hills Hotel. August 12-27
Newport’s dinner theater reopens after renovating from damage sustained by Hurricane Ida with Murder at the Howard Johnsons, a suspense comedy about a murderous love triangle set in a room at a HoJos. July 10 – August 31
The Gin Game, 1978 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for drama, uses a card game between two nursing home residents as a metaphor for life. Through June 12
Broadway’s smash hit Kinky Boots is the season stand-out at South County’s summer staple. Featuring songs from Grammy- and Tony-winning icon Cyndi Lauper, drag queen Lola helps save a small English shoe factory from closing down in this vibrant story about friendship, acceptance, and some really hot boots. August 17 – September 11
Woonsocket’s Stadium Theatre brings the delightful story of a mom and her teen who swap bodies in Disney’s Freaky Friday: A New Musical. This funny and heartwarming musical is an update on Mary Rodgers’ beloved novel and the two classic Disney movies. July 15-17
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