Old Globe Theatre staging five world premieres in 2018-19 season

The Old Globe Theatre will stage the playwright-actor and "Black Panther" star Danai Gurira's work "Familiar" as part of the theater's 2018-19 season.
(Harry Eelman / New York Times)

With two world-premiere musicals and three world-premiere plays, the Old Globe is going big on brand-new work for its just-announced 2018-19 season.

And it’s also going big when it comes to the names of some artists involved — including the musicians Huey Lewis and Clint Black and the playwright-actor Danai Gurira, a star of the megahit Marvel Studios movie “Black Panther.”

Here’s what heading to the Balboa Park theater starting this fall:

“The Heart of Rock & Roll,” Sept. 6 to Oct. 21 (opens Sept. 14), Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage: The Globe’s world premiere of this jukebox musical, built around the music of ’80s hitmakers Huey Lewis and the News, was originally announced in February.

Since then, work has continued on the piece, with a fresh draft of the script and a brand-new song by Lewis. The show had a workshop reading last week in New York, and Lewis himself has been “”very involved” in the casting, writing and other elements, Globe artistic director Barry Edelstein says.

The show tells the story of a former rock singer turned corporate guy who is offered one last shot to reunite with his old band.

The director is the Broadway veteran Gordon Greenberg, previously at the Globe with “Working” in 2009. The show’s book is by Jonathan Abrams (A&E Network’s “Bishop”), from a story by Tyler Mitchell (senior vice president of Imagine Entertainment and a producer of “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” and other films) and Abrams.

Lewis recently had to cancel the remainder of his 2018 tour after experiencing near-total hearing loss, possibly due to the inner-ear disorder known as Meniere’s disease.

“We’re all beaming him as much support as possible,” says Edelstein, “and are happy for him to have this (project) to focus on as he copes with this medical situation.”

“Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas!,” Nov. 3 to Dec. 29 (opens Nov. 8), Shiley Stage: The holiday standby returns for a 21st season, with James Vásquez once again directing the musicalized story of Seuss’ mean, green yuletide antihero.

Also returning is a sensory-friendly performance geared toward those on the autism spectrum and their families; it’s set for 10:30 a.m. Dec. 1.

“Looking For Christmas: The New Clint Black Christmas Musical,” Nov. 13 to Dec. 16 (opens Nov. 20), Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre: Clint Black has been one of the top-selling country-music artists of the past 30 years, and this world-premiere show is built around songs from his popular 1995 holiday album.

“It’s a veterans story,” Edelstein says of the show written by Black and James D. Sasser, “and for San Diego that seems very apt.”

The piece “deals with a soldier who comes home from Afghanistan and is haunted by the experiences he had there. The action of the story is his attempt to reintegrate his life into civilian existence,” with help from his wife and young daughter.”

“It’s as sentimental and sweet as you can possibly imagine,” but “sentimental in the best sense,” Edelstein adds. And it addresses the Globe’s longstanding quest to get a show into the White Theatre during the holiday season, when the space is normally dormant.

Kent Nicholson directs.

“Familiar,” Jan. 26 to March 3, 2019 (opens Jan. 31), Shiley Stage: The 2015 play, which will be getting its first San Diego production, is by a rising force in American arts: Danai Gurira.

Millions of people who’ve never seen her plays know her as Okoye, the heroic warrior from “Black Panther.” (She also has been a longtime star of TV’s “The Walking Dead.”)

But Gurira was nominated for a best-play Tony Award in 2016 for the hard-hitting drama “Eclipsed,” and has had several other works produced. She also has acted on Broadway.

Edelstein, who produced a Shakespeare in the Park staging of “Measure for Measure” that Gurira starred in for New York’s Public Theater, says “ ‘Familiar’ is a play that I really know and love. I really wanted to get in there before it starts to become a mainstay of the (American) regional theater, which I think it’s about to do.”

The play is about an assimilated American family of Zimbabwean heritage (the place of Gurira’s own family origins) whose life is thrown into turmoil when a daughter decides to have a traditional African wedding ceremony. Edelstein describes it as part of a subgenre of wedding plays “whose real theme is assimilation and the American immigrant experience.”

And Gurira “is extraordinary. She’s a great actress; she’s a wonderful, gifted playwright; she’s a philanthropist; she’s a political activist. She’s really one of the most remarkable people around.”

(He hastens to add that she will not be in the show.)

“Tiny Beautiful Things,” Feb. 9 to March 10, 2019 (opens Feb. 14), White Theatre: Nia Vardalos of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” fame adapted Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling book for the stage, and now the Globe produces the play’s West Coast premiere.

The piece theatricalizes the correspondence between the writer of an advice column called “Dear Sugar” — which Strayed herself created for the website the Rumpus a few years back — and her readers.

Edelstein says the work has “an aspect our audience clearly really likes, which is that it’s literate. There’s a richness to the writing, and a density, that I think is a flavor our audience really likes and respects.”

The piece was conceived by Vardalos, Marshall Heyman and Thomas Kail, also known as the director of the megahit musical “Hamilton”; James Vásquez returns to direct the Globe production.

Edelstein adds that when “Tiny Beautiful Things” was running at the Public, the New York Times wrote about the distinct outbreaks of emotion in the audience at many performances.

“It’s cathartic, and human in the best kind of way.”

“Life After,” March 22 to April 28, 2019 (opens March 29), Shiley Stage: For just the second time in his career, Edelstein will direct a musical. The first was the Globe’s production of “Rain” in 2016; now he’ll stage the American premiere of this work by the Canadian writer-composer-lyricist Britta Johnson.

Edelstein describes it as “small-scale piece about a 16-year-old girl grieving the loss of her father, and trying to find out what happened to him. It’s healing and redemptive, and just extraordinary beautiful.”

“Life After” premiered in Toronto last year to strong reviews, but “this will be a production at a much larger scale.” Like “Rain,” Edelstein says, Johnson’s work is a chamber piece that mixes deep drama with humor; both musicals “operate in a way that feels like it’s in my wheelhouse.”

Edelstein describes the score as “gorgeous and soaring,” and he expects big things of the show’s young creator: “I just want the Globe onboard the Britta Johnson rocket ship.”

“They Promised Her The Moon,” April 6 to May 5, 2019 (opens April 11), White Theatre: Speaking of rocket ships, Laurel Ollstein’s world-premiere play focuses on a fascinating chapter from history: The story of 13 women who went through the same difficult training as the pioneering (male) “Mercury Seven” astronauts, but never got a chance to go into space.

Among them was Jerrie Cobb, who excelled in the program and also has made her mark in everything from business to aviation.

The play, says Edelstein, chronicles what has been “just an extraordinary adventuresome, jaw-dropping American life.” And it explores how sexist attitudes served to keep the women’s space careers earthbound.

Giovanni Sardelli, previously at the Globe with “Somewhere” and “The Whipping Man,” returns to direct.

“Ken Ludwig’s Gods of Comedy,” May 11 to June 16, 2019 (opens May 16), Shiley Stage: Yet another world premiere, this one brings a familiar figure back to the Globe: the Tony Award-winning playwright Ken Ludwig (“Lend Me a Tenor”), who previously launched his works “Robin Hood!” and “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery” at the theater.

Fellow Tony-winner and returnee Kathleen Marshall, who will also be at the Globe soon with “Much Ado Nothing,” directs this comedy of young classics professors who stumble onto a stunning discovery and are saddled with some very questionable deities for their troubles.

“It’s just really, really funny, and super-smart,” says Edelstein of the piece, which will be produced in association with New Jersey’s McCarter Theatre Center.

“What You Are,” May 23 to June 23, 2019 (opens May 30), White Theatre: The third consecutive Globe world premiere is a piece the theater commissioned from JC Lee. “What You Are” had its first reading in the theater’s Powers New Voices Festival.

The play focuses on a working man’s growing sense of alienation from family, co-workers and society at large.

“It really is one of the first times since I’ve been here that we’ve consciously produced a piece that is meant to be about America right now,” says Edelstein. “And we’re not trying to pretend it’s anything other than what it is. It’s a play about toxic masculinity, and about white American men and the things that are obsessing them and concerning them.

“The play is JC’s attempt to imagine his way inside this world that we’re being told every day on the news is the motivating force of contemporary politics.”

Edelstein calls Lee, who’s both a playwright and film/TV screenwriter, “a really smart and thoughtful writer who’s trying to wrestle with stuff in a way that’s respectful and evenhanded.”


Globe for All Tour: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Oct. 30 to Nov. 18 (opens Nov. 1): The accomplished director Patricia McGregor returns to the Globe community-outreach program, which takes Shakespeare into a wide variety of venues, to direct this Bard favorite.

“Julius Caesar,” Oct. 20-28, Old Globe and University of San Diego Shiley Graduate Theatre Program: The renowned actor-training program puts up the Shakespeare tragedy about dictatorship and betrayal in ancient Rome.

For more information and subscription purchase: (619) 234-5623 or

Twitter: @jimhebert