by Steve Desroches
Ask any visitor why they come to Provincetown and you’ll get a variety of answers ranging from the town’s natural beauty to its fun nightlife, unique character, and acceptance of the outsider. But it is increasingly clear that Provincetown’s unparalleled performance scene has grown into a specific attraction unto itself. Audiences are full of people who have traveled from near and far to see a specific performer and to take in one of the most distinctive live performance phenomena in the country. According to the Tourism Economy Report released last month by the Provincetown Tourism Office, available data indicates visitors are spending less on higher priced products, but more on experiences, which certainly includes ticket sales as is evident by all the “sold out” signs hanging in box office windows.
The combination of both the economic importance and artistic value has venues around town constantly looking for the next big thing while also supporting those solid repertory acts working to reach new creative heights. While each season presents it rookies, this one in particular is loaded with new faces as the Big Four – the Post Office Cabaret, Crown and Anchor, Art House and the Pilgrim House – each curate a delightfully wild bill of Broadway actors with soaring voices, independent musicians that sizzle in creative freedom, comedic acts with searing punchlines, erotically charged dance revues, edgy acts that defy easy categorization, and of course, the absolute best assembly of drag queens in the country.
The options for live entertainment are too big for just Commercial Street, however , with theatrical productions and music enlivening Bradford Street at the Provincetown Theater, Winslow Street at Fishermen Hall, and right on down Route 6 to the tent at Payomet Performing Arts Center in North Truro and the stages of Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater (WHAT) and the Harbor Stage. If you could hang a marquee at the Wellfleet/Eastham line, it would twinkle with names that represent one of the most compelling performance legacies. The Outer Cape is home to a living history and heritage that continues to grow, evolve, and surprise. Here’s a run down of what you can expect over the summer of 2018 as that special legacy continues.
Provincetown has become well known to fans of musical theater as the summer retreat for the best and brightest of Broadway. Venues around the Outer Cape continue to expand on this musical legacy, and this summer the diversity of live music has grown to new heights. The Pilgrim House is bringing Esera Tualo (June 29 – July 28) to town. The first openly gay football player in the NFL, Tualo began a career as a singer reaching new fame for his appearance on The Voice last year. Tualo is just the beginning of the musical offerings at the Pilgrim House as they bring in America’s Got Talent star and Broadway veteran Brian Justin Crum (August 11 – 16), Chicago cabaret legends Amy & Freddy (August 6 – 8), Zoe Lewis and the Bootleggers (July 17 and September 4) with their time-traveling Speakeasy nights, and the incredible Jimmy James with his show Divas Are Forever! (June 29 – July 24) in which the Provincetown legend sings live with vocal impressions of Cher, Eartha Kitt, and Bette Davis. For something completely different and sublime, the Pilgrim House presents Lee Squared: An Evening with Liberace and Peggy Lee (August 2 – 4) a funny and touching tribute to these performance icons.
This summer the Crown and Anchor presents a wide spectrum of musical genres, featuring Broadway stars Telly Leung (August 5), Anthony Rapp (August 25), Linda Eder (August 27-28), and Lucie Arnaz (July 23). The Crown also welcomes The Skivvies (August 6 -7), a daring duo, featuring Nick Cearley and Lauren Molina, who perform string arrangements of pop songs in nothing but their underwear. Come Bear Week (July 7- 15) the ever-popular singer songwriter Matt Alber (July 9 – 10) returns to town, as does Tom Goss (July 11 – 12) with his acoustic show Confessions of a Pocket Cub. Mixing comedy and music, Julie Wheeler takes to the stage Tuesdays in July and Thursdays in August. And of course the Crown is home to the legendary piano man Bobby Wetherbee all summer long!
The two theaters at the Art House are busting with talent as the musical sensation Well-Strung (July 1 – September 5) returns with an all-new show, the absolutely fabulous Tori Scott (July 1) hits the stage with her powerhouse voice and hilarious wit, last summer’s “It” boy Steve Grand (July 5 – September 7) comes back to the Cape tip with his smooth vocal stylings, and the incredibly charismatic and quirky Deven Green (July 23 – 27) brings her ukulele as well as her ability to unite an audience in song back to Ptown.
With his encyclopedic knowledge of all things Broadway, Seth Rudetsky hosts the best of the Great White Way for a night of music and conversation at the Art House with such performers as Judy Kuhn (July 15 – 16), Adam Pascal (July 17), Christine Ebersole (July 19 – 20), Will Swenson (July 29 – 29), Sierra Boggess (August 4 – 5), Liz Callaway (August 12), Emily Skinner (August 19), star of the new Cher musical Stephanie J. Block (August 21- 22), Alice Ripley (September 1 – 2), and moving over to Town Hall for a special night with Jeremy Jordan (August 13). But the music doesn’t stop there. String and vocal duo Branden & James (July 7) make their Provincetown debut, opera star Marisol Montalvo (July 30 – 31) presents her one-woman show Mad Scene about her crazy life performing in the biggest opera houses in the world, and the indomitable 90-year-old Marilyn Maye (August 24-27) accompanied by Billy Stritch on the piano.
Life is indeed a cabaret when CabaretFest (May 30 – June 3) comes to town bringing with it Jay Cee Driesen, Carol O’Shaughnessy, and Brian Patton. The Provincetown Jazz Festival (August 9) enters its 13th year bringing Cassandre McKinley and saxophonist Myanna to town for this popular event at the Crown. And for something completely different, check out Mrs. Smith and the Rage (July 14), a rock and roll show at Fishermen Hall headlined by the beloved character Mrs. Smith, an older woman looking for her lost cat who can shred the electric guitar and became a Commercial Street favorite as she busked for several summers.
The Sunset Concert Series at Herring Cove Beach (June 27 – September 2) is a beloved summer tradition bringing great local Cape Cod bands creating a fantastic beach party that would make Frankie and Annette jealous, Wednesday and Sunday evenings.
Nothing says summer on the Outer Cape like listening to music under the tent at the Payomet Performing Arts Center in North Truro as they’ve booked a season full of great music including Robert Cray (July 1), Davina and the Vagabonds (July 2), Mary Chapin Carpenter (July 24), Arlo Guthrie (July 28), Ladysmith Black Mambazo (August 7 – 8), Maceo Parker ( August 12), Mavis Staples, (August 15), Keb’ Mo’ (August 21), and Shawn Colvin (August 25), to name just a few.
Now in its 20th season, the Great Music on Sundays at 5 series presents a summer of concerts at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House in Provincetown with such acts as The Hyannis Sound (June 10), Jon Arterton & James Mack (July 15), Richard Dowling, Sue Keller, and John Thomas (August 5), and the Lighthouse Chamber Players (September 2). And over at Fishermen Hall the gorgeous voice of Melissa Manchester (August 20-21) will reach the rafters.
Wellfleet has a musical scene all its own with Wellfleet Preservation Hall bringing in performers like Ali McGuirk & Dharmasoul (June 8), Ruby Rose Fox (July 14), Fabiano de Castro & Bert Jackson Quartet (August 16), and Julia Nixon (August 23), while the famed Beachcomber hosts such bands as Pink Talking Fish (July 4), Dalton and the Sheriffs (July 21), Aldous Collins Band (August 18), and Donovan Frankenrieter (August 20-21). Over at Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater music abounds in between theatrical productions with Greg Abate (June 11), Stage Door Canteen (July 2), and Gregg Sullivan (July 9).
It’s the dawning of the Age of Aquarius all over again as the Peregrine Theatre Ensemble presents Hair (July10-September 7) at Fishermen Hall in what is the 50th anniversary of the revolutionary Broadway musical. After holding auditions this past winter in New York and Boston, the Ensemble cast 17 young actors, rounding out the tribe of hippies telling a story with many parallels to today’s cultural and political climate in this powerful rock musical.
Sharing the stage up on Winslow Street are the outrageously ingenious and funny Gold Dust Orphans who this summer present Ryan Landry’s latest play Brokelahomo (June 24-September 9), a musical comedy mash up of Brokeback Mountain and Oklahoma, with camp westerns thrown in to boot.
Heading into the East End, the Provincetown Theater finishes up its run of the classic comedy You Can’t Take It With You, followed by the inaugural 4 Star Solo Show Festival, which features one-person performances every Tuesday and Wednesday in June, starting with local drag sensation Liza Lott in Liza Sings the Blues. Then Migguel Anggelo presents an array of characters out for a wild night at a gay Latin nightclub in Welcome to La Misa, Baby!, Nora Burns tells a coming of age story set in the after-hours clubs of Boston and New York in David’s Friend, and closing out the series, Chris Harder stars in Porn to be a Star, which chronicles his journey from North Dakota farm boy to gay porn superstar. Newly appointed artistic director David Drake will both appear in and direct a run of Terrence McNally’s Love! Valour! Compassion! (July 16 – August 30) with the playwright coming to town in July 20 for a special fundraiser for the theater.
At Town Hall, producer Mark Cortale presents a one-night-only production of A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters (August 6) starring Patricia Clarkson and Bryan Batt ,while down at the Art House Jinkx Monsoon, Peaches Christ, and Liza Lott conjure up some laughs with Hocum Pokem (July 4 – September 7), a spoof of the cult classic Halloween movie Hocus Pocus. Peaches also joins forces with Varla Jean Merman in a summer-long run of The Whining (July 6 – September 8), an outlandish take off of the horror classic The Shining (which many say resembles life in Provincetown in the winter).
For more theater of the ridiculous, head over to the Crown and Anchor for the devilishly funny Provincetown Murder Mystery (August 17 – 21), a campy whodunit starring Gene Dante, Ben Dawson, Karl Gregory, Liza Lott, and the voice of RuPaul’s Drag Race star Shangela, or the criminally perfect offerings of Ryan Rafferty and his show The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of Martha Stewart (August 12-14).
The Pilgrim House presents an autobiographical tale as Sam Morrison performs Hello Daddy! One Man’s Journey to Cure Heterosexuality (July 9 – 11), a show based on a decade’s worth of journal entries that explores sexual embarrassments and climaxes.
More traditional, but no less compelling theater abounds in Wellfleet as the Harbor Stage company presents The Weir by Conor McPherson (June 14 – July 7), a play that explores the thin line between memory and myth, followed by Edward Albee’s savage classic Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (July 12 – August 4), and lastly, a world premiere of The Deer and the Antelope (August 9 – September 2), a dark comedy about rising tensions in a gentrifying neighborhood written by Harbor Stage’s own Brenda Withers.
Over at the Julie Harris Stage at WHAT, the 2018 season begins with Kenneth Lonergan’s This Is Our Youth (May 30 – June 22), a snapshot of the moment between adolescence and adulthood, followed by Chiara Atik’s Five Times In One Night (June 27 – July 20), a revealing quintet of short plays about the perils of romance, the comedy An Act of God (July 25 – August 17) by David Javerbaum, in which God comes to Earth with a new set of Ten Commandments, and closing out the summer, Jacques Lamarre’s Raging Skillet (August 22 – September 15) a play based on the book The Raging Skillet: The True Life Adventures of Chef Rossi, A Memoir with Recipes, written by a familiar face on the Outer Cape.
If you search through the archives of old Provincetown newspapers and magazines you can find advertisements and stories that prove drag performance was here as early as the 1920s. It’s one of the earliest representations of gay and trans culture in Provincetown and is firmly part of the town’s creative community, every bit as much as the visual arts and traditional theater. As a town, Provincetown is one of the most important locales for this art form, which is of course receiving unprecedented attention due to the popularity of RuPaul’s Drag Race. According to the performers themselves, there is no place in America that supports drag performance more than Provincetown, providing a vital platform for the genre as well as creating a summer gathering spot for the queens to form a tight-knit community. Provincetown has the best drag queens in the country.
Celebrating her 20th summer in Provincetown, Varla Jean Merman is one of those performers who completely transformed the town’s entertainment landscape upon her arrival. This summer she presents Under A Big Top (June 22 – August 31) at the Art House accompanied by Gerald Goode on the piano to mark the occasion. Jinkx Monsoon, another queen that took the town by storm when she hit our shores, presents Beach City Bimbo (June 23-September 9) with Major Scales on piano, while the Art House also brings in Canadian drag star Miss Conception with Forbidden Diznee (June 30 – September 4) in her Provincetown debut.
The silver-tongued Bianca Del Rio brings her savage insult comedy to Town Hall with her new show Blame It On Bianca Del Rio (July 9), and fellow RuPaul’s Drag Race champion Bob the Drag Queen (September 2) hits the big stage there, too, Labor Day weekend.
The Crown & Anchor has a veritable royal court of drag this summer. An absolute genius, Dina Martina presents this season’s show Crème de la Dregs (June 1 – September 15), and the burlesque infused performer Ben De La Crème will make summer sizzle with Inferno A-Go-Go (July 13 – August 18). Provincetown’s own Thirsty Burlington does what she does best this summer with Cher Live (now through August 31), with jaw-dropping live vocals. The longest running drag revue in Provincetown, Illusions continues to give audiences a fast-paced glamourfest as Billie Jean, Tisch DeWilliams, Roxy Pops, and Payton St. James do all the pop divas. The Crown is also offering a launching pad for up-and-coming talents with Mona Mour performing each Thursday throughout the summer, as well as Maddelyn Hatter (July 2-3), Chelsea Piers (July 16), Haley Star and LaDiva Jonz (August 11 and 13), and Marti Gould Cummings (August 24).
The Post Office Cabaret has more than doubled their number of shows with an impressive array of drag performers as they bring back RuPaul’s Drag Race superstars Raja (June 21 – September 2) and Trixie Mattel (July 4 – August 19), as well as the savagely funny Jackie Beat (June 23 -27), Aurora Sexton with her Melania Trump-inspired show Let Them Eat Cake: Diary of a First Lady (July 24 – September 9), and the one and only Lady Bunny (August 28 – September 2). And in her Provincetown debut, actress and self-described trans drag artist Candis Cayne brings her show Hi Gorgeous (June 26 – July 1) in a “hair-flipping and high-kicking showcase of fabulousness.”
Miss Richfield 1981 has scooted down Commercial Street to her new home this summer at the Pilgrim House where she’ll find religion nightly, in her own special way, with her new show Born Again (now through September 15). Joe Posa resurrects comedy legend Joan Rivers in his tribute show The Bitch is Back! (July 23 – August 1), showbiz spitfire Paige Turner presents Drag Me to the Top (July 30 – August 1), the incredible storyteller Miss Coco Peru calms her nerves with The Taming of the Tension (August 17 – August 30), and RuPaul’s Drag Race alums Mrs. Kasha Davis, Pandora Boxx, and Darienne Lake bring 3’s Company: If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em (August 20 – August 29) to town. And making her summer debut another Drag Race alum Jaymes Mansfield performs Mansfield & Madame in HerStory (now through September 3), giving a little queer history with puppets, including an appearance by the legendary Madame!
Scarbie will be on her pink Schwinn once again as she brings Lip-Schtick: One Boy’s Journey to Fabulous and Back (now through October) to the UU Meetinghouse where she attracts legions of devoted fans.
Provincetown provides the perfect locale to unwind and detach from the rest of the world. And in these times, laughter provides an important respite from the high anxiety and overwhelming tensions in what feels like living in the Upside Down in Stranger Things. Laughter heals. But sometimes comedy can hurt so good as is the case with Khris Francis, whose insult comedy keeps packing the house downstairs at the Post Office Café while upstairs at the Cabaret during Girl Splash (July 17-July 22) pioneering stand-up comic Suzanne Westenhoefer (July 18-22) shows why she’s been an in-demand comedian on the circuit for over 25 years. Judy Gold (June 28 – August 31) brings her raucous in your face comedy to the Art House while the comedy trio Unitard (August 9-10) featuring Mike Albo, Nora Burns, and David Ilku, provide searing satire.
The Pilgrim House would shock the Puritans with their comedy line-up, starting with Kristen Becker (May 31 – June 21), the new comedy improv group IMPROVincetown (June 2 – July 7), featuring a team of Provincetown and Boston comics, while favorite Poppy Champlin (July 18 – 20) keeps them rolling in the aisles and the masterful Sandra Bernhard presents Sandemonium (July 23 – 24), making the troubles of the world melt away like only she can.
Over at the Crown and Anchor NPR’s James Judd Funny Stories (June 28 – August 5) provides an evening of comedic storytelling like no other, the wonderfully demented flight attendant Pam Ann makes a landing with Brace! Brace! Brace! (July 2 – 3), and there are special Girl Splash appearances by Vickie Shaw (July 17-21) and Jessica Kirson (July 19). Also at the Crown, the hilarious Leslie Jordan’s new show Exposed (August 13 – 14), the finger-on-the-pulse musical comedy sensation Randy Rainbow (August 6-7), the one and only Bruce Vilanch with his show A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Dick Dock (August 17-18), and moving over to Town Hall, the smart as a whip comedy of Paula Poundstone (August 11). Also at Town Hall, Shawn Nightingale Productions brings the incredibly talented David Sedaris (August 5) back to Provincetown for one night only.
VARIETY, THEMES, AND SPECIAL EVENTS
Over the course of the summer, Provincetown is full of shows that defy description or easy categorization. Perhaps there is no better embodiment for the bohemian spirit of Provincetown than Showgirls (June 4 – September 10), the weekly variety show at the Atlantic House hosted by Ryan Landry that features curiosities, wild drag numbers, and the downright bizarre as the audience chooses who wins the $500 grand prize.
For two nights only the Crown hosts Miss Behave Gameshow (August 20-21). Part game show, part variety show, part disco, this unique show promises “chaos and cacophony.”
Let’s face it. A lot of people come to Provincetown for the sex. The Pilgrims hightailed it to Plymouth leaving behind the godless shores of Provincetown. In that vein, venues around town offer a series of male dance revues. The Post Office Cabaret presents a reboot of their hit Ptown Male Call with this summer’s show Student Bodies (June 21 – September 9), the Crown debuts a new out of this world show Star Boys: A Sci-Fi Burlesque (June 22 – September 3), a fully nude spectacle featuring live music, state-of-the-art 4k projection, and special effects and starring Australian cabaret star Kim David Smith, and come Bear Week the Crown presents the “woofiest” show in town with Bearlesque (July 8-9). Meanwhile, the Pilgrim House pulls out the meat with Baloney (August 5-9), San Francisco’s gay all-male revue in this part theater, part dance, part peep show extravaganza.
Summer in Provincetown also hosts a bevy of special events, including Womxn of Color Weekend (May 31 – June 3), featuring comedians Gina Yashere, Kia Comedy, and Reece Cotton (June 2); Provincetown Pride (June 1-3), when artist Yvette Mattern will install her work Global Rainbow, a multi-colored laser installation over Provincetown Harbor; the Provincetown International Film Festival (June 13-17) presenting films from around the world and bringing honorees filmmaker Sean Baker and actress Chloë Grace Moretz; and the annual Provincetown Portuguese Festival (June 21-24) rounding out the month of June with music, food, dancing, and the 71st Blessing of the Fleet (June 24).
Bear Week (July 7 – 15) is far and away one of the most popular events of the summer, bringing in thousands of bears from all over the world to celebrate this subculture, followed by Girl Splash (July 17 – 21), a lesbian summer event that continues to grow each year.
Sponsored by the Family Equality Council, Family Week (July 28 – August 4) celebrates LGBT+ families, and of course, come mid-August its Provincetown Carnival (August 11 – 18) with this year’s theme Mardi Gras By The Sea in what is not only the biggest events of the year for Cape Cod, but all of New England!