Theater buff or newcomer? Doesn't matter. This Orlando hot spot proves it has something for everyone

Orlando Shakes is on the cutting edge: Theater's newest 8 shows will hook you

Mandi Lee and Amanda Anne Dayton star in "A Christmas Carol." Photo by Tony Firriolo.
Mandi Lee and Amanda Anne Dayton star in "A Christmas Carol." Photo by Tony Firriolo.

The secret is out: You don’t have to trek all the way to New York City to take in Broadway-quality shows.

Orlando Shakes puts on ambitious, high-caliber productions -- and the acclaimed professional theater has eight new shows on tap for the coming season that you’re going to want to see. Two of the shows fall under the same umbrella, but we'll introduce you to all eight of the productions.

The Wall Street Journal has called the company’s shows of years past “spectacular and satisfying,” “Broadway-quality” and “impressive.”

Here are Joshua Parrott, Kenny Babel and Terrance Campbell in "Twelfth Night." Photo by Tony Firriolo.
Here are Joshua Parrott, Kenny Babel and Terrance Campbell in "Twelfth Night." Photo by Tony Firriolo.


So, let’s stop beating around the bush and tell you about this season’s Signature Series.

“Evita” -- opening in September

You might be familiar with the story, as “Evita” charts the young and ambitious Eva Peron’s meteoric rise as a revered leader. Fun fact: Yael Reich, who’s starring in the show, has played Eva in the Broadway tour, as well, said Christian Knightly, the director of marketing at Orlando Shakes.

Knightly helped us break down what’s so special about each upcoming show.

His behind-the-scenes take: “This is our first time doing an Andrew Lloyd Webber (musical), and the cast is stellar. It’ll be our largest production of the season, and we’re really excited to bring together Broadway stars and local talent for a phenomenal show."

“Macbeth” -- opening in October

The cast for "Macbeth" is a bit smaller, with just 10 people. As for the plot, how well do you remember your high school literature class? Orlando Shakes' website breaks it down like this: Blind ambition and twisted prophecy lead Macbeth to murder the Scottish king and seize the throne. An impulse for destruction and a loose grip on sanity define Lord and Lady Macbeth’s foothold on power that can only end in tragedy.

You definitely won't want to miss the theater company's adaptation.

Knightly’s behind-the-scenes take: “It’s Shakespeare, but we’re doing it in a visually striking way. All of the actors are going to be wearing dark-colored clothing, and the choreography and certain elements will pop and enhance the drama. (This will) not be a traditional production of a Shakespeare play, but it will be very visually artistic, different and a feast for the eyes.”

“Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” -- opening in December

Middle sister Mary finally takes center stage in this charming and clever sequel to Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” It’s about a woman who hasn't found love and her story at Christmastime. Knightly laughed, describing a bit about the family bringing a tree into the living room -- joking about it as a “new tradition that’s trying to get off the ground.”

More of his behind-the-scenes take: "It follows the same sort of witty banter (that you might remember) from ‘Pride and Prejudice'. There's a lightness in the tone, but it has that same rhythm that Jane Austen has. Jane Austen fans will really enjoy the references to the original story. It’s a heart-warming play – great for families to come to at Christmastime.”

"Becoming Dr. Ruth" -- opening in January 2020

Do you know the story of American sex therapist Ruth Westheimer? You’ll definitely want to hear “Ruth” recount her extraordinary journey, from fleeing the Nazis to struggling to succeed as a single mother in New York. The theater company partnered with the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Florida on this one.

Knightly’s behind-the-scenes take: “This production is a one-woman show in which we are in Dr. Ruth’s apartment and she’s broken down the fourth wall, and she’s recognizing the audience as the guests in her apartment. She tells us her life story. … We did a reading of it and it’s an emotional roller coaster that you’re not expecting.”

"The Three Musketeers" -- opening in February 2020

It's a famed story of double crossings, kidnappings and carefully guarded secrets, complete with lavish sword fights and sweeping romance, set in a time when love and honor ruled the world. Just wait until you see it play out live, before your eyes on stage.

This is the first of the theater company's repertory shows -- meaning the same cast will star in this one and the next performance on our list, "Henry IV, Part I."

Knightly’s behind-the-scenes take: “‘The Three Musketeers’ can be very male-driven. Yes, it’ll still have swashbuckling sword fights, but with a female playwright, you’re going to get richer female characters who have their own stake in the adventure."

You'll love it.

"Henry IV, Part 1" -- opening in February 2020

King Henry IV attempts to pass on his knowledge of the kingdom in vain, while his reckless son, Prince Hal, squanders his youth at the taverns. When a fierce rival threatens the throne, will the young prince rise to the occasion?

Knightly’s behind-the-scenes take: “We’re going with a very traditional, period portrayal here. It’ll be more of what someone expects a traditional Shakespeare production to be, with armor, period-style costumes and swords."

"Bare Bard: Henry IV, Part 2" -- opening in March 2020

Get ready to see William Shakespeare stripped down to a lively, raw, rambunctious performance. Wondering what that could possibly look like?

Here’s Knightly’s behind-the-scenes take: “There will only be five performances. The cast of our repertory will have 40 hours to basically pull together their costumes, learn their lines (and) create their own blocking. There won’t be any special lighting. It’ll be just like it was done in Shakespeare’s time. The actors will have full control of the production. This is our first time trying it out, so we’ll have to see what happens. I’m sure it will be very funny (and) very entertaining for everyone -- it’ll be a rare experience for audiences."

This photo shows Eric Zivot and Sheryl Carbonell in PlayFest 2018's reading of "My Lord, What a Night." Image by Megan Pridemore.
This photo shows Eric Zivot and Sheryl Carbonell in PlayFest 2018's reading of "My Lord, What a Night." Image by Megan Pridemore.

"My Lord, What a Night" -- opening in March 2020

We’ve told you about a solid handful of stories and plays you’ve likely heard of -- or at least, they’re probably vaguely familiar. But here's a new one, and this show is inspired by true events. When famed African-American singer Marian Anderson was refused lodging because of her ethnicity, she found an unlikely friend in German-born theoretical physicist Albert Einstein. The performance explores racial, religious and gender-based struggles. You'll be on the edge of your seat.

Knightly’s behind-the-scenes take: “This is a new play with a rolling world premiere -- meaning there are three theaters premiering this across the country this year and next. It’s a historical play about Albert Einstein and civil rights leader Marian Anderson, an opera singer who had a performance in Princeton, New Jersey. When she went to her hotel for the night, they wouldn’t let her stay because of the color of her skin. But she found an unlikely friend in Einstein, and the story follows their conversations and how their friendship developed.”

Need any more evidence that this theater company is on the cutting edge?

Orlando Shakes hosts an annual event called PlayFest, in which it receives about 150 to 180 new play submissions and then narrows the field to seven.

The theater then prepares to host readings of all seven shows, hiring actors, directors and other professionals to help bring the plays to life. The playwrights are invited to town to take in the experience, and when the big day arrives, they’ll come up in front of an audience for a talk-back after their plays are featured.

Audience members can ask questions, fill out a survey and truly engage with the art in real time.

Get this: Last year, one of the plays selected for a reading was “My Lord, What a Night,” which, as you read, is one of the shows in the upcoming Signature Series -- proof that a lot can change, develop and unfold in a year!

This year’s PlayFest will take place the first two weekends in November.

The theater, which opened in 1989, is embarking on its 31st season.

What are you waiting for? Tap or click here to learn more about the shows or purchase tickets.

Adam Reilly, Andy Hansen and Junior Nyong'o perform in "Hamlet." Photo by Tony Firriolo.
Adam Reilly, Andy Hansen and Junior Nyong'o perform in "Hamlet." Photo by Tony Firriolo.