Sometimes Jeffrey L. Page choreographs and directs the performances of singers such as Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, and Jazmine Sullivan. Sometimes he teaches opera at The Juilliard School in New York, in between his regular teaching load at Harvard University. Sometimes Page is in Japan, directing and choreographing plays there, or else he’s on Broadway, where he’s remounting a reimagined version of “1776,” opening in May.
Now he’s in Philly , as resident artist at the Philadelphia Theatre Company, directing and choreographing its upcoming show, “Choir Boy.”
“Philadelphia means a lot to me,” said Page, who grew up in Indianapolis and graduated from the University of the Arts. “I was a horrible student. I was surprised and glad that any college accepted me, much less the University of the Arts. It completely shifted me. Philadelphia caught that very delicate moment of a child becoming a man child.”
What Page finds distinctive about Philadelphia is the way each group in the city — Black, white, gay, all of them and more — strives hard to speak in one Philly voice.
“It’s an amalgamation of a bunch of cultures coming together and finding a way to call themselves a singular community,” said Page. “There’s something energizing about that. All the people — the Black people, the Latino community — they are reckoning on how to come together, how our voices matter, and I think that is stunning.”
Page credits one of his Philly mentors, the late Walter Dallas, former artistic director of Freedom Theatre, with a key question that informed Page’s work on Choir Boy. Page said Dallas told him to always ask himself, “ ‘Why is this work necessary? How is this work relevant to where I am and where society is at this moment?’ ”
“Choir Boy is speaking about the masks we wear,” Page said.
Written by Tarell Alvin McCraney, the Academy Award-winning writer of “Moonlight,” Choir Boy tells the story of a young, gay Black man who must find his way in a Black male chorus.
“He’s a queer boy, so because of that, a lot of the ways in which he thinks, and the ways he lives his life, it’s kind of on the hush,” Page said. “When things are on the hush, you are forced to be retrofitted into someone else’s idea of normality. It makes you a bit schizophrenic.”
The lesson we should take from Choir Boy, Page said, is that everyone is tamping down something, hoping to release that relentless submersion enough to “just breathe.” He hopes that the audience will walk out feeling inspired to “take advantage of every moment, to live out loud.”
And, to sing out loud. Page promises many singing-in-shower songs — gospel, spiritual, and R&B — in Choir Boy. Or, go ahead, sing on Broad Street.
Feb. 18 through March 13, Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 S. Broad St., Philadelphia. 215-985-0420, philadelphiatheatrecompany.org Masks and vaccination proof required.
Rob McClure: Broadway’s (temporary) loss is Bucks Playhouse’s gain
Actor Rob McClure, who plays Mrs. Doubtfire on Broadway and commutes almost daily between New York and his home in South Philadelphia, has a message for President Joe Biden.
“I know Joe Biden — Mr. Amtrak — is going to help us out and invest in that infrastructure,” said McClure, who describes the commute as generally reliable, if he pays attention to the weather and keeps a packed suitcase in the theater just in case. Two times in 15 years he was stuck en route to New York, but he always made the show.
“I’ve kind of learned to enjoy it,” McClure said. “It’s become the designated me- time” and a needed break from the bustle on Broadway.
COVID-19 provided an unwanted break, first throughout the pandemic, delaying the opening of “Mrs. Doubtfire” at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre 18 months until Dec. 5, and recently, when the show’s producers decided to put it on hiatus Jan. 10 due to the omicron variant. The play reopens March 14.
Broadway’s (temporary) loss was Bucks County Playhouse’s gain. The playhouse’s executive producer, Robyn Goodman, a longtime friend of McClure’s, took the opportunity to ask him to bring his one-man show, “Smile,” to New Hope. McClure said Goodman made the point that he had taken this musical review of his life and successes (including “Avenue Q” on Broadway) around the world. Why not bring it home as part of the Playhouse’s visiting artist series?
McClure, who grew up in North Jersey, chose Philly over New York as his home base out of love. He met his wife, actor Maggie Lakis, in 2005 when both were in a cast at the Lenape Regional Performing Arts Center in Marlton. Lakis grew up in and around Philadelphia, and each performed in many local productions. In Philadelphia, McClure saw talent, creativity, and stability. “A lot of the theater is great, and a lot of the performers are great,” he said. “We really love it here.”
Feb. 19 and 20, followed by “That Golden Girls Show! — A Puppet Parody,” Feb. 23 and 24, Bucks County Playhouse, 70 S. Main St., New Hope. 215-862-2121 or bcptheater.org Masks and vaccination proof required.
‘Beautiful’ Carole King
Due to popular demand, “Beautiful — The Carole King Musical” is back at the Kimmel Cultural Campus’ Academy of Music. Of course, it’s one Carole King tune after another, but Beautiful also tells the story of her rise to stardom, her marriage and songwriting partnership with Gerry Goffin, and their friendship with another songwriting couple — Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. Everyone’s contributions show up in this production with 26 songs.
Feb. 22-27, Academy of Music, 240 S. Broad St., Philadelphia. 215-893-1999 or kimmelculturalcampus.org Masks and vaccination proof required.
George and Joy Abbott: Broadway to Broad Street
Graduating in 1952 with an undefeated record in tennis, Joy Valderrama Abbott made her mark at Temple University with her athletic prowess, but her contribution to Temple’s theater program has had much more impact.
A singer and actor in her own right, she was also a supportive spouse to Broadway legend George Abbott, theater producer, director, and playwright who died in 1995 at 107 and had a hand in more than 120 Broadway shows. When she died in 2020, she left Temple not only the rights to Abbott’s musicals (including “Damn Yankees” and “The Pajama Game”), but also the contents of his study, as well her closet full of priceless custom dresses. Temple has established the Abbott Master of Fine Arts in Musical Theater Collaboration program and the George and Joy Abbott Center for Musical Theater.
Temple is honoring her memory with Heart – An Abbott Celebration on Feb. 21. Temple Broadway alums and current students will perform in and host a Broadway cabaret.
Also on Temple’s campus, “Head Over Heels,” a musical smash-up with tunes by the all-female rock band The Go-Go’s. The plot is a retell of a classic love story, The Arcadia, by 16th-century British poet Sir Philip Sidney.
“Head Over Heels,” Feb. 18-24, Tomlinson Theatre, 1301 Norris St., Philadelphia; Heart, Feb. 21, at Temple Performing Arts Center, 1837 N. Broad St., Phila. 215-204-1122 or tfma.temple.edu/events Masks and vaccination proof required at “Heart.” Masks required, vaccination recommended at “Head Over Heels.”
It’s a tale of two Jewish couples: Esther and Schmuli, Hasidic Jews whose marriage was arranged, and Abe and Sophie, whose marriage grew from a childhood friendship. So different, yet so many connections in “The Wanderers” by Anna Ziegler, presented by Theatre Ariel and directed by founding artistic director Deborah Baer Mozes.
‘The Theory of Relativity’
The Players Club of Swarthmore presents “The Theory of Relativity.” It’s a musical crash course on physics (just in case you missed that in school) with deeper lessons on human connectedness.
Feb. 18-26, The Players Club, 614 Fairview Rd., Swarthmore, 610-328-4271, pcstheater.org Vaccination proof, masks required.
Short, sweet, new
SPQR Stage Company in Somers Point, N.J., hosts its fourth annual new plays festival of seven 10-minute plays, with three written by Jersey playwrights.
Feb. 19-20, Studio Space, 112 Woodland Ave., Somers Point, N.J., 323-793-2153 or studiospaceSPNJ.com. Vaccination proof required; masks recommended.
Sausage from the Calamari Sisters
There’s no sausage and the Calamari Sisters aren’t sisters (or women), but there’s laughs aplenty promised at “The Calamari Sisters’ SausageFest” at the Bristol Riverside Theatre.
Feb. 16-20, Bristol Riverside Theatre, 120 Radcliffe St., Bristol, brtstage.org or 215-785-0100. Mask, vaccination proof required.