It looks like we are in for an all-singing, all-dancing summer.
The warmer months are often seen as an ideal time to trot out the frothy fun that is frequently found in musical theater. This summer, however, we will be seeing an even greater number of stage shows than usual that sing and dance for our entertainment dollars.
In many cases, this flood of musicals between now and Labor Day can be traced to scheduling imperatives (touring shows that are only available at certain times) and availability (it is not always easy to get the rights to present recent or highly popular shows).
On the whole, though, any house with the ability to do so is delighted to present well-known, tuneful stage work at any time. Theater administrators readily confirm what seems obvious to even a casual observer: Musicals in general, and former Broadway shows in particular, pack ’em in.
The following is an overview of just some of the musicals (including several with impressive Broadway pasts) to be presented in our area, with an emphasis on those venues that will be presenting multiple musicals in the coming 100 days.
One of the primary contributors to the musical summer is Bass Hall, which will be presenting three touring musicals: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Dirty Dancing and Pippin.
Performing Arts Fort Worth, the in-house entity that presents the touring musicals that come through Bass Hall, is able to offer that trio at least in part because it coordinates its efforts with Dallas Summer Musicals, the venerable series presented at the Music Hall at Fair Park.
“We work together on the routing. [DSM President and managing director] Michael Jenkins and I get on the phone with the booking agent at the same time,” says Dione Kennedy, Performing Arts Fort Worth president and CEO, explaining the surprisingly cooperative relationship between two venues that could be seen as competitors.
In each case, these summer shows will first play Fair Park and then move over to Bass Hall. But rather than getting in each other’s way, the venues see their cooperation in scheduling as a benefit to both.
“We haven’t seen anything to suggest this approach is depleting audiences,” says Kennedy, who is in her sixth year at the helm at Bass Hall. “Our PR and marketing teams also work together. So we are able to give both organizations a bigger boost.”
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella
Music: Richard Rodgers
Book and lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II (with a new book by Douglas Carter Beane)
Broadway history: 2013-15 (769 performances)
The skinny: Originally created for a 1957 television presentation starring Julie Andrews, this slightly revised version is just off a Broadway run after finally being adapted to the stage.
Music: Various danceable pop songs from the 1950s and early 1960s
Written by: Eleanor Bergstein
Broadway history: None. Debuted as a stage work in 2004.
The skinny: One of the many stage musicals based on a movie. This tale of naughty gyrating on the dance floor, which starred Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, is one of the iconic films of the 1980s. And its popularity has spilled over onto the musical stage.
“It is not a traditional musical, in that the leads don’t sing. They’re dancers,” says Kennedy. “It is done a little bit differently than most musicals.”
Music and lyrics: Stephen Schwartz
Book: Roger O. Hirson and Bob Fosse
Broadway history: 1972-77 and 2013-15 (1,653 total performances)
The skinny: This musical circus proved itself a crowd-pleaser in both its original Broadway run and the revival that closed on Broadway in January.
No local theater has a grander tradition of presenting musicals than Casa Mañana. The dome-shaped theater will continue to polish its reputation in that realm this summer with productions of The Buddy Holly Story, Les Miserables and, from its young apprentice program, Big Fish.
While a show about Texan rocker Holly is always a slam dunk in our parts, it is bit unusual to see Les Miz, one of the few truly heavy musicals in the repertoire, presented in the summer, when the lightest of shows seem to be preferred.
“We didn’t have a choice,” says Wally Jones, president and executive producer at Casa. “We were told that we could do it between now and June 30. Other than that, it is going to be taken off the market until 2023 or 2024, because the road show is about to go out again.”
So Jones jumped at the chance to produce this musical, despite the challenges inherent in doing a show of the epic proportions demanded by Les Miz.
“We have been working on this for three or four months,” says Jones, who held auditions in New York and across the country to gather the cast. “We are going to be spending more money on this musical than we have on anything we have done in the last five years. It takes a big cast and we have hired a new crew to build the scenery.”
But, while Jones has his hands full with the rigors of building a production of this musical, which is pretty much an opera, he also realizes he caught something of a break on this one.
“We’re lucky that the recent revival decided not to do the turntable,” says Jones, referring to the expensive and technically difficult trademark of Les Miz’s original staging.
While Buddy Holly and Les Miz will be familiar ground for many patrons, Big Fish has hardly been seen by anyone.
“This is probably the least commercially successful show we have done [with the apprentice program]. It didn’t do too well on Broadway, probably because it was overproduced,” says Noah Putterman, director of children’s theater and education at Casa who also oversees the apprentice program, a summer production done with area actors ages 14 to 19 who are selected in an audition process. Unlike many similar summer programs, the participants pay no fees.
“We feel like we have the best talent in the area, and we are looking for a show that is really going to push the kids,” says Putterman, adding that this production will be the regional premiere of this musical. “Also, Big Fish is a show that we would not ordinarily be able to do in our regular season. But I feel it is a powerful piece.
“And since [the actors] won’t have many preconceived ideas of how it should be done, it gives us more freedom to create our version of this show.”
The Buddy Holly Story
May 29-June 7
Music: Buddy Holly and others
Book: Alan Janes
Broadway history: None. Originally staged in London in 1989.
The skinny: The show is a “jukebox musical” wrapped around facts of Holly’s life, starring Texan Joey Folsom as the inimitable legend from Lubbock. “He looks the part for sure. And we loved his raw energy,” Jones says about Folsom, who has also portrayed country legend Hank Williams on stage. [UPDATE: Andy Christopher is now playing Holly.]
Music: Claude-Michel Schonberg
Lyrics: Herbert Kretzmer
Book: Alain Boublil and Schonberg
Broadway history: 1987-2003, 2006-08 and 2014 to the present (6,680 performances)
The skinny: Ever heard of this one? I think you have. Only The Phantom of the Opera, Chicago, Cats and The Lion King have had more Broadway performances than this show about crime, flight and revolution in 19th-century France.
Music and lyrics: Andrew Lippa
Book: John August
Broadway history: 2013 (98 performances)
The skinny: The charming and critically acclaimed (but not widely seen) 2003 film of the same title, about a highly theatrical Southern raconteur who wants to pass his gift on to his son, looked like an ideal choice for musical adaptation. So many heads were scratched when it failed to find any traction on the Great White Way and closed after only 11 weeks.
Stolen Shakespeare Guild
So how many musicals did Shakespeare write?
“The model of the theater company has changed,” says Jason Morgan, who shares artistic direction duties with his wife, Lauren, at Stolen Shakespeare. “We have become more of a classical acting theater company rather than just Shakespeare.”
Indeed, while continuing to honor the Bard, this little-company-that-could has ambitiously branched out into a wide range of theatrical offerings in recent seasons, including an outstanding series of productions of Pulitzer Prize-winning plays.
This summer, the company will continue its flirtation with American musical theater with productions of the mighty Oklahoma! and the much less well-known Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
“We’ve diversified a little bit,” says Lauren Morgan, who also frequently costumes and acts in the company’s shows. “I think musicals help build the audience in general. They bring a lot of people into the theater, and our hope is that those patrons will come back and see some Shakespeare or a Pulitzer show.”
The success of its past musicals has helped this previously all-amateur house, which performs in the cozy Sanders Theatre at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center, make a major move toward professionalism to coincide with the presentation of this summer’s musicals: Stolen Shakespeare is now able to pay some of its actors.
“That is new this season. We’ve started paying stipends and offering more Equity [professional] contracts,” says Jason Morgan, who also does plenty of acting and directing for his company. “It is a step in the right direction toward where we want to be.”
Musicals have been successful for the troupe regardless of when they have been presented. But the Morgans would like to take a seasonal approach to that kind of programming in the future.
“We are hoping to settle into a pattern of doing musicals in the summer [on a regular basis],” says Jason Morgan.
Music: Richard Rodgers
Book and lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II
Broadway history: 1943-48 and four revivals since (2,212 performances)
The skinny: One of the war horses of the American musical theater repertoire, it is justly legendary for its music and (for its time) innovative structure. Among the immortals bursting from this show’s score are the title song, The Surrey With the Fringe on the Top; Oh, What a Beautiful Morning; and Many a New Day.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Music and lyrics: David Yazbek
Book: Jeffrey Lane
Broadway history: 2005-06 (627 performances)
The skinny: Based on the 1988 film starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin, this comedy about the art of bilking wealthy female tourists was a modest success on Broadway and has stayed alive on regional stages since. When Lauren Morgan was asked why she wanted to do this show, she had the best possible answer: “Because I think it is fun.”
Artisan Center Theater
This Mid-Cities company is the epitome of community theater. Its shows, which are typically of the G-rated variety, are double-cast to maximize involvement.
“If you are a family and you are looking to bring kids to be in the play with you, this is the place. We have five families involved in [our next show] The Music Man,” says Rick Blair, who founded the theater with his wife, DeeAnn Blair, and Dorothy Sanders in 2002. “We usually only pick family-friendly musicals.”
This summer, those choices are The Music Man, Guys and Dolls and The Secret Garden.
Musicals have long been the defining genre for this Hurst theater. Blair says the company typically schedules seven musicals and two straight plays per year.
His reason for the musicals bias is simple.
“I have to put it in two words: Nostalgia sells,” says Blair, citing recent sold-out performances of Singin’ in the Rain as proof. “People just love to go back and feel good again.”
So Artisan is proud to be an amateur house, but it should be emphasized that those families and raw actors have the benefit of guidance from some highly experienced professionals associated with the theater and its productions.
They include Joe Sturgeon, former director of youth theater at Casa who serves as Artisan’s artistic director, and who will direct The Secret Garden; veteran actor and director John Wilkerson, who will direct Guys and Dolls; and resident music director H. Richard Gwozdz, who will be overseeing the tunes on The Music Man.
The Music Man
May 22-July 4
Music, book and lyrics: Meredith Willson
Broadway history: 1957-61 and two revivals (1,375 performances)
The skinny: You may not know that the yearning ballad Till There Was You comes from this show. But want to know the coolest thing about this production? “We have a cast of 76,” says Blair. I guess that means everybody has their own trombone.
Guys and Dolls
July 17-Aug. 29
Music and lyrics: Frank Loesser
Book: Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling
Broadway history: 1950-53 and multiple revivals (1,200 performances)
The skinny: Inspired by the writings of 1930s literary colorist Damon Runyon, this classic is populated with some of the most compelling lowlifes to ever grace a stage. You know it for Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat and Luck Be a Lady, among others.
The Secret Garden
Sept. 4-Oct. 10
Music: Lucy Simon
Book and lyrics: Marsha Norman
Broadway history: 1991-93 (709 performances)
The skinny: “Joe Sturgeon has always said that his favorite show of all time is The Secret Garden,” says Blair. And those who have seen this magical, touching musical know why Sturgeon feels as he does.