On Tuesday night, foppish knights and dancing showgirls will take the stage at the University of Virginia’s Culbreth Theatre for a rousing performance of “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” the headline musical in this year’s Heritage Theatre Festival.
Just across the hall, a suicidal beatnik poet and his more successful but equally neurotic college classmate lament their lot atop a suspension bridge in a witty revival of an award-winning 1965 comedy, “Luv.”
The juxtaposition is fitting for the 41st season of U.Va.’s Heritage Theatre Festival and the final season of long-time producing artistic director Robert Chapel. During his 29 years leading the festival, Chapel, a professor in U.Va.’s Drama Department, has brought a diverse lineup of professional theater to Charlottesville each summer.
“Bob Chapel has done a remarkable job as the director of Charlottesville’s only live professional theater company,” said Jody Kielbasa, U.Va. vice provost for the arts. “During his 29 years, the Heritage has seen great success and Bob leaves it positioned to continue to delight audiences for years to come.”
“I have always tried to have an eclectic group of plays and musicals that are thought-provoking and entertaining,” Chapel said. “I am proud to say that we have a really fine reputation around the Southeast, and even around the country, as excellent summer theater to visit and work with.”
Each year, professional actors, designers and directors journey to Charlottesville for the summer theatre program. They join students and faculty from U.Va.’s drama department to bring award-winning shows to life, and many, Chapel reports, have gone on to successful careers on stage and in the theater business.
“We have nurtured a lot of talent over the years, both on stage and on the production side,” he said. “Our designers are working across the country and we have a number of actors on Broadway.”
“Spamalot,” an irreverent parody of King Arthur’s mythical quest for the Holy Grail that riffs on the 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” will be among the largest productions the festival has undertaken.
“It is pure fun on a massive scale, brilliantly written, with a great score,” Chapel said. “It is the perfect summer escape.”
In addition to “Spamalot” and “Luv,” this year’s lineup features “I Love a Piano,” a musical revue of famed songwriter Irving Berlin’s greatest hits; “Almost, Maine,” a collection of nine vignettes about love and loss; and “Violet,” a Broadway musical chronicling a disfigured young woman’s search for healing. The season kicked off June 25 with the first performance of “Luv” and will conclude July 31.
“The variety is great. The community can see a huge musical production like ‘Spamalot’ one week and a quaint comedy or a musical revue the next,” said Bryan Garey, the director of “Luv.”
Garey, an alumnus of the U.Va. drama program, performed in Heritage Theatre productions in the 1990s. After returning to U.Va. as an assistant vice president in the University’s Human Resources department, he directed the festival’s rendition of one of the country’s longest-running comedies, “Shear Madness,” last year. It was so much fun that he signed on to direct “Luv,” which he characterizes as “a very funny, very physical comedy, bizarre in a great way.”
“It is really special to have such great professional theater here for the summer, for U.Va. and for the wider community,” Garey said. “The Heritage Festival elevates the U.Va. arts community, provides our students with professional experiences and brings so many talented people to Charlottesville.”
Garey credits much of the festival’s current success to Chapel’s dedicated leadership.
“He is an incredibly talented man and a hard worker and his contributions, both from an artistic standpoint and as a producer, are outstanding,” Garey said. “He wears so many hats and wears them so well, and is every bit as energetic now as he was in the beginning.”
As for Chapel, he is excited about the lineup that he and his staff have put together and looking forward to a final season in his longtime role.
“I hope the world comes to see us this summer,” he said. “It has been a great run for me, and I am going to miss it.”
Information about the festival, as well as showtimes, can be found at www.heritagetheatrefestival.org.
Single and season tickets for the 2015 Heritage Theatre Festival season can be purchased online, at the U.Va. Arts Box Office in the lobby of the drama building, or over the phone at 434-924-3376.
Free parking for all Heritage Theatre Festival performances is available at the Culbreth Road parking garage alongside the theaters.