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Fall Theater Preview: Fun Home, The Wiz, Neil Simon, August Wilson, and More

Star-crossed lovers Maria and Tony.EXPAND
Star-crossed lovers Maria and Tony.
Reg Madison Photography

The late Neil Simon will never really die, so long as theater people have anything to say about it. His lesser-known Rose and Walsh, playing now at Judy Rollings’ Theater Artists Studio (4848 East Cactus Road, Scottsdale, 602-765-0120, thestudiophx.org), concerns a pair of famous writers who probably shouldn’t be lovers. This north Valley company’s new season includes a production of Inherit the Wind and the world premiere of local playwright Hal Corley’s Pas d’Action, about the pains and privations of family.

Black Theatre Troupe (1333 East Washington Street, 602-258-8128, blacktheatretroupe.org) opens its 48th season with that musicalized monolith The Wiz, after which things start to get interesting. In February, artistic director David Hemphill and company will bring on Dominique Morriseau’s stirring black history lesson, Detroit ’67, which is bookended by a pair of promising biographies: January’s And in This Corner, Cassius Clay, about the segregated south of the 1950s as witnessed by the once and future boxer Muhammad Ali; and Simply Simone, concerning legendary singer Nina Simone, in April.

The balance of comedy, drama, and music promised by BTT’s season schedule won’t be found on iTheatre Collaborative’s (222 East Monroe Street, 602-252-8497, itheatreaz.org) stage this year -— and considering this company’s way with a tough story, that’s good news. Each of the four dramas from this newest Herberger Theatre resident offers commotion and commentary on everything from religion (Daniel Berrigan’s seldom seen The Trial of the Catonsville Nine), politics (Peter Morgan’s Frost/Nixon), and the wages of war (Michelle Kholos Brooks’ randy Hostage). The first of these, Bruce Graham’s race-relations soliloquy White Guy on the Bus, opens September 7.

Also bowing this month is Stray Cat Theatre’s (700 West Rio Salado Parkway, Tempe, 480-227-1766, straycattheatre.org) The Antipodes from Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Baker, whose work the company has favored in the past. Directed by Cat cofounder Ron May, this one’s another of Baker’s dark peeks into humankind. Further along, the troupe that brought us Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party and Poona the Fuckdog will offer Bekah Brunstetter’s The Cake, about a baker’s dilemma over a lesbian wedding, directed by local legend Katie McFadzen.

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The big houses are mixing it up ever so slightly in coming months. Venerable Phoenix Theatre (100 East McDowell Road, 602-254-2151, phoenixtheatre.com) inches ever so slightly left of center with Fun Home, the Tony winner based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel about love and suicide, and Cookin’s a Drag — about a guy in a dress and a cooking show, natch — both on the company’s Hormel Stage. Fear not: PT’s mainstage stuff is, as ever, strictly for folks who love a good rerun: Jersey Boys in January; Elf: The Musical in November; and an umpteenth production of West Side Story, cha-cha-cha-ing now.

Making a noteworthy bid for diversity this year is Arizona Theatre Company, (222 East Monroe Street, 602-256-6899, arizonatheatre.org), with the attractive promise of August Wilson’s Two Trains Running (directed by Penumbra Theater’s Lou Bellamy) in February, and Jose Cruz Gonzalez’s American Mariachi, helmed here by Christopher Acebo.

Once again, Nearly Naked Theater (1850 North Central Avenue, 602-254-2151, nearlynakedtheatre.org) has declined to announce a season. Perhaps the 18-year-old troupe, now performing at Playhouse Theater in Central Arts Plaza, will continue its pop-up routine, announcing shows shortly before auditions and then wowing us, as founder Damon Dering and company so often do, with some of our town’s most surprising theater.

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