Jenny Wales

Jenny Wales, artistic director of Heritage Theatre Festival, shared details about the upcoming summer productions. Photo by Martin Kyle of Pernmoot Photography. #nosale

Heritage Theatre Festival is counting down to a new season that will cover plenty of emotional territory.

“If you want to laugh, if you want to escape, if you want to be challenged, we have something for you,” said Jenny Wales, Heritage’s artistic director, said several hours before Wednesday’s official kickoff of its 45th-anniversary season.

The season begins June 28, when “Million Dollar Quartet” opens in the Culbreth Theatre.

The show captures the energy of Dec. 4, 1956, when Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis came together for a jam session at Sam Phillips’ Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee. Don’t look for impersonations of the famous figures; these actors sing, play their own instruments and interpret the characters.

“The magnitude of their talent is overwhelming, and it’s hit after hit after hit,” Wales said. Songs in the show include “Whole Lotta Shaking Going On,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Hound Dog.”

Heritage benefits from the fact that the national tour’s scheduled hiatus coincided with the local summer theater festival’s run, and a number of people from that tour will participate in the Charlottesville production.

“This won’t be a replication of the national tour. It has a new set, new lighting and all-new ideas,” Wales said. “It truly is, [from the] ground up, the Heritage Repertory Theatre production of ‘Million Dollar Quartet.’”

“Pride and Prejudice” opens July 12 in the Ruth Caplin Theatre.

Kate Hamill’s adaptation brings eight actors to the stage to play all the characters in a laughter-filled version of Jane Austen’s classic novel. “What she has been able to do has really amped up the hilarity of the situations they find themselves in,” Wales said.

Cast members from Charlottesville, New York and the West Coast are teaming up to present the work. “One of the things I love the most about Heritage is watching everyone learn from each other,” Wales said.

“Steel Magnolias” will open July 26 in the Culbreth.

“It’s a beautiful piece Robert Harling wrote to memorialize his sister,” Wales said. “It feels like a gift to see what these women have meant to each other.”

The play revolves around resilient women inside Truvy’s beauty shop in small-town Louisiana, recognizing not only family ties, but also “the family that you build for yourself,” Wales said. She said women in every stage of life are represented in the play, and it offers an opportunity to remember the women in our lives who have been there for us in good times and bad.

“There’s a ton of laughter,” she said. “That’s one of the enduring things about this piece: laughter leads to healing.”

The production coincides with the 30th anniversary of the popular film version.

“The Niceties,” which dives into issues of race and power, will open Aug. 2 in the Caplin.

Playwright Eleanor Burgess explores what happens when an African American student and her white professor meet to discuss a paper about the American Revolution — and both women come away fundamentally changed.

“At the heart of this piece is how we are talking to each other and when we are listening — and what happens when we don’t,” Wales said.

Each performance will be followed by a community conversation.

To learn more about the upcoming season and get tickets, go to or dial (434) 924-3376.

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Jane Dunlap Sathe is the features editor for The Daily Progress. Contact her at (434) 978-7249 or

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