“I had a dream, to quote Arthur Laurents, Mama Rose from Gypsy,” said David Saint, Artistic Director for George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick. “For years, I’ve had this dream, and today it’s finally coming true. This theater has been a dream long felt and held, and it’s finally happening because of a great public, private partnership between the city of New Brunswick, Mayor Cahill, the county, the Middlesex County Freeholders, the state, Chris Paladino and DEVCO, and many others to make this finally happen.”
Saint was speaking to members of the media from the stage of the Elizabeth Ross Johnson Theater on April 9 to give a preview of the new performing arts center and announce George Street’s 2019-20 season. This will be their first season back in downtown New Brunswick after taking up a temporary residence in 2017 in the former Agricultural Museum building during construction of their new home.
“I can’t tell you how thrilling it is for me to stand here on this stage today because it’s been a long time coming, and for the past three or four years I’ve worked with the architects in designing this space,” continued Saint. “I’m so proud that the architects and I realized that you need to have a theatre practitioner helping you to design a space that is a theatre. So many buildings are built for theaters, and they don’t consult the people who make the art. And if you don’t have that input, you don’t know what’s important and what’s not. And, luckily, this group has had that faith, and I’ve worked with all of them for the past several years. And you see the result today. This is the bare bones shell of what will be an amazing new performing arts center.”
The New Brunswick Performing Arts Center (NPBAC) in downtown New Brunswick will mark a new era in the history of George Street Playhouse. The complex features two state-of-the-art theatres and myriad amenities. George Street Playhouse will open and close its 2019-20 season with musicals in The Elizabeth Ross Johnson Theater, which seats 463, and also produce three plays in The Arthur Laurents Theater, featuring 259 seats.
Featuring two state-of-the-art performance spaces, a donor lounge, expanded restroom facilities, an expansive two-story lobby, and elevator access to the lobbies and theaters, the NPBAC boasts modern and comfortable new seats, contemporary heating and cooling systems, and all the amenities for patron comfort, convenience, and accessibility. It will also offer expanded theater technology, such as a fly loft that will allow for scenery to raise and lower, an expansive orchestra pit, and more.
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The five-play season features a heartwarming new musical, a hilarious one-woman show starring a beloved television personality, a gripping suspense thriller based on a bestselling novel, a world premiere historical drama by George Street Playhouse favorite Joe DiPietro (Toxic Avenger; I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change; Clever Little Lies), and a new musical adaptation of a popular film.
The 2019-20 season will begin in October with Last Days of Summer, the wonderful, heartwarming new musical based on the popular novel by Steve Kluger. When Joe Margolis is asked by his son to open an old box of letters, he is transported to the summer of 1942, and the time a young Joey and his best friend Craig wrote fan letters to the star third baseman of the New York Giants asking his help to impress and suppress the neighborhood bullies. When they receive a surprising response, an unlikely friendship is formed that will affect both boys for the rest of their lives. With music by Grammy winner Jason Howland (Broadway’s Little Women), directed by Tony nominee Jeff Calhoun (Newsies on Broadway), and a book by the novel’s author, this new musical is a poignant tale of baseball, friendship, and the enduring bond between fathers and sons. Performances run from October 15 through November 11, 2019 in the Elizabeth Ross Johnson Theater. The play is produced by special arrangement with Daryl Roth.
Next in the intimate Arthur Laurents Theater is My Life on a Diet. Called “fascinating. lighthearted & spicy” by the New York Times, this hilarious autobiographical comedy stars Academy Award-nominated and Emmy Award-winning writer and actress Renée Taylor, known for her recurring role on television’s The Nanny. In her side-splitting one woman show, written by Taylor and her husband Joseph Bologna, she looks back on a life full of memorable roles in Hollywood and on Broadway, and just as many fad diets. Featuring juicy anecdotes about screen legends such as Joan Crawford, Marilyn Monroe, and Barbra Streisand, My Life on a Diet, originally directed by Joseph Bologna, runs from November 19 and through December 15, 2019. The play is produced in association with Julian Schlossberg.
Kicking off 2020 is Midwives, a world premiere thriller based on the book-turned-film of the same name by Chris Bohjalian. Adapted for the stage by the author from his own bestselling novel, an early selection of Oprah’s Book Club, this tale of suspense and courtroom drama explores the fallout of an impossible decision made by midwife Sibyl Danforth during a routine at-home birth. This new play, directed by Sheryl Kaller (Mothers and Sons on Broadway; Tony Award nominee for Next Fall on Broadway), will keep audiences on the edge of their seat. Midwives runs January 21 through February, 16, 2020.
Also taking the stage in the Arthur Laurents Theater is Playhouse mainstay Joe DiPietro’s Conscience, a world premiere historical drama set during the American Red Scare. Acting out boldly against party lines, real-world Senator Margaret Chase Smith becomes one of the first to stand up against Senator Joseph McCarthy in this gripping historical tale inspired by real events. Taking the stage under the direction of Artistic Director David Saint, performances begin March 3 and will run through March 29, 2020.
Closing the 2019-20 season in the Elizabeth Ross Johnson Theater is A Walk on the Moon, a new musical with a book by Pamela Gray and music & lyrics by Paul Scott Goodman, based on the critically acclaimed motion picture of the same title by Pamela Gray. Longing for more than her life as a mother and housewife, and sensing that change and human possibilities are in the air, Pearl Kantrowitz begins an affair with a somewhat lost, free-spirited traveling salesman while summering with her family in the Catskills. As the Woodstock music festival comes to life nearby, their whirlwind romance, set in the summer of 1969—when mankind first stepped on the moon—brings audiences on a musical journey set against the backdrop of an iconic moment in American history. Sheryl Kaller directs A Walk On the Moon, with choreography by Josh Prince, April 21 through May 17, 2020. A Walk on the Moon is produced by special arrangement with Stephen and Ruth Hendel.
“Arriving on the advent of my 23rd season at George Street Playhouse, the completion of the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center represents a dream fulfilled and a momentous point in our history,” said Saint. “We have built our national reputation upon developing and premiering new works, and we are thrilled to continue that commitment in our new home.”
“So those are our five new plays and musicals next year,” continued Saint. “And by the way, I’ll direct Joe’s because if I didn’t, I’d break his arm. No, I’m kidding, but I always direct his stuff. I love Joe, and so we work well together. So those are the five shows we’re going to do. I think it should be a fantastic season. Each piece has something really special about it. Each piece is created by award-winning, top-of-the-line American theater artists. So I’m already talking to people now about the following season, and producers and writers are bringing me projects now because it’s already happening. I tell my staff all the time, you wait and see what’s going to happen because I knew the minute we had this kind of facility here in New Brunswick, so close to New York, producers writers, directors, they’re all going to want to be premiering their things here.”
Saint pointed out just how much the performing arts center will be a game changer - not just for George Street, but for theatre in New Jersey as well.
“I want you to understand what a huge day this is for New Jersey, for New Brunswick in particular, but for New Jersey as a state because it does mean that we are going to be able to host a lot of new exciting work. And the one thing I want you to sense when you’re in this space, even with all the open walls, and without all the finishing touches, you can see what we offer. The biggest producers in New York have all said to me, what you’ve done so well is you have kept a space intimate, so that we can engage an audience’s response to a new piece, combined with the technical facilities to support a big Broadway musical.”
According to Saint, the stage is wider than Broadway stages, making it a good place to try out a show that it meant to go to New York because the show could move without making any changes to the physical design. He also pointed out the intimacy of the theatre.
“You know, I’ve directed shows around the country,” said Saint. “I’m doing a major new production of West Side Story in Tokyo at this incredible theatre. It’s huge, huge, huge. And sometimes, when I direct around the country, I’m in 1,500, 2,000, 3,000 seat theatres. Laurence Olivier always said once you go beyond 500 seats, you become a spectacle. It’s no longer a play. It’s a spectacle.”
“And what’s great even for a new musical you want to feel a warm atmosphere,” he continued. “You want to feel the intimacy, so you so, the audience becomes a part of the piece. That’s the only way the creators and the director discover how it’s landing. And then you can move into a bigger house if you want. But here, we have the best of both worlds... It’s my dream theater here. It’s come to life, and I’m very happy to share it with all of you.”