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ArtsEmerson’s 2024-25 season includes a musical inspired by a viral video of inmates dancing to ‘Thriller’

"Prison Dancer: The Musical" will have its US debut at ArtsEmerson ahead of its run on Broadway.Juan Camilo Palacio

An election-themed show that prompts audiences to vote for a candidate, a new musical aiming for Broadway based on a viral video of dancing prison inmates, and an adaptation of the novel “Life & Times of Michael K” with lifelike marionettes journeying through a war torn landscape. Those are among the highlights of ArtsEmerson’s 2024-25 season, announced Wednesday night. In total, nine live stage shows will be part of the 14th iteration of Boston’s leading presenter of contemporary world theater.

“This being an election year, we’re trying to be thoughtful about what we program, to make sure it’s nourishing and challenging for the community,” says Ronee Penoi, ArtsEmerson’s interim executive director and director of artistic programming.

Christopher Rivas, whose solo show “The Real James Bond . . . Was Dominican” was a hit in Boston last winter, will kick things off with a special summer offering, “Rough Magic,” at the Emerson Paramount Center. Running July 12-13, the piece finds Rivas and performer Annie Gonzalez grappling with the complexities of a long-term romantic relationship and how we define love.

"Fight Night" asks audiences to choose “the best candidate” from five contenders. Michiel Devijver M

The official season opener, “Fight Night,” from Belgian company Ontroerend Goed, will arrive in the midst of the heated 2024 election campaign. The event, to be staged at the Paramount Center Sept. 20-21, leads audiences through a series of prompts and questions, over five rounds of voting, to choose “the best candidate” from five contenders. “Every audience member receives a polling device that they use to vote,” Penoi says. “It gets at the mechanics of how one wins over an audience, about how and why we choose, and what that says about us.”

Celebrated choreographer and dance virtuoso Dianne McIntyre’s “In the Same Tongue” features dancers and musicians exploring how dance and music are inextricably intertwined and “speak to each other.” The show, which comes to the Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre from Sept. 26-29, fuses dance with original music by jazz composer Diedre Murray and the poetry of Obie-winning poet and playwright Ntozake Shange. It chronicles the 77-year-old McIntyre’s own artistic history in Harlem with her pioneering company Sounds in Motion and the musical influence of the Black Arts Movement. “[McIntyre] is at the top of her game and has never really gotten her flowers,” Penoi says.


Jorge Diaz and the Puerto Rican community theater collective Papel Machete perform their multimedia show “On the Eve of Abolition” at the Paramount Center Oct. 31-Nov. 3. Set in the year 2047, the piece incorporates puppets, stop-motion animation, live music, miniature sets, and video projection as it envisions a revolutionary future where “abolitionists have created the conditions to end the prison industrial complex.”

A scene from "Life & Times of Michael K," from South Africa’s Baxter Theater Centre and the Handspring Puppet Company.Fional MacPherson

Lara Foot’s adaptation of J.M. Coetzee’s Booker Prize-winning novel “Life & Times of Michael K” comes to the Paramount Center Jan. 31-Feb. 9, 2025, via South Africa’s Baxter Theater Centre and the Handspring Puppet Company (“War Horse,” “Little Amal”). Caught in the midst of a brutal civil war, Michael embarks on an arduous quest to move his ailing mother, Anna, away from a ravaged Cape Town to the rural South African countryside where she spent her youth. Both Anna and Michael (a gardener with a cleft lip) are rendered using Handspring’s expressive, bunraku-style puppet design. Despite daunting obstacles, Michael’s communion with nature becomes increasingly profound. “It’s such a poignant celebration of an extraordinary life,” Penoi says, “and it’s part of a thread [this season] about race, power, and control.”


“Prison Dancer: The Musical,” a show with designs on Broadway, will be presented at the Cutler Majestic Theatre from Feb. 22-March 6, 2025. Inspired by the ebullient 2007 viral video of 1,500 inmates at a prison in the Philippines dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” the musical paints a fictional portrait of eight of these inmates, part of a dance-based rehabilitation program, to capture their “redemption, suffering and joy” and show “how the power of art and connection can set us free.” With a score by Romeo Candido and a book by Candido and Carmen De Jesus, it had a sold-out, acclaimed run in Canada last year. ”It’s not often that we do Broadway-bound work,” Penoi says.

ArtsEmerson and Boston Lyric Opera will co-present “The Seasons,” a world premiere inspired by Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” from March 12-16, 2025, at the Paramount Center, starring Grammy-winning countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo. Weaving together Vivaldi’s indelible music, including additional arias and ensembles, with a new libretto by playwright Sarah Ruhl (“Eurydice”), the story centers on contemporary artists at a retreat creating art inspired by nature but facing increasingly wild weather phenomena.

The disability-led theater company FlawBored brings “It’s a [Expletive] Pleasure,” their scalpel-sharp satire about those who profit off of identity politics, to the Paramount Center April 2-13, 2025. Penoi calls it “a scathing indictment of accessibility culture and the sanctimoniousness that can happen from folks who aren’t so much looking to do the right thing but wanting to be seen as doing the right thing. It implicates everyone.”


Closing out the season is “Utopian Hotline,” running May 1-18, 2025, at the Museum of Science’s Hayden Planetarium, inspired by NASA’s 1977 Voyager missions that launched a proverbial message in a bottle into interstellar space. This experimental show from Theater Mitu blends voicemails from a public telephone hot line and interviews with NASA astronauts and scientists and middle-school students to ponder what kind of message audiences might send into a cosmic time capsule today, for other lifeforms or future humans.

“What would we say about who we are, and what is our dream for what the future might look like?” Penoi says. “It’s an exciting experiment.”

For information about tickets, visit ArtsEmerson.org or call 617-824-8400.

Christopher Wallenberg can be reached at chriswallenberg@gmail.com.