Theater in the Round (Up): Mega-playwright productions hit the stage

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Pictured are The Lady Hoofers Tap Ensemble dancers (from left) Tara Tucci, Deonna Powell and Brittany Beatty.
Brian Mengini

Philadelphia’s May theater scene kicks off fast with two separate productions from two humorous playwrights, each with ties to television.

‘An Army of Lovers’

When he’s not busy bouncing between homes in Baltimore and Philly, writer R. Eric Thomas – famed for having written for the television shows ‘Dickinson’ (Apple TV+) and ‘Better Things’ (FX) – is the playwright behind the LGBTQIA+ drama ‘Mrs. Harrison’, the Barrymore Award-winning ‘Time is On Our Side’, and his new ‘An Army of Lovers’.

The latter ‘Lovers’, something Thomas calls “a conference room cultural collision,” gets its world premiere this week through Azuka Theatre (in collaboration with Simpatico Theater) at the Drake, running now through May 19. Hilariously, as written by Thomas, an aging queer activist is invited to the campus of a global communications company to give a speech for their first Pride celebration, and laughs ensue.

‘Hurricane Diane’

Playwright and ‘Only Murders in the Building’ screenwriter and executive story editor Madeline George has a dozen smart dramadies under her belt such as ‘The Zero Hour’ and ‘The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence’. However, her mythically comic (or comically mythical) play ‘Hurricane Diane‘ is running now through May 19 at People’s Light.

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Rami Margron and Teri Lamm star in ‘Hurricane Diane’ at People’s Light.Mark Garvin

“For a long time, I didn’t think that comedy was important, that being funny was important,” said George, whose first work was staged at age 16. “I knew that I wanted my plays to wrestle with big questions, which meant to keep the jokes to a minimum. But, with ‘Hurricane Diane’, I began to think that the harder questions were hard for me – and for an audience – to take if the jokes don’t come fast and furious. Jokes are a delivery system for ethical or intellectual questions for me.”

As a fan of the “high-low mix” of humor that includes women’s magazine, HGTV and the BRAVO network’s ‘Real Housewives’, along with the influences of Tony Kutcher (“every Gen-X playwright’s inspiration”), Shakespeare, and Tom Stoppard (“another playwright who also blends philosophy with trapeze acts”), George’s brand of authorship and flips of language has no easy equal.

For theater goers who adore sparklingly unique and quirkily funny playwriting, ‘Hurricane Diane’ and ‘An Army of Lovers’ are for you.

The Lady Hoofers Tap Ensemble

One of this city’s most original movement outfits is ‘The Lady Hoofers Tap Ensemble‘, Philly-based dancers who put women first in terms of performance and education. This weekend, the Hoofers bring their magic, mirth and a world premiere piece from choreographer Sarah Cook Flynn to the Spring Concert Series at West Philly’s Annenberg Center on May 11.

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The Lady Hoofers Tap Ensemble perform ‘Honeysuckle Rose Suite.’Brian Mengini

Flynn’s premiere piece is set to the jazz standard ‘Stompin’ at the Savoy,’ and has been kicking around in her head for ages.

“Working with layers of sound, space, and physicality is really exciting for me as a choreographer,” writes Flynn. “I designed the short, but playful piece to be a nod to pioneering women in tap and also a teaching tool for future generations of the company. It requires incredible teamwork and listening, patience and finesse, style and panache to ‘play’ this brilliant interpretation of Harry Connick, Jr.’s song and to capture the spirit of the Savoy Ballroom.”

John Lloyd Young

Vocalist and actor John Lloyd Young may be known to Philly and NYC as the ultimate Jersey Boy, what with having played the Four Seasons’ Frankie Valli and won a Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Theatre World Award for his Broadway debut. But when he sings at the Rittenhouse Grill for a new cabaret series on May 20 and 21, you’ll find that Young is a Californian cat, and a soul enthusiast beyond the borders of Valli.

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John Lloyd Young will perform at at the Rittenhouse Grill May 20 and 21.Alex Hoerner

“When I walk into a room, I don’t look like a ‘John Lloyd Young,’ I look like a ‘John Lloyd Genetti,” he said of Italian-American ethnicity. Young says this blend is relative to acting school and the ability to access memory, “the ancestral thing in any character,” just by walking into a room. “I was able to channel my great-grandfather from Sicily when I played Franki Valli even though I grew up on Army bases and went to Ivy League schools such as Brown University.”