The building at 71 Public Square first opened its doors in 1938. The art deco structure was home to a movie palace, bringing a little bit of Hollywood glamour to Northeastern Pa. The film stopped rolling in 1977, and the deteriorating structure faced certain doom until the area business community, led by Al Boscov, stepped in to save the Wilkes-Barre landmark. Reborn in 1986 as the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts, the building is once again bringing a little bit of glamour to Public Square. These days, while the glitz is still a factor, the quality of entertainment is even more so. When choosing their season full of music, theatre, dance and comedy, obviously scheduling comes into play, but even more important is quality.
“There’s a lot of thought process behind it and it can extend over months,” says Mark Thomas, director of programming, when discussing the acts that come to the stage. “What’s the best that’s out there that we can find and what’s the highest artistic quality?”
After pondering that question, Thomas offered just a bit of what the Kirby has to offer for the upcoming season.
• Last Comic Standing
Love to laugh? Who doesn’t, right? Well, the Kirby Center will be bringing the ha-has straight from Hollywood as “NBC’s Last Comic Standing Tour Live” comes to downtown Wilkes-Barre. The tour features a brand-new group of top comedians discovered during past and current seasons of the network’s hit show. Who knows? It could be your last chance to catch the finalists from the Emmy-nominated laugh-fest before America votes to choose their favorite rising comedy star. (Sept. 18. $28.50.)
Are popularity and notoriety one in the same? They are to Roxy Hart. After she shoots her husband, the wanna-be songstress knocks fellow murderess Velma Kelly off her top perch in Mamma Morton’s pen. When a sleazy lawyer, a cellblock full of scantily clad prisoners, and a wholesome reporter are thrown into the mix, there’s nothing to do but sit back, relax and enjoy the hit musical “Chicago.” If the local newspaper tells the story, it’s a little bit of scandal. If John Kander, Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse tell the story, it’s pure entertainment. The 2003 big screen version was great, but the stage show is absolutely killer. (Oct. 3. $25-$52.50.)
• Comedy of Errors
Two sets of identical twins separated during an accident. Cases of mistaken identity. People pretending to be who they’re not. Twisted family ties. Seemingly ingenious machinations. It sounds like a live version of a soap opera is making its way to the Kirby stage, but really it’s Shakespeare’s beloved “Comedy of Errors.” Presented by the award-winning Aquila Theatre Company, the production combines stunning visuals and a specially commissioned musical score for a lively evening of Shakespeare ideal for Bard experts and novices alike. (Nov. 22. $11-$55.)
• An Evening with Bill Cosby
Bill Cosby has been giving people the giggles for decades. Never sinking to the crass or mean-spirited, “the Cos” simply relies on his unique story-telling style. Whether he’s talking about his childhood, his parents, his wife or his kids, the comedian gets the laughs by turning his tales into bits of daily life everyone will recognize. From records to television, from the page to the stage, Cosby has made us guffaw using just about every medium. Though it’s been a while since he’s stepped into our living rooms every Thursday night, seeing him live on the Kirby stage will be quite a treat for comedy fans. (April 25. $35-$49.50.)
• Movin’ Out
The Piano Man, aka Billy Joel, has been telling tales through his music for decades. Songs like “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” “Captain Jack” and “Goodnight Saigon” instantly transport the listener to another time and place. So when one of modern music’s great storytellers teamed up with dance’s legendary Twyla Tharp to create a stage musical in 2002, it’s no surprise that the collaboration produced a hit. “Movin’ Out” is a high-energy, dance-driven show which uses 24 of Joel’s songs to cover more than 20 tumultuous years in the lives of a group of close friends. This high-energy, rockin’ show is a must for dance aficionados and Joel fans, as well as those who like something different from their musical theatre. (May 6. $25-$52.50.)
Leapin’ lizards! With her mop of curls and red cotton dress, Little Orphan Annie is one of America’s most recognizable little girls. The redhead’s antics have been capturing hearts since her first appearance in the New York Daily News in 1924. Annie’s adventures have been the subject of comic strips, a radio show, movies and TV. In 1977, the plucky orphan got her own Broadway show. “Annie” quickly became a hit, running for more than 2,300 performances and launching a 20th anniversary Broadway revival in 1997. Now Annie, Sandy, Daddy Warbucks and the whole gang will make a stop in Wilkes-Barre, belting out popular tunes such as “Tomorrow,” “It’s the Hard-Knock Life” and “NYC.” (May 28. $25-$52.50.)
• For the Kids
In addition to their regular programming, the Kirby is hoping to catch the imagination of new theatre-goers with their productions aimed at the younger set. That part of their mission just became a whole lot easier, thanks to a grant from the Wachovia Foundation. The grant, which supports educational programming, will allow the Kirby to present a variety of shows including “Harry the Dirty Dog’s Christmas,” “Mad Science Presents C.S.I. Live!” and “Dinosaurs.”
For more information on these shows or any of the Kirby’s upcoming productions, please call the box office at 570.826.1100 or visit www.kirbycenter.org.