Monday, February 15, 2016

Highland Summer Theatre to celebrate 50th ‘Golden Anniversary’ season

Get Your Golden Ticket
SCENE: A large one-room apartment on the top floor of an old brownstone in the East Forties off Third Avenue. The room is barren. A ladder, canvas drop cloth, and a couple of empty paint cans stand forlornly in the center of the room. There is a huge skylight, which pours the bright February SUNSHINE glaringly into the room.

And with this, the stage was set – in more ways than one. This is the first scene in Neil Simon’s 1963 play “Barefoot in the Park,” setting the stage for the unfolding of the first few days of characters Paul and Corie Bratter’s marriage. But it’s also the first scene of the first-ever show of Highland Summer Theatre (HST) during the summer of 1967, setting the stage for the next 50 years of professional summer stock theatre in Mankato.
This summer will mark the Golden Anniversary of Highland, which has featured several crowd-pleasing productions every summer. Plays and musicals have ranged from “Sweeney Todd” (the play version, capping off the first season in 1967), to “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” (1987), to “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (the first production in Andreas Theatre in 2000), to “Xanadu” (2015). As with the Mainstage and Studio seasons in the Theatre and Dance Department at Minnesota State University, Highland has always offered something for everyone.
This summer, to celebrate such a momentous year, Artistic Director Paul J. Hustoles said Highland Summer Theatre will both pay homage to the past and look toward its future. To honor the past, Hustoles is bringing back alumni to work on each of the four productions, both on the stage as actors and behind the scenes. To celebrate an assuredly bright future of Highland, two of the productions this summer will be premieres at MSU.
“What’s interesting is that I always think of theater as a slice of the past. Most plays are, in a good way, dated; they’re attributed to a certain time,” Hustoles said. “So what’s fun is finding the newness, doing a show that’s new to us.”
Hustoles said the 50th season will strike a perfect balance between the two, with two shows that previously have been done and two new shows. He himself, serving as Artistic Director during his 31st year at MSU, also serves as an example of past and future. This year Hustoles surpassed the MSU career longevity of Ted Paul, the founding father of MSU Theatre and Highland Summer Theatre.
“This is the year I vault ahead of Ted,” Hustoles said.
Here’s a look at what the Golden Anniversary of Highland Summer Theatre has to offer:
‘Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike,’ by Christopher Durang (a premiere)
Performs May 25-28 in the Andreas Theatre, Earley Center for Performing Arts, MSU
About the play: Winner of the 2013 Tony Award for Best Play, middle-aged siblings Vanya and Sonia share a home in Bucks County, Penn., where they bicker and complain about the circumstances of their lives. Suddenly, their movie-star sister, Masha, swoops in with her new boy toy, Spike. Old resentments flare up, eventually leading to threats to sell the house. Also on the scene are sassy maid Cassandra, who can predict the future, and a lovely young aspiring actress named Nina, whose prettiness somewhat worries the imperious Masha.
“This play speaks to this century,” Hustoles said. “It’s very current.”
‘Seussical,’ book by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty; music by Stephen Flaherty; lyrics by Lynn Ahrens; co-conceived by Eric Idle (a premiere)
Performs June 8-11 in the Ted Paul Theatre, Earley Center for Performing Arts, MSU
About the musical: Now one of the most performed shows in America, “Seussical” is a fantastical, magical, musical extravaganza! Tony winners Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty have lovingly brought to life all of our favorite Dr. Seuss characters, including Horton the Elephant, The Cat in the Hat, Gertrude McFuzz, lazy Mayzie, and a little boy with a big imagination—Jojo. The colorful characters transport us from the Jungle of Nool to the Circus McGurkus to the invisible world of the Whos.
“It speaks to all ages,” Hustoles said. “Dr. Seuss was way before his time. Even when you look at his stuff now, it looks futuristic.”
‘The Nerd,’ by Larry Shue (produced in HST 2001)
Performs June 22-25 in the Andreas Theatre
About the play: The action centers on the hilarious dilemma of a young architect who is visited by a man he's never met but who saved his life in Vietnam. The visitor turns out to be an incredibly inept, hopelessly stupid “nerd” who outstays his welcome with a vengeance.
“This one has a timeless quality,” Hustoles said.
‘Footloose,’ music by Tom Snow; lyrics by Dean Pitchford; stage adaptation by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie; based on the original screenplay by Dean Pitchford; additional music by Eric Carmen, Sammy Hagar, Kenny Loggins and Jim Steinman (produced at MSU in 2002)
Performs July 7-9 and 13-16 in the Ted Paul Theatre
Footloose 2002
About the musical: When Ren and his mother move from Chicago to a small farming town, Ren is prepared for the inevitable adjustment period at his new high school. What he isn't prepared for are the rigorous local edicts, including a ban on dancing instituted by the local preacher, determined to exercise the control over the town's youth that he cannot command in his own home. When the reverend's rebellious daughter sets her sights on Ren, her roughneck boyfriend tries to sabotage Ren's reputation, with many of the locals eager to believe the worst about the new kid. The heartfelt story that emerges is of a father longing for the son he lost and of a young man aching for the father who walked out on him.
“Footloose takes place in a very specific time and place, and yet, it still resonates right now,” Hustoles said. “Just think about the world as it exists now and the people who don’t want to be on the cutting edge of social norms and those who want to bring society kicking and dragging into a new world. ‘Footloose’ demonstrates that beautifully.”

See all four shows for $66
Season tickets for the 50th “Golden Anniversary” Season of Highland Summer Theatre are $66 for all four shows and will be available this spring until May 28 by mail order only.
Individual tickets for “Seussical” and “Footloose” are $22 regular or $19 discounted for seniors ages 65 and over and children ages 16 and under. Individual tickets for “Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike” and “The Nerd” are $16 regular and $14 discounted. Individual tickets go on sale May 9.
Call the Box Office from 4 to 6 p.m. weekdays at 507-389-6661 or the MSU Department of Theatre and Dance main office at 507-389-2118 for a brochure (to be issued this spring) or for more information. Or visit

A look at last year's productions:

Xanadu 2015
The Foreigner 2015

Doubt 2015
The Addams Family 2015

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