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Philadelphia Spotlight: May 2008

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Bill Irwin
(© Joseph Marzullo/WENN)
One of the most eagerly awaited world premieres of the season opens this month when the Philadelphia Theatre Company stages the debut of Tony Award winner Bill Irwin's The Happiness Lecture (May 16-June 15). Conceived, directed and starring Irwin, Lecture concerns a group of adventurers who embark on a journey in pursuit of happiness.

The Walnut Street Theatre concludes its 199th year with one of the 20th century's biggest and best loved musicals Les Miserables (May 13-August 1). Reportedly one of the first self-producing theaters chosen by Les Miz producer Cameron Mackintosh to create a new concept for the 1985 musical, director Mark Clements' production stars Broadway vet Hugh Panaro as Jean Valjean and Walnut favorite Paul Schoeffler as Valjean's dogged pursuer Inspector Javert.

Speaking of musicals, this May the Cadillac Broadway Series offers two award winning shows bound to satisfy any fan. Taking the stage May 2-4 at the Academy of Music is the irreverent hit Hairspray, a high-energy tale about a full-bodied girl who becomes an overnight celebrity. May 9-11, the Academy hosts the legendary musical Gypsy. Set during the heyday of vaudeville and burlesque, Gypsy features a wondrous score from Jule Styne (music) and Stephen Sondheim (lyrics) including the classics "Everything's Come up Roses" and "Some People."

Fans of experimental theater will rejoice when the long-awaited Philly premiere of New Paradise Laboratories' 2004 work Prom (May 1-11) makes its' local debut at Drexel University's Mandell Theater. The first installment in NPL's "American Ethnographies" trilogy, Prom employs dance and athletics to recall this memorable teenage rite of passage.

The Bristol Riverside Theatre concludes its' season with a revival of Jerry Herman's 1969 musical Dear World (thru May 18). A musical fable about the dangers of greed, World is a rarely-seen gem from the composer of Mame and Hello Dolly.

The Wilma Theater -- who scored a hit in 2005 with Sarah Ruhl's The Clean House -- now stages the playwright's highly-acclaimed Eurydice (thru June 1), directed by Blanka Zizka. An original retelling of the myth of Orpheus, the play is a magical exploration of the divide between life and death. Featuring an original score by composer Toby Twining, the Wilma's surreal production promises to be one of the month's most visually-dazzling offerings.

The Arden Theatre Company concludes its 20th anniversary season with an unconventional staging of Thornton Wilder's masterpiece Our Town (May 22-June 22). The first act of director Terrence J. Nolen's production takes place at the Arden's Haas Stage. During intermission the show moves next door to historic Christ Church, which houses the second half of Wilder's classic look at life in small town America.

Flashpoint Theatre Company takes on the reality TV craze with the company's production of Eric Coble's The Dead Guy (May 14-31), which focuses on America's seemingly boundless interest in the so-called reality of others.

This month is the perfect opportunity to introduce youngsters to the joy of theater when Penn Presents hosts the 24th annual Philadelphia International Children's Festival, May 7-9. This year's festival includes the hip-hop inspired poetry of the Mayhem Poets and the Mamadou Diabate Ensemble, a highly-theatrical troupe that brings to life the diverse cultural history of West Africa.

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