The Finkel's building was packed as Market House Theatre announced its 54th season lineup Tuesday night.
Since its beginning, the community theater has produced more than 700 plays. Executive Director Michael Cochran said with this season's Family and Signature Series, Market House leaders are aspiring to reach new heights with each performance.
"We like to challenge ourselves, and look for new things," Cochran said. "Audiences also look for new forms of theater they haven't seen in the past, so it also challenges our audiences to grow artistically with us."
For each season, Cochran said, certain qualities are necessary to be considered Market House material.
Balance is key: for different age groups, cultures and fans of all genres.
"The first thing we look at: Is something well-written?" he said. "Then we look at balance. We may lean a bit towards comedy, but we look for a range of roles and a balance of what both actors and audiences want."
The premiere of the musical "Sister Act" in June 2018 promises compelling roles for local actresses, he added, in addition to showcasing MHT's wide range of musical talent.
For fresh drama, "The Mountaintop," coming in January 2018, is one example of new content onstage next season. After an exhausted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. retires to his hotel room on the eve of his assassination, he's visited by a "mysterious stranger."
"It's written with realism, but there are some aspects to it that are more mystical," Cochran said. "It's kind of a 'What if?'"
A few productions will reintroduce classics to audiences, both young and old.
"Barefoot in the Park" -- set for April 2018 -- premiered 34 years ago at MHT and tells a newlywed couple's story of how some connections strangely endure despite glaring differences.
"Most of the time we won't repeat a show unless it's been 10 years," Cochran said. "We look at (new) ways to introduce the show to a new audience, and some of our seasoned ticketholders will remember what a great play it was the first time."
Among the productions MHT takes on, some reflect changing times.
Scheduled for May 2018, "Just Like I Wanted" is about a 16-year-old named Joey who's just committed suicide. Through a series of flashbacks, the audience comes to understand why the teen decided to take his own life -- and the effect it has on others.
"It's a play about suicide, and it's important to have that conversation with our community," he said. "The theater is a safe place to have difficult conversations, and people can discuss these issues through characters rather than personally -- opening a dialogue about the subject you can't always do in different forms."
Meanwhile, MHT's Family Series promises to unveil literary classics to younger audiences with shows like "The Hobbit" and "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," coming next October and December, respectively.
"These are all great books that kids are reading in the classroom, and we're working with the schools to promote that," Cochran said, adding the theater works with schools in 14 counties.
He said the continued presence of secondary shows during the season -- touring shows, interactive mysteries and improv skits -- will also remind audiences why MHT is "more of a regional theater than anything."
"We have people coming from four states to see our stuff," he said. "We're looking at a lot of exciting things here in the next year."
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