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In with the new 

Big, poppy Broadway fare highlights the spring theater season.

'WAR HORSE': The Broadway tour comes to the Walton Arts Center May 22-26 image
  • 'WAR HORSE': The Broadway tour comes to the Walton Arts Center May 22-26.

This spring theater calendar, unlike previous seasons, is full up with new-ish productions. In this market, where keeping the theater's doors open often means booking the sure-to-fill-the-seats chestnuts, it's nice to have a flood of shows we haven't seen before on the horizon.

"Treasure Island" (through March 31) at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, a musical based on the Robert Louis Stevenson classic, is making its world debut at the Rep. That "Treasure Island" also includes songs about pirates, steam-punk takes on pirate garb and elaborate fake tattoos makes it a must-see.

Like "Treasure Island," the source material for "Spamalot" (April 1-2) isn't new. The play's a musical adaption of the film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," the legendary British comedy group's parody of King Arthur's quest to find the Holy Grail. The musical, with lyrics and book by Monty Python's Eric Idle, debuted on Broadway in 2005. It went on to win three Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The acclaimed national tour comes to Robinson for two shows.

The Weekend Theater takes on another 2005 Tony Award winner (for Best Play) — John Patrick Shanley's "Doubt" (April 5-20). The drama, which also won a Pulitzer, confronts the corrosiveness of moral certainty through a story about the antagonistic relationship between a Catholic priest and a nun in 1960s New York.

Cole Porter's "Anything Goes," one of the few oldies of the season, comes to the Walton Arts Center newly revived and fresh off three Tonys in 2011. It's about singing and dancing and love and puns aboard a boat.

The other classic of the season, "Death of a Salesman" (April 24-May 12), is also fresh off an acclaimed revival. The Rep's Producing Artistic Director Bob Hupp directs what many have hailed as the greatest American drama ever.

Just as The Rep did last season, Northwest Arkansas's only year-round professional theater troupe TheatreSquared stages "Next to Normal" (April 18-May 12), an acclaimed musical about a mother and wife of a suburban family struggling with bipolar disorder, at Walton Arts Center's Nadine Baum Studios.

Speaking of modern musicals, they don't get much more contemporary than "American Idiot," an adaptation of Green Day's bestselling concept album of the same name about life in the U.S. after 9/11. The national tour stops at Walton Arts April 26-28.

The Weekend Theater closes out its season with "The Paris Letter" (May 3-18) by Jon Robin Baitz, who created TV's "Brothers and Sisters" and is the author of the recent Broadway hit "Other Desert Cities." It's about a closeted Wall Street powerbroker whose secret is threatened by a bad investment. Artistic director Ralph Hyman directs.

Even if you've read the book or seen the movie, the Broadway tour of "War Horse" (May 22-26) at Walton Arts should go on your calendar if only to see the Handspring Puppet Company's elaborate, full-scale horses come alive on stage. They're strong enough for actors to ride, and they gallop like a real horse in this World War I drama.

It's been described as "South Park meets Sesame Street" and it's one of the most acclaimed musicals of the last decade: the bawdy puppet musical "Avenue Q" (June 5-30). It closes out the Rep's season.

The Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre returns June 6 through June 30 with four plays at three venues. As usual, the theater company will stage one non-Shakespeare play. This time it's "Oliver!", the musical based on Dickens' "Oliver Twist." The three from the Bard are "King Lear," "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Much Ado About Nothing," which will be performed outdoors at The Village at Hendrix in Conway (June 6-8) and staged twice at the Argenta Community Theater in North Little Rock (June 21-22). All other plays will be staged at Reynolds Performance Hall on the campus of UCA.

TheatreSquared unveils the fifth annual Arkansas New Play Festival June 13-16 at Walton Arts Center's Nadine Baum Studios and the Arkansas Repertory Theatre.

The Four Seasons scored nearly 30 Top 40 hits during their heyday, so it makes sense that "Jersey Boys" (June 19-23), the musical about their rise, has become an international hit. It runs for eight shows at Robinson Center Music Hall.

As usual, the season closes out with Opera in the Ozarks (June 21-July 19), with powerhouse performers from across the country performing "Madama Butterfly," "L'elisir d'amore" and "The Pirates of Penzance."

Also worth noting: The Argenta Community Theater stages "The Odds Against 'U.S.,' " an original play by Chris E. James, on April 12 and 13. And Murry's puts on what it calls Southern-fried farce with "Rex's Exes (March 19-April 13), the comedy of mistaken identity "See How They Run" (April 16-May 13), the classic "Steel Magnolias" (May 21-June 15) and the musical "Southern Crossroads" (June 18-July 20).

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