The brainchild of longtime local theater supporter K.D. Kennedy, Jr., Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy is a new theater series in downtown Raleigh, NC that will spice up the Triangle’s summer-theater season with professional productions of six shows, including four full-length plays, two related one-act plays performed together, and a musical revue starring Tony Award® nominee Alan Campbell and his wife, Raleigh native and rising Broadway star Lauren Kennedy. The Kennedy Theater, an intimate 100-seat black-box theater named for Kennedy and his wife, Sara Lynn, and located at the rear of the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, will host all six productions.

The Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy lineup includes:

The Last Five Years (June 1-12), which is profiled elsewhere in this issue, is a 2002 Off-Broadway musical by Jason Robert Brown. This show stars Broadway veteran and former Miss America Kate Shindle and up-and-coming actor Nicholas Rodriguez as Kathleen and Jamie, a couple whose relationship is on the rocks because their careers are headed in opposite directions. Description from the Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy web page: “Nominated for four 2004 Dora Awards [presented by the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts], this fresh and contemporary musical from Tony Award-winning composer Jason Robert Brown chronicles a young couple’s romance in a new and exciting way: her story starts at the end of their relationship; his begins the day they met. Funny, smart, and uplifting, the show reveals how they lived, loved, and lost their way in The Last Five Years. ‘Compulsively enjoyable’ New York Post. ‘The music will grab you, the lyrics are laugh-outloud witty…. Give this one a chance!’ Toronto Star.”

“Graceland”/”Asleep on the Wind” (June 15-26) are related two one-act plays by Ellen Byron. Description: “‘Graceland’: Three days before the estate is to be opened to the public, two ardent Elvis Presley fans, Bev and Rootie, are camped out before the gates, each determined to be the first to enter the sacred precincts. ‘Asleep on the Wind’: Ten years before the time of ‘Graceland,’ in small clearing in Bayou Teche, Louisiana, the ‘special place’ that Rootie refers to in the other play. This is where Rootie and her favorite brother, Beau, come to talk in private.”

Proof (8 p.m. June 29-July 10) is an offbeat drama for which David Auburn won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Description: “Catherine, the daughter of a once-brilliant mathematician, is at the center of this play. Caring for her aging father, Catherine is at once attracted and repelled by her father’s genius. She is torn between returning to New York with her sister and helping an old student of her father salvage something meaningful from the stacks of notes her father kept. Falling in love with this student, Catherine learns how much she and her father may have in common. ‘…combines elements of mystery and surprise with old-fashioned storytelling to provide a compelling evening of theatre…. [Proof is a] smart and compassionate play of ideas.’ New York Daily News.”

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (July 20-31) is a masterpiece of Modern Drama by Mississippi playwright Thomas Lanier “Tennessee” Williams (1911-83). This stirring drama, which made its Broadway debut in 1955, will star Matt Bogart and Jessica Boevers. Description: “Tennessee Williams is one of America’s greatest playwrights, and certainly the greatest ever from the South. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is one of the most successful plays of our time. Brooks Atkinson’s review in The New York Times called it ‘a stunning drama…. It is the quintessence of life. It is the basic truth.’ Atkinson went on to write, ‘In a plantation house, the members of the family are celebrating the 65th birthday of the Big Daddy, as they sentimentally dub him. The tone is bright. But the mood is somber. For a number of old evils poison the fun sins of the past, greedy hopes for the future, a desperate eagerness not to believe in the truths that surround them …. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a delicately wrought exercise in human communication.’ ‘… a play of tremendous dramatic impact … enormous theatrical power.’ New York Post.”

Starting Here, Starting Now (Aug. 3-14) is a 1977 Off-Broadway musical revue by composer David Shire and lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr. Description: “It is a sense of emotional urgency and spontaneity that sets this musical revue apart from others. “Starting Here, Starting Now is about feelings … warmth, contact, the kind of glow that comes over audiences when they are in the presence of genuine emotions they can relate to. Richard Maltby, Jr., wrote lyrics for Starting Here, Starting Now, Miss Saigon, Baby, and the Tony Award winning musical Ain’t Misbehavin’. David Shire wrote the music for the Tony nominated Baby and Big. His many film scores include Norma Rae (Academy Award for Best Song) and All the President’s Men.”

Lauren Kennedy & Alan Campbell in Concert (Aug. 17-28) is a musical revue starring two of Broadway’s best and brightest. Description: “Raleigh-born Broadway star Lauren Kennedy teams up with her husband, Tony nominee Alan Campbell, for an evening of song and silliness. Kennedy[, who was] hailed by director Trevor Nunn as a ‘thrilling and rare talent[,]’ and Campbell[,] who[m] The New York Times’ Vincent Canby described as a ‘sensational actor/singer,’ join forces to create an evening with its roots in theatre but with a vibrant pop sensibility. This eclectic and intimate show features a variety of styles from rock to gospel, from country to swing, from theater to art song. Come join these informal, entertaining and extraordinary talents and be a part of Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy Theater.”

In an effort to create a festival atmosphere around these six shows, the Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy publicist adds, “Ticket holders [to each show] will begin their theatrical journey the minute they step on the Kennedy Theater grounds with a pre-show festival in the theater’s parking lot that will include food, fun and additional entertainment. After the show, patrons will also have the opportunity to meet the stars. Additionally, Hot Summer Nights has plans to give back to the community. The Triangle [Area] Chapter of the American Red Cross [ – inactive 9/05] and The Alliance for AIDS Services-Carolina [] are the 2005 Season ‘Shining Star’ charities. If anyone buys their tickets directly from the ‘Shining Stars,’ a portion of the proceeds will be returned to them.”

Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy presents The Last Five Years (8 p.m. June 1-4 and 8-11 and 2 p.m. June 5 and 12); “Graceland”/”Asleep on the Wind” (8 p.m. June 15-18 and 22-25 and 2 p.m. June 19 and 26); Proof (8 p.m. June 29-July 2 and July 6-9 and 2 p.m. July 3 and 10); Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (8 p.m. July 20-23 and 27-30 and 2 p.m. July 24 and 31); Starting Here, Starting Now (8 p.m. Aug. 3-6 and 10-13 and 2 p.m. Aug. 7 and 14); and Lauren Kennedy & Alan Campbell in Concert (8 p.m. Aug. 17-20 and 24-25 and 2 p.m. Aug. 21 and 28) in The Kennedy Theater in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $150 season ticket for all six shows or $35 per show, with special student and group rates available. BTI Box Office: 919/831-6060. Group Rates: 919/828-3726. Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy: [inactive 1/06].