Live Theater Returns! Here Are This Season’s Must-See Shows

Our critic weighs in on what to add to your calendar
The Lifespan of a Fact - Live Theater
The Lifespan of a Fact image courtesy of Theatre Nova

As a longtime theater critic, I know this much: When I finally get a chance to sit inside a theater again this fall and the lights go down … well, there will probably be some tears.

I’m not a weepy person by nature. But it’s been a long, long time since I’ve gotten to commune with an audience in the dark and watch a story unfold live. So, as live theater returns, I’m plugging a list of “can’t-miss” shows into my calendar. Here are a few.

The Lifespan of a Fact

Presented by Theatre Nova

Two award-winning local theater companies are producing Lifespan this season, which is a pretty solid indicator of a new script’s quality. This comedy with teeth pits a fact-checking intern at an esteemed New York magazine against a big-name essayist who may have, in his latest work, finessed the truth a bit too much. Pass the popcorn. Sept. 17-Oct. 10. Yellow Barn, 410 W. Huron St., Ann Arbor;

Puffs, or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic

Presented by Ringwald Theatre 

Calling all Potterheads: This winking off-Broadway parody about the overlooked, less flashy kids assigned to Hufflepuff house during Harry’s tenure sounds way, way too delightful to pass up. (Plus, the show will mark The Ringwald’s debut in its new performance space.) Accio tickets! Oct. 15-Nov. 1. Affirmations LGBTQ+ Community Center, 290 W. Nine Mile Road, Ferndale;

Hadestown - Live Theater
Hadestown photograph courtesy of Matthew Murphy

This Wonderful Life

Presented by Williamston Theatre

Williamston Theatre will celebrate its 15th season with a restaging of John Lepard’s award-winning, one-man retelling of Frank Capra’s classic 1946 film, It’s a Wonderful Life, providing a terrific holiday theater option for families. Longtime Detroit Free Press critic Martin Kohn reviewed Williamston’s original production in 2009 for Between the Lines — with the memorable headline “Deft Lepard in a wonderful show” — and still remembers it vividly. “Lepard was terrific,” Kohn says, which is probably why the actor won both a Pulsar Award and a Wilde Award that year for the show. Nov. 18-Dec. 19. Williamston Theatre, 122 S. Putnam St., Williamston;


Touring production 

This 2019 Tony winner for best musical — with book, music, and lyrics by Anaïs Mitchell — braids the story of Orpheus and Eurydice with that of Hades and Persephone, and does so in a contemporary, Southern Gothic way. Personally, I’ve been waiting to see this show since “Wait for Me,” the number the cast performed at the Tonys, gave me chills. Check it out on YouTube and you may be lining up for tickets, too. Nov. 23-Dec. 5. Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit;

What the Constitution Means to Me

Touring production

Inspired by playwright Heidi Schreck’s experiences as a teen who competed in constitutional debates across the country — she paid for college with her winnings — What the Constitution Means to Me depicts adult Schreck slipping into and out of her teenage persona, and her close reading of the 14th Amendment is soon woven into a narrative of painful events in her family’s history, thus illuminating how this grand document has a huge impact on seemingly small lives. Dec. 14-Jan. 2. Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit;

Wrong River - Live Theater
Wrong River image courtesy of Flint Repertory Theatre

Marjorie Prime

Presented by Open Book Theatre Co.

Marjorie Prime tells the futuristic story of an 85-year-old woman whose new AI companion, a replica of her deceased husband, is programmed to feed the story of her life back to her. A 2017 film adaptation of Marjorie (starring Jon Hamm) made a splash at Sundance, but this pensive story about technology and memory will be new to me, and I can’t wait to see what Open Book — one of my new favorite local theaters — can do with it. Jan. 21-Feb. 20. Open Book Theatre, 1621 West Road, Trenton;

Wrong River

Presented by Flint Repertory Theatre

In this new drama by Josh Wilder, a struggling young couple in Flint — at the time when the water crisis began making national headlines — must decide how much they’re willing to sacrifice to give their daughter a chance at a better future. Seeing this play about Flint in Flint in the Black Lives Matter era seems like an open invitation into the hard conversations we must continue to have. Feb. 4-20. Flint Repertory Theatre, 1220 E. Kearsley St., Flint;

This story is featured in the September 2021 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more stories in our digital edition