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Lee Street preview

Kick-off party set Aug. 13

But wait!

Can’t get enough of Lee Street Theater?

You’re in luck.

Lee Street is hosting its fourth-annual season kick-off party this Thursday, Aug. 13, at the theater, 329 N. Lee St., beginning at 6:30 p.m.

The free event features a cash bar, with pizza by the slice available from Romo’s Pizza, and additional offerings from the Kabobs food truck.

Kent Bernhardt will serve as emcee for the evening, and it’s rumored than Jason Roland may also put in an appearance.

“It’s really just a reason to come and be with your friends, and get excited about our upcoming season, and learn more about it,” says Justin Dionne, the theater’s managing artistic director.

By Susan Shinn

For The Salisbury Post

Justin Dionne really, really needs to switch to decaf.

“This is not the day for it,” he says, quaffing a large regular with room for cream one recent afternoon.

The managing artistic director of Lee Street Theatre — located within an easy walk to Koco Java, by the way — swears he usually only drinks one cup of coffee in the mornings.

“Otherwise I get wired,” Dionne says.

Uh-huh.

But really, who wouldn’t get excited about Season 8 of Lee Street Theatre? No longer the upstart new kid in town, the theater is settling into another season of edgy, provocative theater.

And Dionne can’t wait.

The season kicks off Aug. 20-22 with Now Are The Foxes. The regional comedy festival features the improv group that got its start at Lee Street.

“Now they perform in Charlotte, Hickory, all over the place,” Dionne says.

Johnny Millwater, who opened for Kevin McDonald, will perform, as will the ensemble Robot Johnson out of Charlotte, as well as A.J. Schraeder, who does sketch and stand-up comedy.

On Aug. 20, the theater will host a comedy open-mic night. The top two performers selected by the audience will receive cash prizes, and the winner earns a slot on Friday and Saturday night during the festival.

Next up is “Calendar Girls,” — one of two offerings this season from the St. Thomas Players — based on the delightful British comedy about women of a certain age who shoot a centerfold calendar to benefit cancer research. Claudia Galup directs the show, which Dionne characterizes as a “revealing comedy.”

“There’s plenty of skin but no nudity,” Dionne says.

And as life imitates art, the cast will produce a calendar to benefit leukemia and lymphoma research.

Just in time for Halloween, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” runs Oct. 29-31 and Nov. 5-7. Dionne is even considering adding a show at 11:59 p.m. on Oct. 30.

“This is the 40th anniversary of ‘Rocky Horror,’” Dionne says. “People think it’s an edgy show, but I’d like to remind people, IT’S THE 40TH ANNIVERSARY!”

(“Don’t put that in all caps,” Dionne says. “Don’t make it sound like I’m yelling at people.”)

But he does want people to yell at the show. And sing along. And dress up. And bring props.

“We want people to come and have the ‘Rocky Horror’ experience,” Dionne says.

Just in time for Christmas, Lee Street will perform “It’s a Wonderful Life — A Live Radio Play” Dec. 10-13 and 17-19.

Imagine seeing “Prairie Home Companion” onstage, Dionne says.

“It was our way of doing something non-traditional.”

A more traditional offering is the upcoming musical review, “Broadway Lullabies,” Jan. 21-24 and 26-28, 2016. It will feature the music of Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin and Irving Berlin.

Lee Street is committed to performing a full-length, original play each season, and this season, that play is “The Parchman Hour.” It’s the story of the 1961 Freedom Riders, which Dionne says is particularly timely given the community’s growing interest in having a conversation about race relations. It’s set for Feb. 25-27 and March 3-5, 2016.

“This play was purposefully picked so that our community could respond to it and discuss it,” he says. “This story is about people working together — black and white — for what they thought was right. We need to remember what happens when we work together.”

The show combines music, dance and art, and is written by Mike Wiley, a Catawba graduate and Blue Masque Hall of Fame winner.

A second, more intimate musical is “The Last Five Years,” April 14-16 and 21-23, 2016. It’s the story of a couple who divorces after five years of marriage. The play stars just the two actors, who are never on stage together except when they get married. One is looking forward, and one is looking back, and their lives intersect in the middle of the relationship.

“It’s a very poignant, very beautiful show,” Dionne says.

Matthew Brown, music director of First Methodist Church, serves as musical director of this show, and in the same capacity for “Broadway Lullabies.”

The show will also feature a string quartet,

“The music in this show is absolutely gorgeous,” Dionne notes, adding that the two leads must be strong actors and strong vocalists.

 

Next up is “Shipwrecked,” a small show with “4-ish” actors, Dionne says. “It’s what we call a comedy-slash-drama. How much can we embellish the story of our own life?”

 

The play is subtitled, “The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (as Told by Himself).”

 

“It’s really fast-moving and a really fun play,” Dionne says.

 

Also on tap is the 8th annual 10-minute play festival, June 16-18, 2016. This year, the theme is “Diversified.”

 

“It’s all about pushing the boundaries and testing limits,” Dionne says.

 

That’s kind of the theme of the entire season, he admits. “These are things we think are important, and need to be discussed and talked about.”

 

Season 8 ends with “August: Osage County,” a Pulitzer-winning play of a dysfunctional family who comes together after the death of its patriarch.

 

“It’s heavy,” Dionne says, shaking his head. “It’s heavy.”

 

Why pick it?

 

“It’s a big name show,” he says. “It’s an important play for our time. It pushes a lot of buttons. It challenges the way we think about family relationships — how they work, and how they don’t work.”

 

As they say on the old Ginsu knives commercial: But wait! That’s not all!

 

(I might’ve used that line for last year’s story, but hey, it still works.)

 

There’s the Lee Street concert series, which features an October concert by Grammy Award winning artist Sam Bush; a November country music concert featuring Tripp Edwards, Graham Carlton, Matthew Weaver, Mary Gillespie, Carol Harris and Kenny Thomas; along with a repeat performance of last year’s famous (infamous?) magic show.

 

And because there was such a community uproar when the Scrooge Trolley Tour ended its run, it’ll be back again this Christmas.

 

“I’m OK with that,” Dionne says.

 

The Polar Express also returns.

 

Lee Street Theatre will also produce another “Voices from the Margin” performance, this time focusing on education and written by playwright Janice Fuller, a Catawba English professor.

 

“Lee Street is working hard, pushing ourselves, pushing the community, and helping out,” Dionne says.

 

Maybe he does need that second cup of coffee after all.

 

Season passes are now on sale. You can buy 10 flex passes or 20 flex passes good for any of the first 10 shows listed above — and divide it up any way you like, Dionne explains.

 

“Calendar Girls,” “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Broadway Lullabies” all have Sunday matinees.

 

For more information about show times, dates and ticket prices, visit www.leestreet.org or call the theater at 704-310-5507.

 

Fibrant is season sponsor, with Ketner & Dees, Gerry Wood Auto Group, First Bank, City of Salisbury, North Carolina Arts Council and Rowan Arts Council as supporting partners.

 

Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.

 

 

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