Ken and Amy Kaissar, co-producing directors at Bristol Riverside Theatre, breathed a sigh of relief in May when the final curtain fell on A Few Good Men. It was the first full season back after Cabaret was abruptly shut down in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it went off without a hitch.
“We were brushing the sweat off our brow,” said Ken. “Each show that we did, we were sort of holding our breath of what the moment would be when we’d have to cancel because of COVID. We got through the entire season without losing a single performance.”
Now, the Kaissars know that if they did it once, they can do it again. Bristol Riverside Theatre recently announced its 2022-23 lineup that’s chock-full of comedy, feel-good content and, most importantly, the return of two shows that fell victim to the pandemic.
Cabaret is returning to the stage to (hopefully) enjoy a full run this time around. The Tony Award-winning musical by John Kander and Fredd Ebb follows Cliff Bradshaw, an American writer who arrives in 1929 Berlin looking for inspiration for his novel, and instead falls in love with a star burlesque performer, Sally Bowles, at the Kit Kat Club. However, the decadent nightlife they have fallen into quickly comes under threat as the Nazi Party grows in strength.
The Kaissars are excited for more theater-goers to see Cabaret, as well as themselves. In 2020, the show ended so quickly that they didn’t get a chance to experience it. According to Ken, it will feel like BRT traveled back in time — the sets, props and costumes are in storage, ready to go for the third show of the season. At this point, the Kaissars are unsure if the same cast from 2020 is able and willing to return.
An added bonus to Cabaret, former BRT artistic director Keith Baker is coming back to direct the show.
Also being carried over is A Leg Up, which was set to finish out the 2019-20 season. Ken began writing this comedy in 2014 and had it developed through BRT’s America Rising program. After working on the play diligently ever since, Baker and founding director Susan D. Atkinson thought it worthy of being included in a mainstage season. But as news began to swirl of COVID, those closest to Ken weren’t too optimistic.
“Everyone kept saying, ‘You know it’s not happening right?’ I had hope until March 13, 2020, when we shut down the company for COVID,” he said.
A Leg Up, which opens the forthcoming season, follows Charles, whose future rests on the new XR3000 — an intelligent prosthetic leg designed for the U.S. senator who is running for president. Chaos ensues as his mistress announces she’s pregnant, his business partner has an eye on his wife, and the senator has an affair with the leg designer.
“It’s going to be a great opportunity to just laugh and enjoy a new farce and a new comedy,” said Ken, who added that he’s a little nervous to present this genre to the masses. “Comedy is always the best form and the scariest form. In a drama, you don’t always know when you’ve failed. But in a comedy, you know if they’re not laughing, it’s not funny and that’s the point.”
Following A Leg Up is Clue, based on the cult classic film inspired by the board game. In this humorous adaptation, the guests, under different aliases, are invited to an unusual dinner party at Boddy Manor, only to discover that the host is dead upon arrival. The zany group of would-be suspects must race to reveal the identity of the murderer before the body count stacks up in this whodunit.
Wrapping up the season is the Philadelphia premiere of Chicken & Biscuits, written by Douglas Lyons. Rivaling sisters Baneatta and Beverly are burying their father, but it’s the non-stop family drama that might be the death of them. Beverly, a single mother to an impatient teenage daughter, is determined to show off her blessings to the congregation. Meanwhile, Baneatta’s youngest son brings his white, Jewish boyfriend to the service, but gets swept up in the proceedings after a mysterious guest reveals a family secret.
Though each show is unique and tackles different subjects, Amy stressed that all share something in common — the ability to incite laughter and joy in audiences.
“We really just wanted to put together a season that was going to be fun,” she said. “We’re really just trying to have a good time. It’s been a rough couple years for everybody I think. We want the community to share a good laugh and heartfelt unity.”
Ken shared the same sentiment: “While we love producing theater that prods and challenges our audiences, what everyone needs right now is a season of laughs and good music. When audiences come together to enjoy art, it becomes a transcendent, life-affirming experience. I think our community needs that, and that’s what folks will experience at BRT this season.”
Returning this year are pre- and post-show engagements, included with the price of the ticket. These include Friday Festivals, Wine Down Wednesday and Thirsty Thursday.
If you go: Bristol Riverside Theatre’s 2022-23 mainstage season kicks off Sept. 20 with A Leg Up, which runs through Oct. 9. Clue runs Nov. 1 to 20; Cabaret runs March 21 to April 16; and Chicken & Biscuits runs May 16 to June 4. Tickets, including season subscriptions, are available at brtstage.org and 215-785-0100. The theater is located at 120 Radcliffe St. in Bristol.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com