Is it possible to find five world premieres in your 2018-19 theater season by accident? Adam Burke would tell you … yeah, kind of.
“We don’t have a formula,” says Children’s Theatre of Charlotte’s artistic director. “Opportunities arise, and we grab them. This season, we didn’t have any premieres; next year, everything will fall together.
“We’re getting ‘Judy Moody’ near the end of its rolling world premiere. We’re collaborating with Actor’s Theatre on a double premiere (of related works) by Steven Dietz. Two new plays will be part of our Kindness Project. We have an ongoing relationship with CarlosAlexis Cruz, and he’s doing his new one-man show. The timing just worked out that way.”
At this point in the conversation, he hasn’t mentioned his blockbuster: “Matilda,” which has toured here in the Blumenthal’s Broadway Lights season but never been locally produced. Or the local debut of a Bob Marley musical. Or “Pete the Cat,” based on the amazingly popular series of books for younger kids.
Fixed season-ticket packages, which save up to 20 percent over individual tickets, can already be had at ctcharlotte.org or 704-973-2828. Choose-your-own packages go on sale May 7, and tickets to individual shows may be bought as of June 1. Here’s what to expect from the fifth season that Burke has planned for CTC:
“The Lion and the Little Red Bird,” Aug. 23-Sept. 2: This revival, aimed at preschoolers, mixes actors and puppets. A curious little flier learns why his buddy’s tail keeps changing colors.
“Matilda: The Musical,” Sept. 28-Oct. 21: This winner of five Tony Awards adapts Roald Dahl’s novel about a 5-year-old genius with magical powers; she protects the kindly teacher who takes an interest in her and outfoxes a vicious disciplinarian of a headmistress. Burke promises a full-length musical like CTC’s equally complex “Mary Poppins” and believes “the power of children in this story to take action for themselves, to defend themselves – that’s a powerful ending.”
“Last Stop on Market Street,” Nov. 2-18: CTC has commissioned three pieces through its Kindness Project, which (says Burke) “came out of the last presidential election and all the hate we saw on Facebook and in other places. We wanted to give parents and teachers a chance to talk about kindness.” Gloria Bond Clunie has adapted Matt de la Pena’s book about a little boy who wonders why his family can’t afford a car or electronic devices like his classmates have, until his grandma sets him straight.
“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever: The Musical,” Nov. 23-Dec. 23: The perennial moneymaker runs for a whole month, as the ill-natured Herdman kids learn a lesson about tolerance at Christmas – and teach judgmental townspeople one, too.
“Spelling 2-5-5,” Dec. 7-16: Another revival, this one a Jennifer Overton play about a talented speller who realizes his autistic brother may be even more gifted than he – in an unusual way.
“Judy Moody and Stink: The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Treasure Hunt,” Jan. 18-Feb. 10: Seven children’s theater bosses descended on playwright Allison Gregory at a San Francisco conference to commission this re-telling of Megan McDonald’s books. “We could have driven her crazy with all that input, but she listened patiently,” Burke recalls. “Children’s Theatere will produce it later in the rolling premiere, because I like to see a play before I program it.”
“Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds,” Feb. 8-24: This uses parts of Marley’s songs but isn’t about him. His daughter Cedella came up with the story about Ziggy, a shy boy terrified to go outside in Jamaica because voodoo villain Duppy might steal his hair. (Duppy gets his power by snatching off dreadlocks.) Nansi, his confident friend, helps Ziggy overcome his fear.
Step Afrika!, March 8-9: These frequent CTC guests blend percussive dance styles practiced by African-American fraternities and sororities, African traditional dance, songs, storytelling, humor and audience participation.
“The Ghost of Splinter Cove,” March 22-April 7: CTC and Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte hired Texas-based playwright Steven Dietz to write two shows – one with young adult characters, one with adults – that take place in the same house on the same night. This one unfolds in the basement, as two siblings make a new friend who hurtles them into a spooky adventure.
“Pete the Cat,” April 12-May 5: A blue, rock ’n’ roll feline takes an uptight second-grader on a liberating road trip. Burke says he has “asked librarians for four years which children’s books get checked out most, and I always hear ‘Pete the Cat.’ We had (original author Eric Litwin) here for Epicfest last year; he sold out, and kids were crying outside the building because they couldn’t get in.”
“Picaro,” April 27-28: CarlosAlexis Cruz will use his brand of physical theater – movement, circus elements, acrobatics, maybe a bit of clowning – to tell this long-gestating, one-man story about a Guatemalan boy who makes a difficult trip toward the United States and a better life. (In Spanish, “pícaro” means “rogue.”)
“A Sick Day for Amos McGee,” May 29-June 9: The season concludes with another entry in the Kindness Project, this one adapted by Nicole Adkins from the book by Philip and Erin Stead. Amos hangs out at the zoo, playing chess with an elephant, befriending a shy penguin and reading to an owl who fears the dark. When he fails to appear one day, his pals (embodied by puppets designed for this production) decide to help their buddy.
This story is part of an Observer underwriting project with the Thrive Campaign for the Arts, supporting arts journalism in Charlotte.