Fantasia in The Color Purple
(© Paul Kolnik)
Fantasia in The Color Purple
(© Paul Kolnik)
DC stages quiet down a bit for the hot month of July, except for The Kennedy Center, which has two hot, large-scale musicals on the boards. The Opera House hosts DC's first look at The Color Purple (July 1-August 9), as the national tour starring American Idol winner Fantasia comes to town. Nominated for eleven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, the show is based on Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about an African-American woman who triumphs over adversity. The story is adapted for the stage by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner Marsha Norman, with jazz, ragtime, gospel, and blues music and lyrics by Grammy Award winners Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray.

Meanwhile, Spring Awakening (July 7-August 2) makes its DC debut in the Eisenhower Theater. Winner of eight 2007 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, it celebrates the journey from youth to adulthood with a mix of morality, sexuality, and rock & roll. Adapted from Frank Wedekind's play, book and lyrics are from Steve Sater, with music from Duncan Sheik.

It has become a major DC event, even though this is only the third annual Capital Fringe Festival (July 9-26). This year's Fringe has over 120 new and "alternative" productions slated for various unusual venues scattered through DC's Penn Quarter and Mount Vernon Square areas, including a former cigar shop that has been vacant since the 1968 riots, a German cultural institute, an old restaurant, and an historic church. Meanwhile, the 2009 Source Festival winds up on July 12, with DC artists showcased in never-before-seen productions.

Keegan Theatre features both a classic and something new. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (July 16-August 15), based on the novel by Ken Kesey, shares DC's Church Street Theater with Dizzy Miss Lizzie's Roadside Revue presents The Oresteia (July 11- August 9), a rowdy modern take on Aeschylus' Greek trilogy. Olney Theatre Center in suburban Maryland has cool sounds for hot nights with Ain't Misbehavin' (July 8-August 2). The show features the work of legendary pianist and composer Thomas Wright "Fats" Waller with 30 tunes recreating the atmosphere of 1930s Harlem.

The slow summer months are a good time to check out some of the area's fine smaller theater companies, and that includes Bethesda's Quotidian Theatre Company. Performing at the Bethesda Writer's Center, Quotidian has scheduled Hubert Henry Davies' Captain Drew on Leave (July 10-August 9). This is a romantic comedy set in 1905, with the Captain on leave from the Royal Navy and looking for a bit of romantic adventure. Forum Theatre offers up Carlos Murillo's dark play or stories for boys (July 11-August 2) at DC's H Street Playhouse. An exploration of adolescent male sexuality, it's inspired by the true story of an English teenager and his nearly fatal internet misadventures.

Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks usually has something interesting to say, and Studio Theatre's SecondStage is mounting a revival of her bloody, contemporary take on The Scarlet Letter, Fucking A (July 15-August 9). It features poetry and comic songs and is set in a post-apocalyptic future, where an outcast abortionist will do anything to reclaim her lost son. Sheila Callaghan's Dead City (Rorschach Theatre, July 19-August 16) is a hip take on James Joyce's Ulysses that reverses the genders of the main characters and updates the landscape to a surreal Manhattan.