The 2020 Ephrata Performing Arts Center season is filled with shows that have never been performed in Lancaster County.
New plays, old classics, groundbreaking musicals and one frozen phenomenon are all planned in the upcoming season.
“It’s an interesting season,” artistic director Ed Fernandez says. “It’s very much who we are as a theater company. It fits our niche.”
The Kids 4 Kids production opens the season with “Frozen Jr.,” the staged version of the mega-huge Disney hit “Frozen.”
The voice of EPAC veteran Jonathan Groff was featured in the movie, but everyone in the cast of “Frozen Jr.” is 18 or younger.
Dozens of kids will appear in the show, about a kingdom that has been trapped in perpetual winter. And it follows the adventures of Anna and Kristoff (the Groff role) to find Anna’s sister, the snow queen Elsa, and break her spell.
It runs Jan. 31 through Feb. 9.
The mainstage season begins with “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” (March 19-28), which won the Tony Award for best play in 2015.
It was written by Simon Stephens, based on the novel of the same name by Mark Haddon.
It’s the story of Christopher, a 15-year-old autistic boy who ventures out of his world to discover who killed his neighbor’s dog while grappling with his parents’ separation and pressure from school.
What makes the play so memorable is how it is staged, with grids and limitations that reflect the boy’s world.
Like many shows in the upcoming season, “Curious Incident” focuses on a character who doesn’t fit neatly into society.
“It’s about connection and marginalization and how people who feel marginalized connect with other people,” Fernandez says.
Next up is “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” (April 23-May 9), which won the Tony for best musical in 2014.
Set in 1909, it tells the story of Lord Montague D’Ysquith Navarro, the Ninth Earl of Highhurst. He recounts getting rid of those eight heirs in front of him, often in quite ingenious ways.
And all eight heirs are played by one actor. Those murders get pretty crazy.
EPAC alum Catherine Walker starred in the show on Broadway. Steven Lutvak wrote the music, Robert L. Freedman and Lutvak wrote the lyrics and Freedman wrote the book, based on a 1907 novel by Israel Rank called “The Autobiography of a Criminal by Roy Horniman.”
“Boys in the Band” (June 11-20) was part of EPAC’s “Queer Voices Staged Reading Festival” last June.
“I’ve wanted to do ‘Boys in the Band’ for years,” Fernandez says. “We put it on at the Queer Festival to see how it would go over. Well, it went over like wildfire.”
Although this was a revised version of Mart Crowley’s 1968 play, Fernandez was worried that it might be dated since attitudes about the gay community have changed so much in the last decade. So he asked a lot of people what they thought.
“The feedback was good,” he says. “Now it reads like a comedy. The characters are more like archetypes in a period piece.”
The play is set in a New York City apartment, where a group of gay and bisexual men have gathered for a birthday party.
Fueled by alcohol, the host of the party insists on a game where everyone must call someone they love and tell them so.
Self-hatred is explored in the play.
“Self-hatred is not necessarily a thing of the past,” Fernandez says. “It exists on a lot of different levels. Everyone can relate.”
A 1950s musical, “Damn Yankees,” is up next (July 23-Aug. 8).
The 1955 musical is an updated version of the Faust story. Middle-aged real estate agent Joe Boyd agrees to sell his soul to the devil (in this case, Mr. Applegate) to become the star of his beloved Washington Senators baseball team and lead them to win the pennant over the New York Yankees.
The musical features music by Richard Adler, lyrics by Jerry Ross and a book by George Abbott and Douglas Wallop, the author of “The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant.”
“I’ve always loved it,” Fernandez says. “It’s a fun, old-school musical and it’s about baseball. People are enthusiastic about it. Everyone wants to play the devil.”
Then it’s back to drama with Henrick Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler” (Sept. 3-12).
Hedda is a newlywed who has married George, an academic who is into research, even on their honeymoon. Eilert, a former colleague of George who fell into alcoholism, has returned in triumph.
A bored Hedda stirs things up with Eilert and George, which leads to tragedy.
“I’ve been obsessed with ‘Hedda Gabler’ since I was 13. I saw it on PBS, and I was riveted,” Fernandez says.
He always found Hedda to be a puzzle until he saw a filmed version from the National Theatre’s production, with a new translation by Patrick Marber, which EPAC is using.
“It blew the cobwebs away; everything fit into place,” he says. “Hedda does horrible things. She is a strong-willed, romantic woman trying to fit into a role. She doesn’t have the courage to be who she is.”
Perhaps the most daring production of the season is “The Scottsboro Boys” (Oct. 15-31).
The horrific story of the Scottsboro boys — a group of young African American men wrongly accused of rape in the 1930s, is told as a minstrel show.
The last work of the team of John Kander (music) and Fred Ebb (lyrics), “Scottsboro Boys” earned critical acclaim and 12 Tony nominations in 2011 but won none. (It had the misfortune of being up against “Book of Mormon.”)
Lancaster resident Forrest McClendon was nominated for a Tony for his role as the stereotypical Mr. Tambo in the show.
Indeed, the show uses the stereotypes and racism of minstrel shows subversively, as a background to the fate of these innocent black men, who spent years in jail for a crime they clearly did not commit.
“The show demands a lot from its audience,” Fernandez says. “The score is just beautiful.”
The season ends with “Matilda” (Dec. 3-19), based on Roald Dahl’s novel about a 5-year-old girl who has an awful family. She is blessed with telekinesis and a love of reading, both of which help her overcome obstacles.
“It’s a family show but with the Roald Dahl edge to it,” Fernandez says.
The show won five Tonys in 2013, including best musical.
Fernandez says the season fell into place quite nicely and he’s happy so many terrific shows were available.
“It’s very much who were are at EPAC,” he says.
Subscriptions for the 2020 season are now available, including standard and flex packages.
Single tickets will be available beginning Jan. 2. For more information, go to ephrataperformingartscenter.com