This weekend, on the campus of the Santa Rosa Junior College, an impressive anniversary will be celebrated as the annual Summer Repertory Theater series opens for its fortieth consecutive year. Founded in 1972 by theater educator Frank Zwolinski Jr., the program was conceived as a concentrated education program in which young actors, designers, set painters and other theater specialists could work together on a rotating repertory of shows, presented to the public, operating under the theory that if a team of student artists will learn from staging one show, how much more might they learn from staging several shows—all at once?
James Newman, who took over as Artistic Director in 2004, is celebrating SRT’s anniversary with a tasty quintet of shows that, in some cases, break new ground for SRT program. The Musical “Hairspray,” which opens this Saturday, calls for a large cast of Arican American singers and dancers, as it tells the story of a popular Baltimore dance show in the sixties, and the efforts of young people to integrate the show. Newman himself will taking on the role of the meek matriarch Edna Turnblad (traditionally playedby a man), the gender-bending casting of which is always a large part of the show’s campy fun. Also on the schedule is August Wilson’s Pulitzer winning drama ‘The Piano Lesson,” about a black family in the 1930s wrestling with its history as the members struggle toward their future. The “Piano Lesson” opens July 12th. The rest of the anniversary seasons includes the classic (and very raunchy) sex farce ‘A Flea in Her Ear,’ opening June 30, plus Steven Sondheim’s ‘Company,’ opening July 5th, and the Broadway hit, ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,’ based on the popular con-man comedy starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels opens on July 26.