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summer arts preview

Magic beckons from summer stages

Cirque du Soleil brings “Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities’’ to the big top at Suffolk Downs. Martin Girard

As a stock phrase to describe the experience and excitement of live performance, it’s long been commonplace to talk about “the magic of theater.’’

So perhaps it’s only logical that actual magic — along with its conceptual cousin, transformation — will lie at the heart of productions this summer from Boston to the Berkshires.

In some cases, the title itself suggests an evening of abracadabra is in store, such as “Presto, Change-O’’ and “The Naked Magic Show.’’ Other shows revolve around flights of fancy that venture to a realm beyond that dreary place known as the real world, from “Peter and the Starcatcher’’ to Cirque du Soleil’s “Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities’’ to “If/Then.’’


Then there are the productions whose lead characters are endowed with special properties that transcend normal boundaries of human (or vegetative) power and allow them to manipulate their surroundings: “Matilda the Musical,’’ “Little Shop of Horrors,’’ and, of course, the musical about that mysterious and magical British nanny with the aerodynamic umbrella, “Mary Poppins.’’

In part, this summertime emphasis on shows that are heavy on spectacle and imagination is a response by theater companies to the vibe of a season when, let’s face it, the temptation is strong to just put your brain on furlough and leave the Beckett, Ibsen, and Strindberg for chillier months.

But there’s also an implicit recognition that theater and magic share a lot of DNA. Both forms of entertainment ask audiences to suspend disbelief. Both depend on the willingness of audiences to fall for the trick, as it were; to not be sticklers for absolute realism; to pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. And both, in different ways, trade on the promise that wonders initially concealed will eventually be revealed.

Nothing will be concealed, at least when it comes to the performers’ physiques, in “The Naked Magic Show,’’ slated for May 19-21 at Boston’s Citi Shubert Theatre. It’s an R-rated performance starring an unclothed Christopher Wayne and Mike Taylor. As the duo perform card tricks, hypnosis, and comic routines, there is usually a high level of audience engagement. Consider yourself forewarned, or enticed, as the case may be.


“Presto Change-O,’’ a musical receiving its world premiere at Pittsfield’s Barrington Stage Company May 18-June 11, is about three generations of illusionists — each of whom takes a different approach to magic — who begin to revisit some charged chapters in their family history when they find themselves in the same place for the first time in years. Featuring music by Joel Waggoner and book and lyrics by Eric Price, it will be directed by Marc Bruni, who helmed “Beautiful, the Carole King Musical’’ on Broadway.

Stardust — or rather, “starstuff’’ — will be in the air when Lyric Stage Company of Boston presents “Peter and the Starcatcher,’’ a prequel to the Peter Pan story, from May 20-June 26. A young girl name Molly unites with an orphan known only as Boy to safeguard magical starstuff from a pirate named Black Stache.

In “Matilda the Musical,’’ presented by Broadway In Boston and slated for the Boston Opera House June 14-26, the little girl of the title possesses telekinetic powers that prove to be pivotal to overcoming the villainy of Miss Trunchbull, the school headmistress.

A particular form of magical thinking underlies “If/Then,’’ a musical by the creators of “Next to Normal’’ that is slated for the Opera House from July 5-17, also presented by Broadway In Boston. “If/Then’’ explores the what-if fantasies of a newly divorced urban planner named Elizabeth, unfolding in two separate story lines — she’s Liz in one, Beth in another — that reveal the paths her life, loves, and career could take, depending on the decisions she makes.


A timorous flower shop worker named Seymour makes a fateful decision of his own in “Little Shop of Horrors,’’ opting to satisfy the unusual appetite of a talking plant named Audrey II, only to see her grow increasingly bloodthirsty and out of control. Berkshire Theatre Group’s production is scheduled for July 6-23 at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield.

From July 12-31, North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly will present “Mary Poppins,’’ featuring the stern-but-loving nanny who arrives in the Banks household and proceeds to use her magical powers to put the family back on track.

The acrobats, aerialists, and contortionists of Cirque du Soleil will be back in Boston from May 26-July 10, when “Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities’’ unfolds under the Big Top at Suffolk Downs. Set in the late 19th century, “Kurios’’ invites audiences into the capacious and overflowing curio cabinet of “The Seeker,’’ whom Cirque describes as “an ambitious inventor who defies the laws of time, space and dimension in order to reinvent everything around him.’’

Sounds like the stuff of magic.

Don Aucoin can be reached at aucoin@globe.com.