A Jewel Theatre production of "Pump Boys and Dinettes," with Jewel artistic director Julie James at left.
(Steve DiBartolomeo)
The Here & Now

‘Wonderful little reunion’: Jewel Theatre set to return with musicals, mysteries, romance and comedy

The COVID shutdown hit right as Santa Cruz’s Jewel Theatre was about to launch a production, and everyone will pick up more or less where they left off when a six-show season kicks off at the Colligan Theater on Sept. 15.

When the state’s COVID-19 pandemic shutdown hit in March 2020, Santa Cruz’s Jewel Theatre was in “tech week.” That’s the week just before a show’s opening in which everything from lighting to sets to costuming all comes together, often culminating in a full-on dress rehearsal.

Everything was in its place at Jewel’s beautiful home, the Colligan Theater, ready for the opening curtain of the opening performance.

A year and a half — and a new presidential administration and an entire Olympic Games — later, it’s all still there on stage at the Colligan, the sets, the lighting ... everything but the people.

Jewel is poised to get back to business in presenting fully staged theater to Santa Cruz audiences, and when it starts its new season in September, it plans to pick up right where it left off.

That new season opens with the Broadway hit two-person romance “Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle,” the same exact show with the same director and cast that was ready to open back before Anthony Fauci was a household name.

“Everything’s been sitting there waiting, all this time,” said Jewel’s artistic director, Julie James, who could be forgiven if her first words to the audience before the show’s scheduled Sept. 15 opening night are “Now, where were we?”

Emerging out of this bizarre stage of suspended animation, Jewel is planning to come back big with a six-show season to run through the last day of July 2022. The new season will feature a Jewel revival of a popular musical from its past, a world premiere from a locally admired playwright with a Santa Cruz address, and a one-person show about one of the oldest stories in Western literature.

Opening first, however, is “Heisenberg,” written by Simon Stephens, a play focusing on the unusual relationship between a brash American woman and a much older and much quieter Irish man. Set in a London train station, the whole saga is launched when Georgie, the loud American, impulsively kisses the Irishman on the neck.

Under the direction of Paul Mullins (who is directing another two-person play this summer at Santa Cruz Shakespeare), the Jewel production will feature longtime Shakespeare Santa Cruz icon Paul Whitworth and Southern California Equity actor Erika Schindele, just as it was to do in March 2020.

“It’s this interesting dance,” said James, “these two people from opposite ends of life and how they come together. There’s a little bit of will-they-or-won’t-they, but it’s much more than that. There’s this dynamic between two complete strangers, how they connect or don’t connect, and learn from each other.”

“Heisenberg” will be followed in November by an entirely different show, a return engagement of “Pump Boys and Dinettes,” an exuberant Americana musical that Jewel first staged in 2013, starring Julie James herself.

“It was very popular,” said James, reflecting on the hit 2013 run, “because it’s a lot of fun, and pure entertainment and goofiness.”

The play’s music, said James, who reprises her role, has “a country flair, but it’s really kind of rock with a bit country and musical theater elements as well.”

Jewel Theatre's 2013 production of "Pump Boys and Dinettes."
Jewel Theatre’s 2013 production of “Pump Boys and Dinettes.”
(Steve DiBartolomeo)

In March, Jewel will present the latest from Kate Hawley, a longtime local playwright who has been showcased at Jewel in the past. Hawley’s new play, which will have its world premiere at the Colligan in the spring of 2022, is called “Remains to Be Seen,” centered on a group of aging friends from a drama department.

“It’s a typical Kate Hawley (production) in that you get some wonderful humor, along with some really deep subject matter,” James said. “She has a great way of marrying these two things, which is what I’ve always liked about Kate’s writing.”

Another longtime familiar name in local theater, Patty Gallagher, will take the stage in an unusual one-person show called “An Iliad,” which brings Homer’s epic Greek poem into relevance to the modern day.

Also on tap will be the popular comedy/thriller “Deathtrap” by Ira Levin, and the mysterious drama “The Weir” by Conor McPherson.

It marks a return to normal (and then some) for Jewel after 18 months in sleep mode. James admits that it’s been a surreal experience managing a theater company in a beautiful, new-ish building during COVID-19.

“It’s funny, the things you don’t even think about when it comes to a venue or a building that being unused,” she said. “We had to do all the little stupid things you have to do, go around and turn on all the faucets, flush all the toilets regularly. It’s almost more upkeep without people going in because you have to do all these special little things.”

When the company does get back on stage, however, certainly after such an extended period of inactivity, James admits that it’s likely to be an emotional experience for her, her cast and crew, and her audiences.

“The tears can flow pretty easily for me, I have to say,” she said. “But it will be happy tears, a kind of relief, really. It’ll be a homecoming of sorts. I think it will be a really wonderful little reunion that night. I think I’d better wear waterproof mascara.”

For more details and a full calendar of Jewel’s upcoming season, go to its website.