Shows coming to larger Detroit theater stages

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

The fall theater season in Metro Detroit promises productions featuring lots of murder, love, shifting identities and great music. Here is a look at the lineups at five of the area’s larger professional theaters — the Fisher, Detroit Public, Matrix, Purple Rose and Fox.

Fisher Theatre

The Fisher Theater will kick off its season Oct. 4 with the dark comedy, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” which won the 2014 Tony for Best Musical.

“It’s like ‘Downton Abbey’ meets ‘Criminal Minds,’ ” says Alan Lichtenstein, executive director of Nederlander Detroit. “The gentleman in question is seventh in line for the earlship, and figures out clever ways to kill all his relatives — and singing while he’s doing it.”

“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” opens Oct. 4 to launch the fall season at the Fisher Theatre.

“The Book of Mormon,” the irreverent musical, returns to Detroit for a run Nov. 1-13.

After that comes something the completely different, “Fun Home,” an astonishing musical drawn from the graphic novel about her father by lesbian cartoonist and MacArthur Fellow Alison Bechdel.

“Fun Home” took a raft of Tonys in 2015 including Best Musical, Best Lead Actor in a Musical and Best Direction. It opens Nov. 29.

Finally, “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” will kick off Dec. 13, an affecting story of the Brill Building and King’s unlikely rise to stardom.

Detroit Public Theatre

Murder also kicks off the season at the Detroit Public Theatre, just entering its second year.

“Murder Ballad,” which opens Sept. 28, is described by DPT co-founder Sarah Winkler as “a dark, sexy, gritty rock musical — a guilty pleasure and cautionary tale filled with lots of poor life choices.”

The show stars Italian singer and theatrical sensation Arianna Bergamaschi, in her American premiere, playing a woman caught between her old life as a rock musician and her new role as middle-class mom.

DPT will wind up the year with “Dot,” a poignant look at an African-American family’s conflicted reactions to their mother’s advancing Alzheimer’s. “It’s a dysfunctional, family Christmas story,” Winkler says. “I know it doesn’t sound funny, but it is hilarious.”

“Dot” will open Nov. 16.

The fall season of theater, dance in Metro Detroit

Purple Rose Theatre

The Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea will stage the world premiere of “Morning After Grace,” opening Sept. 29, and its only production for the fall season.

Written by New Yorker Carey Crim, the show involves Angus and Abigail, who meet at a funeral and are surprised to wake up in bed with each other the next morning.

Matrix Theatre

Detroit’s Matrix Theatre kicks off its season Friday with “Sizwe Banzi Is Dead,” a South African play about apartheid first produced in 1972.

Dealing with the perverse cruelties under the racist Afrikaner regime, the title character lacks the requisite papers to work where he’s living. But after a boozy evening, he and his friend stumble upon a corpse — who has the appropriate work permit that would allow Sizwe Banzi to keep supporting his family.

The apartheid era is well in the past, but Matrix artistic director Megan Buckley-Ball thinks audiences will understand “making difficult choices to be able to provide for other people.”

Torri Lynn Frances as Rooster in the world premiere last year of “agua de luna” at the Matrix Theatre.

Opening Nov. 11 will be “2.5 Minute Ride,” a one-woman show originally written and performed by Ann Arbor native Lisa Kron.

Fox Theatre

And finally, the Fox Theatre — Detroit’s grande dame — will mount four musicals, three of which are heavily tilted toward the Christmas season.

The sole exception is “Love Jones: The Musical,” based on Theodore Witcher’s 1997 film of the same name, which attained cult-like status. “Love Jones” will play Oct. 7-8.

The festive holiday season gets rolling starting Nov. 15 with “Elf The Musical,” drawn from the 2003 film “Elf” starring Will Ferrell.

“We made a decision a couple years ago that we were missing the boat by not really emphasizing Christmas,” says Tom Wilson, president of Olympia Entertainment which owns the Fox.

Hard on “Elf” heels will be “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” with five performances Dec. 3-4. The Fox’s holiday season will conclude with “A Christmas Story, The Musical” Dec. 20-24.

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