ACTING Up

Love. Love. Love. 

There’s a lot of it on stage this fall. 

Enough to remind me that I once read Pride & Prejudice to impress a fellow reporter I was dating. And let me tell you, it’s a tough read for a 20-something guy with little to no knowledge of English manners or the Regency Period in Britain.

But all of that now gives me an appreciation for Theatre Jacksonville’s upcoming production of Pride & Prejudice and these other stage productions that I hope will get a lot of love.

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SISTER ACT 
Forget Whoopi. 

Renée Veronica Freeman is doing everything possible to make this act hers. After playing Deloris Van Cartier in the national and international Broadway tour, she’s back in the habit again in this Alhambra Theatre & Dining production of Sister Act, where she joins another Jacksonville star, Patti Eyler, who is taking the Maggie Smith role of Mother Superior in the musical comedy.

Freeman, a Jacksonville University grad and Players by the Sea alumna, has become quite a success story. She returned to Jacksonville as part of an Artist Series production in 2013 for a stellar turn in Dreamgirls. Don’t miss her visit this time. Sept. 7 through Oct. 9, shows daily except Mondays at Alhambra Theatre & Dining, alhambrajax.com.

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MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG 
Ask the Northeast Florida stage literati what show they’re buzzing about, and you’ll often hear about this musical — a flop on Broadway in 1981 that’s maintained some staying power on its way to the Atlantic Beach stage. Expect an impossible, universe-defying energy in Merrily We Roll Along from three of the area’s best actors, Josh Waller, Katie Swider McCloskey and Daniel Austin. Under the direction of Lee Hamby, they share the stage along with an outstanding ensemble cast. The Broadway fable centers on friendship and the price of success, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Staged Sept. 9-10, 15-16, 18 and 23-25 with Friday and Saturday night shows at 8 p.m., Sunday matinees at 2 p.m., at Atlantic Beach Experimental Theatre, abettheatre.com.

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LOVE IS LOVE IS LOVE 
Sixteen actors rise on this Amelia Island stage for one night only to perform 49 poems for Orlando. Director Sinda Nichols, also acting here, brings Love Is Love Is Love together in what promises to be a celebration of love, beauty and kissing, with proceeds benefiting the LGBT Community Fund for Northeast Florida. Jacksonville treasure Toni Phillips joins her among the 16. Sunday, Sept. 11, 6 p.m. at Amelia Musical Playhouse, ameliamusicalplayhouse.com.

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PRIDE & PREJUDICE
Laying claim to the title as Florida’s longest running community theater, this San Marco institution takes on the challenge of adapting a classic more than 100 years older than it.

Theatre Jacksonville has staged ambitious productions before, bringing the necessarily massive cast to perform Les Misérables to raves. Pride & Prejudice will prove a different kind of challenge. And fans of the Jane Austen classic will no doubt be looking to see how our local versions of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy match up. Sept. 16-17, 22-25, 29-30 and Oct. 1-2 with performances on Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m., at Theatre Jacksonville, theatrejax.com.

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OKLAHOMA!
Limelight Theatre celebrates its 25th season with Oklahoma! — the classic that brought Rodgers and Hammerstein together as collaborators. Set in Oklahoma Territory in the early 1900s, it’s about cowboys Curly and Will trying to win over Laurey and Ado Annie — while singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’ ” and “People Will Say We’re in Love.” Special event opening night on Wednesday, Sept. 21; shows continue 7:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday, from Sept. 22 to Oct. 23; and Terrific Tuesday, Sept. 27, at Limelight Theatre, St. Augustine, limelight-theatre.org.

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HAND TO GOD
Every fall needs a great dark comedy. A brilliant, irreverent puppet dark comedy. A dastardly, Christian-ministry, puppet dark comedy. This is the one. With a sneaky good script and the deft direction of Christopher Farrell, Hand to God should knock your sock puppets off. Nov. 4-5, 10-13 and 17-19 — Thursday, Friday and Saturday shows at 8 p.m., Sunday show at 2 p.m at Players by the Sea, Jacksonville Beach, playersbythesea.org.

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NEVER THE SINNER
The 5 & Dime, A Theatre Company commands a Springfield stage while bringing John Logan’s 1985 play to bear. The screenwriter behind Any Given Sunday, Gladiator and two James Bond flicks (so far) went for ice-cold in his first play, Never the Sinner. This retelling of Leopold and Loeb’s infamous abduction of a 14-year-old Bobby Franks, which became known as “the crime of the century,” is horrifying in this documentary play. Never the Sinner provides an early look at Logan’s focus on criminals and their motivations throughout much of his career. Nov. 11, 13-14 and 18-19 at the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum, Springfield, rain.org/~karpeles/jax.html

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SWAMP RADIO’S
EARLY THANKS
The super troupe of Swamp Radio returns for more Early Thanks after last year’s sold-out romp at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre. Expect a second helping of wit, imaginative storytelling and delicious food. Your shorthand is Prairie Home Companion meets Northeast Florida, but it’s so much more. (Past shows have aired on WJCT 89.9 FM.) Regular players Teri Youmans Grimm, Laura Lee Smith and Irish storyteller Derek Coghlan are expected back. Coghlan, who can riff on author Stephen King, crazy nights drinking with his Irish buddies and everything in between, will likely have you doubled over.  That’s somewhat of a risk after you’ve enjoyed an early Thanksgiving dinner from Terry Gamble of The Blue Hen Café and Stephen Dimare of The Hyppo. Saturday, Nov. 19, at St. Augustine Amphitheatre, staugamphitheatre.com.

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