Swing's the thing on the local stage


It's going to be a swinging theater season in Baltimore. Shows at three of the city's major professional theaters will feature the swing-dancing craze.

First up, in November, is Center Stage's production of "Fall," a coming-of-age play by Bridget Carpenter about a 14-year-old whose parents drag her to swing-dance camp. This will be followed by two revues, "Forever Swing," at the Lyric Opera House in December, and "Swing!", a 2000 Tony Award nominee due at the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre in March.

There's plenty of serious drama in store as well. Center Stage's most ambitious undertaking will be its February production of "The Investigation," Peter Weiss' courtroom drama based on actual testimony from the 1964 Auschwitz trials.

Also in the courtroom, Everyman Theatre will stage a co-production of Arthur Miller's account of the Salem witch trials, "The Crucible," with the Baltimore School for the Arts in November. The same month, the Mechanic will present the Broadway tryout of "Tallulah," a one-woman bio-drama about actress Tallulah Bankhead, written by Sandra Ryan Heyward and starring Kathleen Turner.

Another promising solo show will be Obie Award-winner David Drake's "Son of Drakula." The former Marylander's autobiographical work will have its world premiere at the Theatre Project in April.

Swing music is not the only style musical-theater lovers will hear this season. "Barry Manilow's Copacabana," extrapolated from the singer/songwriter's hit single, comes to the Lyric at the end of October. And in February, Mechanic patrons will be treated to one of the most magnificent musicals of the last decade, "Ragtime," Terrence McNally, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's adaptation of E. L. Doctorow's novel about three early-20th-century American families.

A number of shows will justify the drive to Washington. The latest installment of August Wilson's decade-by-decade chronicle of African-American life, "King Hedley II," set in the 1980s, comes to the Kennedy Center in February. (His 1930s installment, "The Piano Lesson," will be produced at Center Stage in May.)

And in celebration of its 50th anniversary, Washington's Arena Stage is remounting two of its most celebrated productions: Howard Sackler's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about a black boxer, "The Great White Hope," which opens tomorrow, and, in December, "K2," Patrick Meyers' account of a pair of mountain climbers who risk their lives to scale one of the world's most treacherous peaks.

Finally, Baltimore's community-theater scene will offer its own temptations. AXIS Theatre has an entire lineup of shows by women, including Paula Vogel's "And Baby Makes Seven" and Suzan-LoriParks' "Venus." And next week the Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre opens an eight-week run of A. R. Gurney's two-person epistolary drama, "Love Letters," starring a different local couple each night. It sounds like the ideal love letter to local theater.

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