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Philadelphia Spotlight: June 2006

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A scene from The Lion King
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
The official 2005-06 Philadelphia Area theater season is soon to conclude, but not before a final rush of shows that makes this June the busiest in recent memory.

If you are planning to view The Lion King during its initial appearance in Philadelphia, just remember one thing: don't arrive late. The Tony Award-winning musical boasts what may well be the most dazzling, goose-bump-inducing opening in theater history. And thanks to Julie Taymor's innovative direction and Garth Fagan's original choreography, the rest of the show is pretty spectacular as well (Academy of Music, June 8-September 10).

In Joe DiPietro and Jimmy Roberts' musical The Thing About Men, a philandering businessman is happily playing house separately with his wife and girlfriend. But the tables are soon turned when the fellow discovers his wife is likewise engaging in a bit of extramarital activity. Next thing you know, he's rooming with his wife's lover. It's not what you're thinking (Walnut Street Theatre Independence Studio, through July 2).

The Pig Iron Theatre Company concludes its 10th anniversary season with the world premiere of the dance-play Love Unpunished. Choreographed by Headlong Dance Theater's David Brick and directed by Pig Iron co-founder Dan Rothenberg, Unpunished is set on a stairway in the World Trade Center immediately before planes exploded into the twin structures (Drexel University's Mandell Theater, through June 11).

In Philadelphia, the boundary between theater and dance has become increasingly difficult to discern. Three of the city's top dance-theater companies are included among the 12 troupes participating in the 16-day DanceBOOM! festival at the Wilma Theater (June 15-30). Fans of boundary-busting theater should seek out the inventive Reactionaries, the installation/performance dance-theater duo Subcircle, and the wonderfully playful and accessible Headlong Dance Theater.

Jay McInerney's novel Bright Lights, Big City was a compelling coming-of-age story set amidst the excessiveness of the 1980s. And while Paul Scott Goodman's musical version got a less-than-sparkling reception Off-Broadaway some years back, the Prince Music Theater's new production of Goodman's rock opera -- which stars real-life marrieds Andy Karl and Orfeh -- might reveal the youthful angst beneath the characters' glossy exterior. If so, the show could find new life among the nation's regional houses (June 14-July 2).

The Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, at DeSales University, has never been solely about presenting the Bard's works. This year, the PSF opens with Anthony Shaffer's sly whodunit Sleuth (June 14-July 2), followed by Shakespeare's As You Like It (June 21-July 9), and Othello (July 12-August 6). Ending the season is perhaps the grandest of all musicals, My Fair Lady (July 19-August 6).

If you are looking for the best in gay-themed plays and the hottest young actors in Philly, you'll find both at the 4th Annual Philadelphia Gay and Lesbian Theatre Festival. Among the many offerings are a special one-night only presentation of Martin Moran's highly-acclaimed solo piece The Tricky Part; Out on Broadway, an outlandish show that highlights the gaiety of musical theater; and the local premiere of Blair Fell's Naked Will, an adaptation of Oscar Wilde's short story investigating William Shakespeare's alleged bisexuality. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Terrence McNally (whose latest effort Some Men is currently onstage at Plays and Players Theater) is represented with A Perfect Ganesh. In addition, the festival presents the first full production of Fruitflies, an intriguing new musical that appeared at the 2005 Philadelphia Fringe Festival in a concert version. And if that isn't enough gayness for you, there is also a late night cabaret featuring a bevy of glittering divas. (Various venues, June 16-July 1.)

In Philly, great actors perform anytime, anywhere. Upstairs at Fergie's Pub, you'll find the Inis Nua Theatre Company remounting their 2005 Philly Fringe Festival entry Tadhg Stray Wandered In, penned by Michael Collins and directed by the resourceful Tom Reing. This solo play stars Matt Pfeiffer, fresh off his affecting performance in the InterAct Theatre Company's Reinventing Eden (June 17-30).

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