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The Berkshires: Massachusetts theater season hits a high note

Tanglewood at dusk.

Tanglewood at dusk. Credit: Stu Rosner

The rolling hills of the Berkshires are just a scenic backdrop to the area's vibrant summer stage scene. Although the end of the season is fast approaching, the Massachusetts county's music and theater venues are still offering premiere productions and classic twists for all audiences.

"There is a real cross-pollination happening here," says Sara Katzoff, a founder of the Berkshire Fringe. "It's amazing to see the intersection of music and stage and audiences. There is a global perspective but with a lot of common ground."

If ever there were a cultural mecca not to be missed, this is it, from its garden shows and green hiking treks to farm-fresh meals and high-quality performances. Some highlights:


Tanglewood (Lenox, Mass.)

For 75 years, the 210-acre grounds of Tanglewood have been the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, along with musical guests such as James Taylor and the Silk Road Ensemble. Enjoy a show in the Koussevitzky Music Shed, Ozawa Hall (named for former musical director Seiji Ozawa) or on the sprawling lawn. For a luscious Mediterranean picnic, call Naji's on Stockbridge Road in Great Barrington; he'll give you everything but the kitchen sink.

SEASON HIGHLIGHTS Yo-Yo Ma performs Previn, Elgar and Shostakovich (Saturday); composer John Williams celebrates his 80th birthday with the Boston Pops (Aug. 18); Brian Stokes Mitchell and Maureen McGovern sing Gershwin (Aug. 24).

INFO Tickets from $20 (lawn seats) to $104 (shed seats); 413-637-5180,


Berkshire (Pittsfield, Stockbridge and Lenox, Mass.)

Berkshire Theatre Group encompasses five theaters in three towns throughout Berkshire County: the 780-seat Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, the 408-seat Fitzpatrick Main Stage and the Unicorn Theatre in Stockbridge, and the Neil Ellenoff Stage at The Mount, Edith Wharton's summer estate in Lenox. While you're in Stockbridge, stop by Theresa's Stockbridge Cafe, the former Alice's Restaurant of Arlo Guthrie fame, or stroll through the 15-acre Berkshire Botanical Garden.

SEASON HIGHLIGHTS "Homestead Crossing" (Tuesday-Sept. 1), "Edith," based on the life of first lady Edith Wilson (through Saturday); "The Puppetmaster of Lodz" (Sept. 13-Oct. 7).

INFO Tickets $20-$57; 413-298-5576,


Berkshire Fringe (Great Barrington, Mass.)

The Berkshire Fringe, a 21-day festival of theater, dance, music and multimedia works by emerging artists, takes off from Bard College at Simon's Rock in Great Barrington. Fringe "benefits" are not limited to the nighttime hours, as the festival offers several free community workshops during the day. Take an outdoors break in between venues and head up the mountain to pick your own blueberries (at historic Blueberry Hill Farm in Mt. Washington) or visit the dramatic gorge of Bash Bish Falls (also in Mt. Washington).

SEASON HIGHLIGHTS "Riot," created by the Wardrobe Ensemble from Bristol, England (through Aug. 13); Haerry Kim, an award-winning writer-performer from South Korea, performs "Bathtub Play" (through Sunday) in, yes, a bathtub.

INFO Most shows $15, workshops and music performances free; 413-320-4175,


Barrington Stage Company (Pittsfield, Mass.)

Barrington Stage Company has become the fastest-growing arts venue in Berkshire County, attracting some 48,000 patrons each year to its two stage venues, both located in the heart of the "Cultural City," where there is no shortage of food options; a spinach salad at the Marketplace Cafe or post-show drinks and live music at Mission Bar + Tapas. The city is in the midst of "Call Me Melville," a summerlong celebration of music, theater, art, history and whales in honor of author Herman Melville. Visit Arrowhead, the historic home where he wrote the bulk of "Moby-Dick."

SEASON HIGHLIGHTS Rajiv Joseph's dark thriller "The North Pool" (through Saturday); Philip King's British farce "See How They Run" (through Aug. 26); Joe Iconis' rock musical "The Black Suits" (Aug. 16-Sept. 2), about a Long Island high school garage band.

INFO Tickets $15-$60, with season pass deals available; 413-236-8888,


Shakespeare & Company (Lenox, Mass.)

Launching its 35th season, Shakespeare & Company is home to some 150 artists. The company provides training to emerging actors and develops and produces new plays of all genres. At its core is a commitment to presenting innovative imaginings of the Bard's classic works. Feel free to leave "campus" and discover historic downtown Lenox, a plethora of shops and farm-to-table eateries (hit Nudel for hard-core seasonal fare). Or visit Shake & Co.'s old haunt, The Mount, for a grand tour of the reclaimed formal gardens (complete with pet cemetery) and main house.

SEASON HIGHLIGHTS Mark Roberts' "Parasite Drag" (through Sept. 2); a "King Lear" with an original musical score (through Aug. 19); "The Tempest" with Olympia Dukakis as Prospero (through Aug. 19); John Douglas Thompson as Louis Armstrong in "Satchmo at the Waldorf" (Aug. 22- Sept. 16).

INFO Tickets $15-$95; 413-637-3353,


Williamstown Theatre Festival (Williamstown, Mass.)

The festival is the brainchild of Ralph Renzi and David C. Bryant, who wanted to establish a summer theater program complete with a resident company. Now the festival boasts marquee names, including Blythe Danner and Michelle Williams, many of whom began their careers in Williamstown and return for a summer in the country. While you're in town, discover "Unearthed at The Clark," an exhibit featuring archaeological treasures never seen outside China. And grab some Chinese-inspired snacks at The Clark's Stone Hill Center Cafe, complete with a terrace and view.

SEASON HIGHLIGHTS Ivan Turgenev's "A Month in the Country" (through Aug. 19); Katori Hall's "Whaddabloodclot!" (Wednesday through Aug. 19).

INFO Tickets $25-$55, with special deals for families and students; 413-597-3400,


Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center (Great Barrington, Mass.)

The Mahaiwe Theater, which opened its doors in 1905, is one of the oldest surviving theaters in the country. Once home to vaudeville acts, and later a cinema, the theater was resurrected in 2002 as the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center -- a newly restored (to the tune of $9 million) Gilded Age beauty that seats 700. In the heart of Great Barrington, enjoy fresh oysters at Rubi's Coffee & Sandwiches, live late-night jazz at Castle Street Cafe or homegrown sorbet at SoCo Creamery. And keep your eyes peeled for live street performers.

SEASON HIGHLIGHTS Broadway legend Betty Buckley performs "Ah, Men! The Boys of Broadway" (Aug. 19); other big names include Judy Collins and songwriter Jimmy Webb (Aug. 26); Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin (Oct. 14).

INFO Tickets $55-$150 (the highest price includes special reception with Buckley); 413-528-0100,

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