Blackfriars' 2023-24 season offers cultural pain relief 

click to enlarge In 2023-24, Blackfriars Theatre marks the first full season with Artistic Director Brynn Tyszka at the helm. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • In 2023-24, Blackfriars Theatre marks the first full season with Artistic Director Brynn Tyszka at the helm.
It’s been a tough couple of years now, from COVID to widening political division. Maybe it’s time to lighten things up, said Blackfriars Theatre Artistic Director Brynn Tyszka before Monday evening’s unveiling of the 2023-’24 season.

Musicals! Comedy! Decadent sexuality!

And a story set in the Weimar Republic, “and the dawn of Nazism that carries through to this day,” Tyszka told the crowd that had gathered at the E. Main Street theater. With a former president of the United States hours away from being placed under arrest, that reference to political darkness likely escaped no one in the room.

Tyszka, Executive Director Mary Tiballi Hoffman – in the first set of shows they have programmed themselves since former Artistic and Executive Director Artistic and Executive Director Danny Hoskins left – plus a handful of board members and show directors, led an energetic yet relaxed hour-long tour of Blackfriars’ new season. It opens Sept. 8 with the detective-murder board game turned movie turned play, “Clue.” And as breaking up is hard to do, it’ll be directed by Hoskins.

The Blackfriars main season:
  • “Clue,” Sept. 8 – 24.
  • “John & Jen,” Oct. 21 - Nov 5. A “chamber musical” featuring just two actors, including Tyszka.
  • “The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley,” Dec. 8 – 30. Derived from Jane Austen, a follow-up to last December’s popular “Miss Bennett: Christmas at Pemberly.”
  • Dangerous Liaisons,” Jan. 26 – Feb. 11. That’s the “decadent sexuality” promised by Tyszka. An evening that promises “Euro-dance hits” and “watching wealthy people behaving badly and getting punished for it.”
  • “Cabaret,” May 10 – 26. The winner of a Blackfriars audience vote.

As their audience munched on chips and guacamole, Tyszka and Hoffman also unveiled a flurry of Blackfriars programming that includes a summer intensive program for young acting students presenting “Godspell,” the Hourglass reading program for new works, workshops, and classes. Two “Blackfriars Punchbowl” shows are a mix of comedy and cocktails. Because, as comedian and frequent Blackfriars contributor Kerry Young noted, these days, “we need something to laugh at.”

And there is a concert series of diverse music:
  • Jess Best & Friends (La Reine: Queens of Stage & Screen),” 2 and 7 p.m., Oct. 21.
  • “Musical Mayhem: A Topsy-turvy night of Musical Roulette,” 4 and 7 p.m., Dec. 31.
  • “Divas & Dance,” 6 and 8 p.m. Feb 14.
  • “Dream Girls in Concert,” 7:30 p.m. May 31; 2 and 7:30 p.m. June 1.
All delivered with good humor. Tyszka and Hoffman brought out Catherine J. Gregory, Blackfriars’ marketing and social media manager, to the theme music from “Nine to Five,” the 1980 film starring Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda: An obvious reference to the women who are in charge now at Blackfriars.

Speaking of which, Monday night’s preview paused to consider an add-on show that closes the 2022-’23 season. “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” Director Tom Deckman acted in a couple of versions of the show over the past decade, but admitted that the misogyny of the original show “had not aged well.” But this new version, which opens June 15, solves that problem, he promised. It will be presented with an all-female cast.

This story has been updated to reflect that Blackfriars has lost the rights to stage "Dream Hou$e," one of the shows it had announced Monday that would be part of the 2023-'24 season.

Jeff Spevak is WXXI’s Arts & Life editor. He can be reached at (585) 258-0343 or [email protected].
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