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Another Opening, Another Summer Stock Show: The Best Theater This Coming Season in North America

Sure there’s sun and sand. But one of the unsung delights of summer---or should I say one of the most loudly crooned pleasures of the season---is summer stock. There’s something magical about heading out on a warm evening, entering a theater filled with other tanned and relaxed folks, and giving yourself up to a classical musical or play. And nowadays, summers have become a time not just for revivals, but the season when risks are taken, new works are aired, and unusual collaborations occur. Here’s a quick list of some of the most interesting performances that will be happening this summer, plus some tips on how to get a seat from an expert.

Shaw Festival, Niagara on the Lake, Ontario: Along with plays by Tom Stoppard, Oscar Wilde and yes, George Bernard Shaw, this summer will see the premier of a new play based on the novel (and movie, one suspects) Enchanted April. Set right after World War I, it’s about a set of British housewives who escape their day to day existence by heading to Italy. Added bonus: Those who buy tickets will get wine tasting vouchers at surrounding vineyards. More info:

Goodman Theater, Chicago, IL: Though this is a year-round institution, it has waited until summer to present what most are assuming will be the pre-Broadway run of a new musical based on The Jungle Book. The Disney organization is a co-producer, Tony Award winner Mary Zimmerman is the director, and Richard Sherman, who did the music for the movie musical Mary Poppins, is the composer. Added bonus: See a Broadway show being born for far less than Broadway tickets usually cost. More Info:

Williamstown Theater Festival, Williamstown, MA: Another likely pre-Broadway run, and world premier, this time for a new musical version of The Bridges of Madison County. Tony Award winners are again at the helm with Bartlett Sher Directing, Marsha Norman writing the book and Jason Robert Brown behind the music and lyrics. Added bonus: Williamstown isn’t that far from the Jacobs Pillow Dance Festival, the Tanglewood Music Festival or the Berkshire Theater Festival, so you could put together a full week’s schedule of topnotch performances. More info:

Berkley Rep, Berkley, CA: Another year-round theater that’s saving its blockbuster event for summer, and that would be Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan appearing in “No Man’s Land” by Harold Pinter. This will be a preview for them; they’ll repeat the performances—at higher prices and in a much bigger theater on Broadway come fall. Added bonus: The Bay Area will have a wonderful theater season this summer, including the musical “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” at the Orpheum in San Francisco. More info:

These are just a few of the performances that will be happening this June, July and August. Matt Hessburg, Director of Marketing at the California Musical Theater Music knows how popular summer theater can be. “We’ve been around for 60 years,” he says. “So we have a dedicated audience. That’s partially because we audition actors from New York and Los Angeles, the same actors doing Broadway shows. Our audiences know they’re going to get a top quality show because of that.” He warns that his theater, like many, often sells out far in advance. “If a tourist is coming to a place that has summer theater, he may want to buy his tickets around the time he’s reserving his hotel and getting plane tickets,” he advises.

Those who don’t have that much forethought shouldn’t despair though. “In the course of planning a production, most theaters will hold some seats back from sale because they haven’t yet worked out sight lines or where the sound board will go. These are often released the week or day of the show. So there’s always hope!