New England’s Hot Summer Entertainment

The July|August issue of Boston Spirit magazine highlights the sizzling talent jetting over to New England’s most popular summer venues. Here, we profile the Afterglow performance arts festival and the divas descending on Provinetown’s Art House Theater this season as well as Jacob’s Pillow in Western Massachusett’s Berkshire mountains.

Basking in the Afterglow: Performance Arts Festival Seeks to Reclaim Provincetown’s Birthright

“From the time of Eugene O’Neill and the Provincetown Players up through the 1970s, Provincetown remained synonymous with experimental, progressive stage work,” asserts Quinn Cox, founder of the Afterglow Festival. “As a theater professional, I have a goal of helping Provincetown reclaim its birthright as the birthplace of modern American theater.”

The second Afterglow Festival will be held this September 11 through 16, just after the crowds have left the seaside town and many of the “uptown” acts on Commercial Street have closed for the season. While summer is still in full force at the tip of the Cape, the lack of crowds offers space for creative energy to flow.

“I had approached a few venues in Provincetown to suggest shows by this performer friend or that; and I was surprised to learn that people booking acts were unaware of the resource of talent, mostly based in New York, who … are internationally renowned and celebrated, playing great houses and festivals all over the world.” Cox wasn’t alone in his frustration. “Over brunch at home with Stella Starsky (the other half of Cox’s performance team STARSKY + COX), John Cameron Mitchell, designer Todd Thomas, and Del Marquis, from the Scissor Sisters, we got to talking… [We] decided we should start a festival for the coming summer.”

And so the Afterglow Festival of Live Performance Arts was born. Performance Arts is a broad term covering any live performance that brings together artist and audience—dance, music, clowning, burlesque, cabaret, spoken word, performance art, mime, juggling. Cox describes the acts that make up the festival as having “talent, a unique perspective, and a desire to create something new—expanding the form of live performance in [its] various forms. The quick answer is that they are considered ‘alternative’ or that they are ‘downtown artists’ but that’s not really accurate.” While some of the experimental pieces ultimately don’t work, Cox lives by the words of Justin Vivian Bond: “Dare to suck.”

Cox is backed by some pretty major national players, such as artists Taylor Mac—writer and performer in next season’s The Lily’s Revenge at ART, Mx. Bond, and the legendary John Cameron Mitchell. “My relationships with John and Taylor and Justin Vivian go back many years and I wanted them to be on the advisory board of Afterglow because they’ve all been inspirations to me personally and professionally,” says Cox. “Our first meeting about Afterglow, when we came up with the festival’s name, consisted of the four of us, musing about all possibilities. They, along with our other advisors, are indeed our Muses.” In addition, Mitchell and Bond will bring their inspirations to the stage in this year’s festival.

The festival’s first year was a resounding success. Boasts Cox, “We have in our first year put Provincetown on the map of international live performance festivals. We hope to expand this vision to make Provincetown a mini-Edinburgh, where artists and audiences flock each year. I feel it my mission to make Provincetown a thriving international destination … a place that not only hosts but generates important stage performers and their works.” This year’s roster includes Amber Martin, Bridget Everett, Dan Fishback, Joseph Keckler, Cole Escola, Erin Markey, Jay Brannan, “love, connie”, Heloise and the Savoir Faire, and THESWIMMINGPOOLS.

“I moved here two weeks after the first Afterglow Festival,” says Cox. “I live in a bungalow … who’s first inhabitant was Eugene O’Neill. I don’t think things like that are just coincidence.” [x]

Divas Descend on Provincetown’s Art House

Can’t decide whether your summer getaway should be to New York City or Provincetown? Now you don’t have to. The Art House again is bringing a bit of Broadway to Provincetown this summer with a series of big name performers who normally play venues much larger than the cozy confines of the cabaret on Commercial Street. From the grandest modern Broadway diva of them all, Patti LuPone, to stage and TV star Megan Mullally, the Art House is the place to be this summer when your inner Broadway baby needs some TLC.

Best known for her Tony award-winning role as Grizabella in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats, as well as her roles on the London stage in Promises, Promises and Sunset Boulevard, Betty Buckley returns to town August 11 and 12, accompanied by pianist and Broadway in Provincetown host, Seth Rudetsky.

“I’ve know Seth forever, before he was famous. He remembers things I don’t—some I’d prefer to forget,” says Buckley over the phone from her native Fort Worth, Texas, where she’s performing Ahhh Men! The Boys of Broadway and teaching a song interpretation workshop. Buckley for 40 years has conducted master classes (Rudetsky was once a student, she says). Last September, Buckley performed Ahhh Men! in Provincetown (“I’m thrilled they invited me back; I love being there. The audiences are exceptional,” she says.) She then took the show to the famed Feinstein’s nightclub in the Regency Hotel in New York. Buckley says she’ll likely sing some selections from Ahhh Men!—men’s songs from Broadway shows that she’s “always wanted to sing”—in this summer’s Art House concert. These include numbers from Sweeney Todd, West Side Story, Guys and Dolls, Pippin, and “a beautiful new arrangement by Christian Jacobs of ‘Hey There’ from The Pajama Game,” she says.

Palmetto Records in August will release a CD of Ahhh Men! And Ghostlight, produced by T Bone Burnett, will be available from Palmetto in 2013. Fans can expect a sampling of music from her illustrious oeuvre, banter with Rudetsky about her career, and perhaps even her signature song, “Memory.”

The ageless Marilyn Maye kicks things off in August, appearing on the 7th and 8th with Billy Stritch accompanying her on piano. This premiere jazz and Broadway vocalist has been enjoying resurgence in popularity since 2006 when she appeared as a special guest of The Mabel Mercer Society at New York’s renowned Rose Hall at Lincoln Center. She followed this with a second Mercer concert and a performance at the annual Cabaret Convention at Lincoln Center, then delivered a series of glowingly reviewed performances at New York’s Metropolitan Room in 2010. Her shows at the Art House last summer left the audience begging for more, so Maye is back for an encore. Don’t miss her return.

Megan Mullally (August 23 and 24) may be forever etched in the hearts of LGBT fans everywhere for her portrayal of hysterically tipsy bisexual party girl Karen Walker on Will & Grace, the groundbreaking hit TV series that earned Mullally two Emmy Awards. But Mullally is no Broadway novice. She made her Broadway debut as Marty in the 1994 revival of Grease with Rosie O’Donnell and one year later appeared as Rosemary in the revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying opposite Matthew Broderick. In 2007, Mullally, channeling the late, great Madeline Kahn, starred as Elizabeth in Mel Brooks’ musical version of Young Frankenstein. With Rudetsky at the piano, audiences can expect some songs from these shows and more than a few laughs.

Alice Ripley (Sept. 1 and 2) may not be as much of a household name as the other Broadway in Provincetown divas but that shouldn’t be the case for long. Ripley, who was feted earlier this year in Boston at SpeakEasy Stage Company’s 21st Anniversary Gala and performed two songs, won the 2011 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her tour de force in Next to Normal. She played conjoined twin Violet Hilton in Side Show, a role that earned her and her co-star Emily Skinner critical acclaim, a cult following, and a shared 1998 Tony Award nomination, making them the first co-nominees in a musical. Her other Broadway credits include The Rocky Horror Show, James Joyce’s The Dead, Sunset Boulevard and The Who’s Tommy. A songwriter and guitarist, she formed the band RIPLEY in 2003 and this year released a new single, “Beautiful Eyes.” Sh-K-Boom Records last year released “Alice Ripley Daily Practice, Volume 1.” [x]

Ptown Art House

Lords (and Ladies) of the Dance

Nestled in Western Massachusetts’ Berkshires, Jacob’s Pillow, home to America’s longest running international dance festival, this summer celebrates its 80th anniversary season which kicks off June 20. A National Historic Landmark and recipient of the prestigious National Medal of Arts, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival includes more than 50 national and international dance companies and 300 performances this year.

One of these is the Trey McIntyre Project (August 8–August 12 in the Ted Shawn Theatre), a celebrated force in the contemporary dance world and a Jacob’s Pillow audience favorite over the past four seasons (2005, 2006, 2008, and 2010). TMP has earned an international reputation for innovative chorography and bold pop music choices. This year, TMP premieres LADIES AND GENTLE MEN based on the music from Marlo Thomas’s seminal ‘70s book, recording and television special about defying gender stereotypes.

“Trey’s mother Frankie Hoover Gibson shares that Trey literally played through multiple copies of the Free To Be record in his youth. The album and TV special played a huge role in his upbringing, and he certainly considers himself a Free To Be kid,” says John Michael Schert, TMP dancer, cofounder and its executive director.

“Coincidentally, it was at our 2010 Jacob’s Pillow that Alan Alda, Letty Pogrebin, and other members of the original Free To Be team attended the TMP performance and came backstage afterwards to meet Trey. They were so impressed with Trey’s ability not just as an artist and choreographer, but as a director and coach of the dancers in bringing out authentic onstage portrayals that they offered Trey use of the Free To Be material if he ever might be interested in creating a work of art to the content. Trey said an immediate “yes,” and we have been working on bringing this project to fruition ever since.”

In addition to LADIES AND GENTLE MEN, the company will be performing Leatherwing Bat set to the music of Peter Paul and Mary, and its most recent creation, Bad Winter, a work for three dancers. McIntyre often uses same-sex couples in his choreography. TMP traveled to Cuba in 2000 with the Washington Ballet and performed Blue Until June to songs by Etta James with choreography that included a romantic duet with two male dancers. Some thought this might offend Cuban government officials and urged McIntyre to take out the duet. He refused, and ultimately the program was televised all over the country to much acclaim. Many Cubans thanked McIntrye for not underestimating their tolerance and understanding.

“Trey choreographs relationships in all of his work, and he strives for the audience to have their own, personal, subjective experience in how the relationship onstage affects each person. These relationships can be mother and son, siblings, male and female, male and male or female and female,” says Schert. “Whether they are romantic in nature or two bodies interacting, dance allows a deeper undercurrent of emotion and truth to well up, and you feel it more than analyze it. Speaking for myself as a gay man, not for TMP or Trey specifically, the more the world can be perceiving and feeling gay relationships, instead of evaluating them, the closer we can come to equality. Trey treats each of these relationships in his choreography with equal validity. All people and all relationships are treated equally. For me as a dancer in these works, it is how I hope the world will treat all gay men and women.”

TMP, which performed in March at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, was selected by the State Department and the Brooklyn Academy of Music this year as one of four troupes to participate in DanceMotion USA, an initiative that links cultural groups and international diplomacy. This past spring, TMP toured China, South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines as a US cultural ambassador.

Other performers with strong LGBT ties at Jacob’s Pillow this summer include the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company (July 25-July 29). Heralded choreographer Jones, a Tony winner for Spring Awakening, formed the company in 1982 with long-time partner Arnie Zane who died in 1988. The pair was known for their innovative solos and duos that often involved same-sex couples and didn’t shy from difficult subjects such as racism and AIDS.

At the other end of the spectrum is Doug Elkins and Friends’ Fräulein Maria (August 22-August 26), the popular deconstruction of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music that sold out its engagement in Boston in 2010. Rather than camp, it’s been called “a giddy, wondrous celebration” by Elkins has been named a 2012 Guggenheim Foundation Fellow. [x]