With a tag line of "Here We Go Again," the upcoming Texarkana Repertory season starts with Swedish superstars and takes you for a ride on the Orient Express.
The 2019-2020 season also features serious changes to the way things normally run with TexRep's lineup, first by adding a Christmas special: "A Tuna Christmas." And for most productions, the second weekend has been replaced by a Thursday night show and an additional Saturday show.
"Mamma Mia!" kicks it all off in grand style as a jukebox musical based on the music of Swedish stars ABBA. Performances run May 3-5 and 10-12 with Friday and Saturday shows at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. Rehearsals are already underway.
"I call it an earworm musical because those songs just stick in your head," said TexRep's Michael Cooper, artistic director for the troupe about to embark on its 29th season. A little ABBA will get the season dancing in this wildly popular show.
"Who doesn't like those songs, you know?" Cooper said, noting the storyline works with these songs. "The songs come up for a reason," he said. "It's much different than just breaking out into songs for no reason, which is what musicals do anyway. We're hoping it will be really popular."
For "Mamma Mia!," the cast will total 20-something actors. And for the first time with TexRep, a recorded track will be used. TexRep's cast will sing live, but they want the ABBA sound for the music. "It will sound like ABBA," the director said.
"Everyone sings even if they're not on stage," Cooper said. "All the songs are like six-part harmony so there's everybody singing and everything. It's going to be pretty exciting."
The Christmas season brings "A Tuna Christmas" Dec. 12-15. For this production, TexRep mixes it up with shows Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday.
The show is extra and isn't considered part of the membership package, but TexRep has a promotion for this show whereby everyone who purchases a membership by opening night of "Mamma Mia!" receives free tickets, depending on the membership size.
"Which is an amazing deal," Cooper said, noting if someone buys a membership for $40 then shows are essentially $8 apiece.
About the change to one weekend for most of the shows, Cooper said this totals five performances instead of six but consolidates the run. "There's so much going on, and we have found that we will get to the second weekend of a show and we will turn people away because it sold out," he said. But for the first weekend? "Half houses." Hence, this switch.
"There's one less performance but it's still five chances to see the show. And we leave ourselves open so that if it does totally sell out we can add a Sunday night," Cooper said.
Pulitzer Prize finalist "The Waverly Gallery" follows with performances Sept. 12-15 with Thursday, Friday and Saturday shows at 7:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday. The playwright is Kenneth Lonergan, and this memory play addresses an art gallery owner's descent into Alzheimer's disease.
In addition to writing plays, the Oscar-nominated Lonergan has written and directed movies like "You Can Count on Me" and "Manchester by the Sea."
"It was recently revived on Broadway with Elaine May," Cooper said, adding it's a play told from the point of view of the woman's grandson. "She has an art gallery in the Village in New York. She's smart and snappy and stuff, and Alzheimer's rears its head."
It's funny and moving at the same time, Cooper said, as it confronts an issue we all fear. "It's the kind of slice-of-life, real life drama," he said.
Then it's "A Wrinkle in Time" Nov. 7-10 with Thursday, Friday and Saturday shows at 7:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday.
"It's been around for a while," Cooper said about a stage rendition of this story. There are several versions to choose from with this adaptation of the classic Madeleine L'Engle young adult science fiction and fantasy novel. The version TexRep does is one the Dallas Children's Theater did.
"It will have a lot of magic in it, projections. We'll go high tech with a lot of stuff with it," Cooper said. An Ava DuVernay-directed movie adaptation came out in 2018. This play is for all ages.
"It's like if you see a good Pixar movie. The kids go and they have a wonderful time, and the adults go and they have a wonderful time. There are things that go right over the kid's heads that play on an adult level, so it's not just for the kids," Cooper said.
"Murder on the Orient Express" rounds out the year Feb. 13-16 with Thursday, Friday and Saturday shows at 7:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday. Ken Ludwig (playwright of "Lend Me a Tenor") adapted the famous Agatha Christie whodunit for the stage.
"He's really known for writing farces," Cooper said about Ludwig. The audience will get its Agatha Christie in there, but there's humor, too, he believes.
"I'm more of a fan of the original movie than the newer movie," the director said. That 1974 cinematic version included Albert Finney, John Gielgud, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, Vanessa Redgrave and Anthony Perkins, among many others.
This year's June drama camp (June 10-22) features Disney's "Beauty and the Beast."
(On the Net: TexRep.org.)