The Summer Theater Season Begins!

The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey

The F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre, Madison, NJ

Two current comedies made for a lively weekend. The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey opened its 2015 season with that George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber classic about a theatrical family, the Cavendishes. The Royal Family is a “grand, exuberant ode to the American theatre, and the wonderful tribe that ‘struts and frets’ upon our stages,” said Bonnie Monte in the director’s notes. You’ll recall that it is a play about three generations of a theater family, based loosely on the Barrymores, and all the aspects of the actor’s life that both attract and repel them (the Know-the-Show audience guide includes more about the play and the scandalous Barrymores, available here). They are never acting more fervently than when the claim they are going to give it up. Beautiful set and costumes (1920’s), and wonderful performances, especially, by Roxanna Hope (Julie Cavendish), Elizabeth Shepherd (Fanny Cavendish), and Samantha Bruce (Gwen Cavendish). Benjamin Sterling as Tony Cavendish is a fireball. On stage until June 21.

The Princeton Festival, an annual performing arts extravaganza that brings a year’s worth of vocal and orchestral concerts, theatrical productions, and related lectures to venues around Princeton in the space of about three weeks, puts on the musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee this year. It was a high-energy performance, with catchy songs and engaging characters, well played (music and lyrics: William Finn; book: Rachel Sheinkin). One (unnecessary) song keeps it from being a production suitable for children, with a number of good messages. For adults, it’s all fun. In the Mathews Acting Studio with a live orchestra, performances continue through June 28.