Summer Guide 2024: Theater

From classic musicals to regional premieres, there's something for every theater fan this summer

click to enlarge Summer Guide 2024: Theater
Coeur d'Alene Summer Theatre takes audiences past the locked door in its production of The Secret Garden.

The heavy hitters of the summertime theatrical world — namely, Coeur d'Alene Summer Theatre and Spokane Valley Summer Theatre — have seasons promising big production value with top-tier musicals like Fiddler on the Roof and South Pacific. At the same time, those iconic shows are augmented by unique or unconventional smaller-scale entertainment that can be found no matter where you are. Whether you're in the mood for thought-provoking original work, short-form festivals or edgy comedies, the region's theater scene has something to fit the bill this summer.


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SUMMER OF CLASSICS

With a trio of popular musicals scheduled over an eight-week period, Coeur d'Alene Summer Theatre gives audiences the opportunity to experience a concentrated dose of Broadway classics during the summer months. The season starts with Fiddler on the Roof (June 28-July 7), the 1964 hit musical featuring earworms like "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" and "If I Were a Rich Man." Set during a historical period that preceded the fall of the Russian Empire, the musical sees Tevye, the village milkman, struggling to uphold Jewish tradition even as it's questioned by his older daughters and threatened by political forces.

After Fiddler comes The Secret Garden (July 19-28). Inspired by the beloved children's novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, this is the story of an orphaned girl who comes to stay with her peculiar relatives in England. On the grounds of their manor house she discovers the titular garden, a Victorian-style maze that factors into the family's tragic past. But through resolve, forgiveness and a little supernatural guidance, everyone might just have a shot at redemption. Composer Lucy Simon (sister of Carly) and lyricist Marsha Norman both received acclaim for their original score to The Secret Garden.

The season ends on a goofy but definitely macabre note with Little Shop of Horrors (Aug. 9-18). Seymour Krelborn is a timid, put-upon assistant in Mr. Mushnik's flower shop, but a strange plant he names Audrey II (after his hopeless crush) changes his fortunes in ways he can only imagine. Only problem is, Audrey II is a little hungrier and more cunning than most houseplants. This dark sci-fi comedy has a 1960s-influenced doo-wop and R&B score and represents one of the earliest collaborations between Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, the creative duo behind Disney hits like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. Find the summer schedule and get tickets at cstidaho.com.

click to enlarge Summer Guide 2024: Theater
Ashlyn Wilker photo
Stage Left premieres the (same) incident.

THE THRILL OF THE NEW

It's always nice to catch a show that's familiar or famous, but there's something undeniably special about brand-new works. Maybe it's the excitement of arriving without preconceptions or expectations. Or the novelty of seeing something groundbreaking before everyone else. Bonus points when there's regional talent behind the production, too.

Chelsea Duvall's experimental original play the (same) incident gets its debut run at Stage Left Theater from June 14-30. It evolved out of West Coast workshops before coming to the Spokane Playwrights Laboratory for final prep. Duvall is a local writer, director and actor; another local playwright, actor and director, Dahveed Bullis, oversees a cast of six for this premiere. But even if this launch represents the collective artistry of the Spokane theater scene, the play itself has a national scope. The (same) incident examines the cycles of violence and blame around mass shootings and how media and society might contribute to those cycles. Through a choreographic approach to movement and what it calls "collage-style theater," the half-dozen actors in the (same) incident present vignettes that encourage audiences to reflect on what has sadly become a defining phenomenon of our times.

FROM PAGE TO STAGE

It isn't unusual for enduring literature to make the leap to the Broadway stage — just see The Secret Garden as mentioned earlier. Segueing between the short stories written by its primary protagonist, Jo, and the everyday ups-and-downs of her family's bustling household, Little Women: The Musical gives a song-and-dance spin to the 19th-century novel that author Louisa May Alcott based largely on her own life. A new production of this 2005 musical at Sandpoint's Panida Theater takes place on June 14 and 15. It's directed by Michael Seifert and put on by the students at the nearby Waldorf-inspired Nova High School.

click to enlarge Summer Guide 2024: Theater
Dylan K. Johnson photo
Andrea Olsen co-stars in SVST's South Pacific.

WARTIME EPICS AND JUKEBOX FAVORITES

Spokane Valley Summer Theatre has two musicals lined up this season ahead of Rising Stars, its increasingly popular showcase of budding talent from around the region.

Yvonne A.K. Johnson directs the opener, South Pacific (June 21-July 7), Rodgers and Hammerstein's wartime epic that deals with love, prejudice and loss in ways that are now considered well ahead of its time. David Brewster, who oversaw last year's Escape to Margaritaville at SVST as well as their Big Band Christmas, returns to provide music direction for a memorable score that includes "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair" and "Some Enchanted Evening." Andrea Olsen, former co-lead of SVST's production of Bright Star, which took top honors in the Inlander's 2024 Best Of Readers Poll, is back in another principal role, this time as Ensign Nellie Forbush. She's opposite veteran opera singer Max Mendez as plantation owner Emile.

Jukebox musical Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story (July 26-Aug. 11) is next, this time with up-and-coming director Collin J. Pittman at the helm. This traces the rapid arc of Holly's career from frontman of Buddy Holly & The Crickets to a solo artist, right up to his death in an infamous plane crash at the age of just 22. Whether you're a longtime fan of 1950s radio staples like "That'll Be the Day" and "Peggy Sue" or just curious about the life of a seminal figure in the origins of rock 'n' roll, Buddy should scratch that itch with diegetic performances of Holly's hits. It also features songs from the other music pioneers who lost their lives alongside him. David Brewster is handling music direction on this one, too, and Gunnar Rorholm stars as the bespectacled title character. Get tickets at svsummertheatre.com.

click to enlarge Summer Guide 2024: Theater
Erick Doxey photo
The Civic stages Heathers: The Musical this summer.

HIGH SCHOOL IS MURDER

A musical adaptation of the eponymous 1988 cult film that led to breakthrough roles for both Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, Heathers takes audiences back to the merciless high-school hierarchies that provided such rich fodder for '80s entertainment. Here, a trio of popular girls (all named Heather, of course) rule Westerberg High School along with their muscle, jocks Ram and Kurt. Unfortunately for the Heathers, their fraught relationship with misfit Veronica Sawyer turns deadly when she develops a relationship with J.D., the enigmatic new student who has no qualms about realizing revenge fantasies.

This production of Heathers: The Musical runs at Spokane Civic Theatre (July 12-28) and is jointly directed by Troy Nickerson and Heather McHenry-Kroetch, the same team behind previous productions of Evil Dead and Rocky Horror Show. Josian Brett, who was in Aspire Community Theatre's All Shook Up last year, stars as Veronica alongside Civic regular Jameson Elton as J.D. But before going, bear in mind that Heathers — including this musical version — ranks among the darker of dark comedies, so it doesn't shy away from themes like bullying, teen suicide, homophobia and sexual assault. Tickets are on sale now at spokanecivictheatre.com.

HEROES AND VILLAINS

Sixth Street Melodrama in Wallace, Idaho, kicks off its 2024-25 season with Huckleberry Havoc, or...The Villain Is in a Jam (July 18-Aug. 18). The first part of the evening features a musical performance from Kelly's Alley Revue. After intermission is the melodrama — for reference, think of the exaggerated plots and performances of silent films — wherein our hero, Sgt. Stanley Steadfast, is tasked with finding a special pie recipe before saloon owner Lucrecia Luscious and villain Malcot Malicious (complete with black cape and mustache) foil their plans. It's good old-fashioned entertainment, right down to the live piano accompaniment.

click to enlarge Summer Guide 2024: Theater
Chey Scott photo
Historic Wallace's Sixth Street Melodrama.

VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE

With a reputation that has grown over the 14 years it's been running, the One-Act Play Festival at the Pend Oreille Playhouse (Aug. 16-18) is ideal for audiences who want to take in a wide variety of theater in a single sitting. A local director oversees each of the festival's original 10-minute plays, which can range from poignant drama to fast-paced comedies. In keeping with the festival's emphasis on fun and discovery, the submissions typically come from far and wide, and the pool of cast members includes a mix of experienced actors and emerging talent. Find details at pendoreilleplayers.com.

GAME OF THRONES

Just before the summer winds down, Pullman's Regional Theatre of the Palouse whisks audiences off to the legendary court of King Arthur with Camelot (Sept. 12-22). The award-winning 1960 Lerner and Loewe musical blends mythology with timeless themes of romance and betrayal as Arthur struggles to reconcile his lofty ideals with would-be usurpers and his queen's infidelity. Figures like Guenevere, Sir Lancelot, Merlin, Morgan le Fay and Mordred are all part of this epic tale, as are favorite songs like "If Ever I Would Leave You" and "I Loved You Once in Silence." More at rtoptheatre.org. ♦

Evening Light Lavender Festival @ Evening Light Lavender Farm

Sat., July 13, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sun., July 14, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
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E.J. Iannelli

E.J. Iannelli is a Spokane-based freelance writer, translator, and editor whose byline occasionally appears here in The Inlander. One of his many shortcomings is his inability to think up pithy, off-the-cuff self-descriptions.