New Blood at the White Plains Performing Arts Center
Tired of stale plays on Broadway? The White Plains Performing Arts Center is back — and boy, is the playbill better than ever!
By Marisa LaScala
Remember the White Plains Performing Arts Center? Chances are, you haven’t given it much thought lately. Yeah, it’s that theater on top of the City Center in White Plains, and, for a while it was doing plays... then mostly concert performances... then not much at all was going on there. It’s a shame, too, since the location in White Plains is perfect for injecting theater into the heart of Westchester’s nightlife.
Well, it’s time to give it a second look. The WPPAC is back with a new leadership team, featuring Laurence Holzman as the executive director, Annette Jolles as the artistic director, and Felicia Needleman as the literary manager. Holzman and Needleman are locals, too — Holzman hails from Dobbs Ferry and Needleman’s from Larchmont.
I spoke with Felicia Needleman about the changes she and her team are instilling at the theater — and man, do they seem exciting. (You can read more about this conversation in the December issue of Westchester Magazine.) She said instead of focusing on well-known plays and revivals — which you can find all over the county and New York City, at places that do those types of shows very well — the White Plains Performing Arts Center is instead going to focus on brand-new works from emerging artists and writers. This includes premieres of newer plays, readings of works-in-progress, and conversations with people actively involved in working theater.
Needleman stressed to me that this is important because, well, not many theaters are doing it. Venues for trying out new shows are drying up. Broadway won’t take a chance on new work anymore — that’s why you see so many shows with franchise-approved names like Spider-Man. Needleman says it’s up to regional theaters to provide a place for artists to actually develop new work — instead of delivering to Broadway a pre-packaged blockbuster success — the way Rodgers and Hammerstein used to do when they were writing their shows. (You didn’t think Oklahoma! went to Broadway without an out-of-town tryout first, did you?)
Scott Mikita as Raoul Wallenberg
So, what’s on the slate? This month, plenty: The first mainstage show is Holzman and Needleman’s own: Wallenberg. According to Playbill:
“Featuring book and lyrics by Laurence Holzman and Felicia Needleman, and music by Benjamin Rosenbluth, the show will tell the story of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swede who saved the lives of thousands of Jewish refugees during World War II.”
The show is currently in previews and will run at the WPPAC until November 21.
Then, on November 7, the theater will begin its “Conversations at 7” series. The first speaker is former Bedford/Armonk resident Tom Kitt, who recently won the Pulitzer Prize for his Broadway musical, Next to Normal. (You can read more about Kitt in my profile of him here.) Go there and ask him how things are going for his Bring It On musical.
The month’s offering rounds out with the “First Look” series on November 15. This time, LaChanze, a Mount Vernon resident and Tony winner for her role in The Color Purple, presents a reading of a comedy/mystery, Reunion in Bartersville.
New works continue in December and beyond, so keep an eye out next time you stop in at the City Center’s Target.