Arts Spotlight

Editor’s note: In this feature, our arts and culture reporter takes a deeper look at the local arts scene, shining a spotlight on issues and trends, both local and national, and the arts makers in our community.

There are plenty of reasons to love spring, but allow me to add a few more. Spring brings with it theater season announcements around the city (and country) and Tony Award nominations — two of my favorite times on the theater calendar. As this season of change washes over the arts community, there are a number of exciting shows to look forward to, from newly announced local seasons and new Broadway shows that may take the region by storm, as well as leadership transitions that continue to change the landscape of the local arts scene.

Highly anticipated seasons

So far this year, I’ve already mentioned the upcoming Broadway tour season, starting in July, that will bring shows like “Six,” “Beetlejuice” and “Disney’s Aladdin” to the Paramount Theatre alongside the returns of “Hadestown” and “The Book of Mormon.” And I’ve mentioned, during a conversation with Seattle’s Sara Porkalob, that the tour of the Broadway production of “1776” will hit the 5th Avenue Theatre stage this August. But looking around at the local productions that have been announced recently, with plenty more to come, I can’t hope to touch on everything. Still, there are a number of 2023-24 productions that drew my eye as we wind down the current theater season.

The 5th Avenue joins in on a nationwide trend of producing “Clue” (based on the classic 1985 movie and the Hasbro board game). Perhaps it’s because regional theaters are trying to provide audiences with some levity as they return to seeing in-person productions, but American Theatre magazine clocked “Clue” as the third most produced play of the 2022-23 season. The 5th’s season will also include Disney classic “The Little Mermaid,” detective story spoof “Something’s Afoot” and coming-of-age rock musical “Spring Awakening,” with Irving Berlin’s music taking the stage for the holidays in “White Christmas.” In a coproduction with ACT, the 5th’s season will also include the hit play “Cambodian Rock Band” by Lauren Yee, which features music by the band Dengue Fever.

Speaking of ACT, the plays and playwrights for its next season have been making waves throughout the regional theater scene. “A Case for the Existence of God” is from playwright Samuel D. Hunter, whose name you might recognize for writing the play and film adaptation of “The Whale,” which won Brendan Fraser an Oscar for best actor. You’ll also be able to catch “The Lehman Trilogy,” which is an over-three-hour, two-intermission epic that took home the 2022 Tony for best play. And then Zora Howard’s play “STEW” was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for drama.

Seattle Rep’s season is also tapping the Pulitzer pool. “Sanctuary City,” written by Pulitzer-winning playwright Martyna Majok, follows two undocumented teens and the shifts in their relationship after one becomes naturalized. “Fat Ham,” the Pulitzer-winning and Tony-nominated play from James Ijames, takes inspiration from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” to tell the story of a young queer Black man and his family. Seattle Rep’s season is also intriguing for its inclusion of “Passengers,” a work from physical theater troupe The 7 Fingers that features dance, music and acrobatics, as well as “Islander,” which begins its North American tour by bringing Seattle a Scottish folk-inspired score that utilizes live looping to layer the voices of two actors.


The Tony-to-Seattle pipeline

Tony Award nominations can often give a glimpse into which productions may be making their way to Seattle in the coming years, either through national tours or local productions. Already, Seattle has seen productions of “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window,” “Into the Woods” and “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” all of which have Broadway productions nominated for best revival this year. June will feature a Sound Theatre Company production of “Cost of Living,” running June 8-July 1, the play that won Martyna Majok her Pulitzer and that is currently a Tony nominee for best play. But what else might have a chance to come through town?

I’m curious about what life “Ain’t No Mo’,” a new comedy from Jordan E. Cooper about a scenario in which the United States government offers a one-way ticket to Africa for any Black Americans who want it, might have after Broadway. The play, which ended up getting six Tony nominations including for best new play, had originally been scheduled to run on Broadway for a few months, opening officially on Dec. 1, 2022, and looking to run into March 2023. The production, which seemed to struggle to fill seats, never made it to the next calendar year despite overwhelmingly positive reviews. The play’s premise and tone seem like something that will get some swings from regional theaters around the country, and Seattle should look to join that list.

On the musical front, my eyes are squarely on three shows: “Shucked,” “Kimberly Akimbo” and “& Juliet,” which have all seen their fair share of buzz around New York ahead of their nominations for best musical. “Kimberly Akimbo,” which follows a Jersey teen who has an aging condition that makes her look 72 years old, could be a wonderful vehicle for local performers and is likely to win best musical. I’ll admit that “Shucked,” a musical fable that features music from Shane McAnally and Brandy Clark (who hails from Morton, Lewis County), is mostly here because I’m dying to see a touring production of a show whose marketing has centered so much on corn. (Even Tariq, who went viral on TikTok last year as the Corn Kid, was at the Broadway opening for the show.) More realistically, look for an “& Juliet” tour, which is already in the works, since a show based around the question of what happens if Juliet lives on past the events of “Romeo & Juliet” seems like a fun romantic comedy to enjoy.

Leadership changes so far

There have also been a few leadership changes around the city’s theater scene in recent months. In April, Book-It Repertory Theatre announced that Gus Menary is stepping down as the company’s artistic director, with him directing his final production with “Solaris” (June 17-July 9, with previews starting June 14). Local director Kelly Kitchens, who directed Book-It’s production of “Mrs. Caliban,” will serve as the company’s interim artistic director. Menary served as artistic director at Book-It since January 2020, leading the company through the pandemic, including producing an audio season when the company wasn’t able to take the stage for in-person audiences.

Seattle Public Theater also announced that Annie Lareau has stepped down due to personal health concerns. Leading the company since early May has been local director and producer Amy Poisson, whose ethos and work you may be familiar with from her work supporting feminist art and leading Macha Theatre Works. Lareau’s artistic career spans 30 years, and her directorial swan song with the company, Keiko Green’s “Hometown Boy,” is now on stage through May 28.

In February, On the Boards announced that Megan Kiskaddon joined the company as its executive director; and more recently, the organization said it had parted ways with artistic director Rachel Cook.


Elsewhere in the arts community this year, Pratt Fine Arts Center announced in January that Jessica Borusky had joined the company as its new executive director. Meanwhile, the Museum of Pop Culture announced that Michele Y. Smith was coming aboard as its new CEO, and the Tacoma Art Museum named Andrew Maus as its new executive director to start in June.

In addition to anticipating an announcement of Menary’s permanent replacement at Book-It, I’m still eagerly looking forward to who will take the reins of Seattle Rep. The national theater community has seen some big names moving around, including, most recently, Nataki Garrett announcing that she would be resigning from Oregon Shakespeare Festival at the end of May.

And a farewell

Then, one final transition to discuss: This will be my final Arts Spotlight for The Seattle Times as I will be stepping away to return to Chicago for a new opportunity. It feels like I was just beginning to really get to know Seattle and its wonderful arts scene. I hope my coverage, and future coverage from the paper, encourages you to get out and see new art and try productions that may not originally be on your radar. The arts community is starting to return to full bloom, and I hope everyone takes the time to stop and experience its beauty.