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Philadelphia Spotlight: March 2006

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Joan Almedilla in Les Misérables
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
It's a busy March in Philadelphia with the final touring appearance of one of the world's most popular musicals and a pair of plays exploring the lives of legendary Philadelphians.

Since opening in London 21 years ago, Les Misérables has developed an almost religious following. The show audiences have come to know and love will make its eighth and final Philadelphia appearance this month at the Forrest Theatre (March 1-19). Set during the French Revolution, Les Miz is a romantic story in which the law and justice exist as separate entities, and love ultimately conquers just about anything.

The Walnut Street Theatre gives you the opportunity to learn a bit about the lives of two influential Philadelphians. On the theater's mainstage is Joanna McClelland Glass' poignant two-character work Trying (March 14-April 30). Before becoming a playwright, 25-year-old Glass moved from her rural Canadian home and took up residence in Philadelphia, where she worked as a secretary to the cantankerous Judge Francis Biddle. Set during the final year of Biddle's life, Trying depicts the evolving relationship between a pair of equally intractable people, one who knows little about her new city and another who has made it his life's work to defend its downtrodden residents.

Upstairs on the Walnut's small Independence Studio on 3 stage you can examine the life of Philly's greatest actor, Edwin Forrest, in the world premiere of Forrest: A Riot of Dreams (March 14-April 2). Penned by local dramatist Armen Pandola, Forrest focuses on the feud between the actor and his longtime acting nemesis William Macready, a rivalry that led to a dangerous riot during Macready's performance of Macbeth.

Brian Friel's award-winning play Dancing at Lughnasa is the story of f five sisters, who have lived lives full of unfulfilled desires. The Arden Theatre Company's production boasts a remarkably talented cast of local performers, including Megan Bellwoar, Grace Gonglewski, and Jennifer Childs (March 7-April 2).

A powerful look at life in South African during the days of apartheid, The Syringa Tree is typically performed by a single actress portraying all of the play's 24 characters. For the Delaware Theatre Company's upcoming production of Pamela Gien's play, director C. Michael Wright is instead staging the play with two actresses, Erica Bradshaw and Lia Aprile. Whether Wright's approach will work remains to be seen, but it should provide a unique perspective on Gien's challenging play (March 8-26).

For countless people around the world, slavery is not a memory, but a present condition. Examining the tragedy of 21st Century slavery is the purpose of Brat Productions' Causeway Performance Series (March 8-19). The first offering in what Brat intends to become an annual series of works examining a common theme of social importance, director Deborah Block guides six artists and ensembles, each of whom will present a work exploring slavery in our time.

Lynn Nottage's wonderful Intimate Apparel not only provides a highly-descriptive portrait of urban life at the turn of the 20th Century, but in doing so likewise examines our current society. The story concerns Esther, a daughter of slaves who makes her way from North Carolina to New York City, where she comes into contact with a wide variety of New Yorkers, including a white woman from the upper levels of New York society, a prostitute with dreams of becoming a concert pianist, and a Romanian-Jewish man for whom she develops an awkward attraction. The Philadelphia Theatre Company's new production stars Broadway's Rosalyn Coleman as Esther and the superb Stephanie Berry as her landlady (March 17-April 26)

If you have young ones studying Shakespeare in school, they may balk at the suggestion you take them to see all 38 of the Bard's plays in a single sitting. But if you can lure them to The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Festival, they may be shocked at how entertaining Shakespeare can be. A ridiculous and hysterical bit of theatrical silliness that presents all of Shakespeare's plays in a rapid 98 minutes, director Dominick Scudera's production stars Brian McCann, David Raphaely, and the always-humorous John Zak (March 8-May 19).

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