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Geva Theatre's new season promises to be upbeat yet provocative

Geva Artistic Director Elizabeth Williamson.
Photo provided
Liss Couch-Edwards
Geva Artistic Director Elizabeth Williamson.

The 50th season of Geva Theatre Center promises a wide range of theater experiences. As revealed Wednesday evening by new Artistic Director Elizabeth Williams, the Rochester regional theater’s eight shows include upbeat songs, classic stories and family charmers. And productions reflecting the world’s diversity, with socially challenging and provocative ideas that include a politically-infused show that Williamson has worked with in the past, “Russian Troll Farm: A Workplace Comedy.”

And Geva just can’t get over Mark Cuddy. Last June, Cuddy announced his retirement as the company’s artistic director after 27 years. Under his leadership, Geva ranked in the Top 25 for regional theater attendance in the country. He’ll make a return this winter, directing and adapting a musical version of a Geva favorite, “A Christmas Carol.”

Williamson comes to Rochester after working on a handful of freelance projects through the pandemic in New York City. She has a deep resume of experience. Most recently, from 2012 through ’20, Williamson was in Hartford, Connecticut, serving as associate artistic director and director of new play development at Hartford Stage.

Williamson and Executive Director Christopher Mannelli will operate as Co-CEOs of Geva.

Here is Geva’s first season under Williamson, with all but one of the shows presented on Geva’s larger Wilson Stage:

“Jane Eyre,” Sept. 6 through Oct. 2. The classic Charlotte Brontë tale of a woman struggling against sexism in Victorian society is being adapted and directed by Williamson.

“Somewhere,” Oct. 18 through Nov. 13. Tony Award-winning playwright Matthew López’s fun and dance-filled musical sees a Puerto Rican family audition for roles in “West Side Story,” even as evictions threaten to destroy their real-life neighborhood.

“Ain’t Misbehavin’: The Fats Waller Musical Show,” Jan. 17 through Feb. 12. With a live jazz band onstage, and five singers/actors, this winner of the 1978 Tony Award for best musical is loaded with Waller’s music, reflecting America in the 1920s and ’30s. This is a co-production with The Barrington Stage Company of Pittsfield, Mass.

“Russian Troll Farm: A Workplace Comedy,” Feb. 28 through March 26. Williamson was a New York Times “Best Theatre of 2020” pick for her role as creative producer, dramaturg, and co-director of an on-line production of this show. When she was introduced earlier this year as Geva’s new artistic director, Williamson compared it to the television series “The Office.” She described “Russian Troll Farm” then as “a workplace comedy set in the headquarters of a Russian group that has been tasked to undermine the 2016 U.S. presidential election, online. And their work is creating tweets and believable false stories that will get Americans to fighting with each other online, and undermine the election.” Sound familiar? This will be the world premiere of “Russian Troll Farm” as a stage production.

“And So We Walked: An Artist’s Journey Along the Trail of Tears,” April 4 through April 23. The Cherokee performance artist and activist DeLanna Studi tells the story of how she followed the path taken by her great-great grandparents in the 1830s, and the forced relocation of 17,000 Cherokee from their homelands.

“Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella,” May 9 through June 4, 2023. You know the story told by this Tony Award-winning, costume-laden musical: A dragon, a prince, a princess, a pumpkin and a glass slipper. Geva notes in an announcement that this tale urges us “to build a better, kinder world together.”

“We are continuous,” dates to be announced. A love story of a mother, father and gay son who contracts HIV. Written by Harrison David Rivers, this is part of a new Geva initiative for the 2022-’23 season, the Playwright in Residence program. It is the only show of the group announced Wednesday to be presented this season on Geva’s smaller Fielding Stage.

“A Christmas Carol,” Nov. 29 through Dec. 30. An omnipresent Geva holiday favorite, this is the Charles Dickens tale of Scrooge’s encounter with the ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future. It is being offered separately from the other Geva productions.

The Fielding Stage will also play host to events during the Rochester Fringe Festival, Sept. 13 through Sept. 24. Another production for the Fielding Stage will be announced later.

The current Geva season still has two productions left on the schedule. A world premiere, “Yoga Play,” is currently on stage and runs through June 5. “Sister Act,” a musical comedy about a disco diva who flees to a convent to hide from gangsters, closes out the season with a June 24 through July 24 run.

Season subscriptions are available from the Geva box office at (585) 232-4382 and at Tickets to the just-announced individual productions go on sale in August.

Jeff Spevak has been a Rochester arts reporter for nearly three decades, with seven first-place finishes in the Associated Press New York State Features Writing Awards while working for the Democrat and Chronicle.