Gilbert and Sullivan had a knack for mocking issues that still provoke rage, including Darwinism, feminism and a host of other -isms. And that goes for the operetta "Princess Ida," which will open the Lamplighters Music theater's 60th season in Walnut Creek on Jan. 25.
The story, a crazed dash about what was on English minds in the 1880s, is set, um, somewhere, since G&S indicated neither a time period nor a location for the show. But it does offer some interesting notions, beginning with a treaty, signed 20 years before the play starts, stating that Princess Ida and Prince Hilarion will marry when they come of age.
But the princess, now the founder of a women's university, will have no part of an agreement that was signed when she was an infant. Instead, she will continue teaching an unusual variation on Darwinism -- that men, but not women, are descended from the apes, making women superior to men.
But Prince Hilarion is ever the romantic, so he decides he will woo the fair maiden by donning the academic garb of the university (drag, in Hilarion's case) and enter the school as a student.
"Ida" plays Jan. 25-27 at Walnut Creek's Lesher Center for the Arts, then it goes to San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on Feb. 1-3, the Bankhead Theater in Livermore on Feb. 9-10 and the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts on Feb. 16-17.
Tickets range from $22 to $54; learn more at www.lamplighters.org.
"OLD WICKED SONGS": The play about a musician trying to get back in touch with his craft opens in previews Feb. 1 at Walnut Creek's Lesher Center for the Arts.
The musical, which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in drama, deals with a young American piano prodigy who travels to Vienna in the spring of 1986 in an attempt to break through an artistic block that has haunted him throughout his career. He is assigned to an elderly vocal teacher, who gives him the Robert Schumann song-cycle "Dichterliebe" to attempt to resolve his block. Beyond the story line, "Wicked Songs" is a look at the relationship between a pair of very different men, who have only music as a common bond and must find a way to break free of their pasts.
"Old Wicked Songs" plays Feb. 1-3 in previews. Its main run is Feb. 5-March 2. Tickets, at $38-$47, may be reserved at 925-943-7469 or www.centerrep.org.
"NEXT TO NORMAL": The Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning rock musical makes its East Bay debut in an unlikely small theater: the 80-seat Pinole Community Playhouse.
The dramatic musical, about a mother's struggle with bipolar disorder and the effect it has on her family, will be presented by the Pinole Players, which calls itself, "the little theater that could."
The show plays only eight performances during its Feb. 1-16 run. Tickets, at $23, are available at 510-724-9844 or www.pinoleplayers.org.
"EXPECTING ISABEL": Lisa Loomer's comedy opens Friday in two area theaters -- the Village Theatre in Danville, where it is being presented by Role Players Ensemble, and Masquers Playhouse in Point Richmond, where the Masquers troupe is producing the play.
The play centers on a Manhattan couple who are having some difficulty conceiving and find themselves in the midst of an industry and a society eager to help -- fertility specialists, self-help books, support groups, adoption agencies and perhaps above all, their families.
The Role Players production plays through Feb. 9. Tickets are $20-$28 and may be reserved at 925-314-3400 or www.villagetheatreshows.com.
The Masquers show plays through Feb. 23. Tickets are $22 and may be reserved at 510-232-4031 or www.masquers.org.
Contact Pat Craig at email@example.com.
"Rent": The coming-of-age musical by Jonathan Larson is presented by Pacific Coast Repertory Theatre, featuring Broadway cast member Alan Mingo Jr.; Jan 25-Feb. 10 at Firehouse Arts Center, Pleasanton; $19-$35; 925-931-4848, www.pcrtproductions.org.
"The Full Monty": The working-class musical comedy based on the British movie centers on Buffalo, N.Y., steelworkers who lose their jobs and turn to stripping for some badly needed money. Presented by Tri-Valley Repertory Theater Company Saturday through Feb. 3 at Bankhead Theater, Livermore; $28-$38;