Tag Archives: Broadway trends

What’s the buzz?

Cast of "Jesus Christ Superstar" on Broadway (Photo: Joan Marcus)

I enjoyed an amazing evening of Broadway trends in action during a preview performance earlier this month of the “Jesus Christ Superstar” revival that opened last week at the Neil Simon Theatre in NYC. Digital projections, folk flavor added to the pop/rock score and more.

All things Victor Hamburger with ASU Gammage in Tempe alerted me to during a recent call to talk trends on Broadway. Turns out ASU Gammage is one of the country’s biggest markets for touring Broadway productions. Also professional home to Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, executive director for ASU Gammage and recipient of a 2012 Arizona Governor’s Arts Award.

ASU Gammage will unveil its 2012/13 Broadway Across America season next week, so we’ll all get the chance to see trends translated into action. Audience engagement via social media and other means is one of the industry’s hottest trends, according to Hamburger. So folks who follow ASU Gammage are among the first to get the scoop — and enjoy opportunites to offer feedback.

Hamburger says they always work to provide a balance of shows that’ll appeal to folks with different tastes. Some prefer revivals, others prefer newer works. Some like nostalgia, others like the here and now. Some favor mature fare, others favor family fare. So I suppose the best season has a little something for everyone.

Steve Kazee and the cast of "Once," which recently opened on Broadway (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Simply looking at the Broadway landscape, you might surmise that topics your parents always told you to avoid at the dinner table make for the best subject matter. Religion, sex and sometimes even politics. “Jesus Christ Superstar” is one of several works that factors God into the mix. Think “Godspell,” “The Book of Mormon,” “Sister Act” and such. Going retro, with shows like “Mamma Mia!” and “Priscilla Queen of the Desert,” seems to be a safe bet too. God is groovy, but dance is divine.

Bringing movies to stage is another biggie these days, according to Hamburger (although “biggie” isn’t really a part of his vocabulary). Think “Once,” “Ghost,” and “Flashdance.” Seems they help introduce audiences fond of the big screen to stories told on stage. I was skeptical until I started reading reviews of “Once” that landed it high on my list of shows to see during future trips to NYC.

Casting artists dubbed celebrities is also on the rise — as evidenced by the current cast list of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” which includes Nick Jonas as J. Pierrepont Finch, Beau Bridges as J.B. Bigley and Anderson Cooper as Narrator. Jonas started out on Broadway, but that’s not the case for others who’ve finessed Finch — including Daniel Radcliffe and Darren Criss, both of whom my daughter Lizabeth loved in the role. Snagging tix to see Jonas is high on her wish list these days.

Touring production of "Green Day's American Idiot" coming to ASU Gammage in April (Photo: Doug Hamilton)

Lizabeth lives in NYC, where she most recently saw “Evita” with fellow students at Pace University, and sometimes sees things well before they make their way to Arizona. I’m eager to see “Green Day’s American Idiot,” the next Broadway touring production coming to ASU Gammage, so I can compare notes with Lizabeth — who has seen it performed on Broadway.

I started taking Lizabeth to touring Broadway productions at ASU Gammage when she was just a little girl. Over the years we’ve enjoyed everything from “Annie” and “August: Osage County” to “In the Heights” and “Avenue Q” together. It’s all good in our book — because whatever the buzz on Broadway, sharing mother/daughter time at the theater never gets old.

– Lynn

Coming up: Exploring the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, The fine art of cowboys, In good company

Valley actor and director ‘noises off’

Lizabeth came home from school on Thursday with an interesting “to do” list–gather info for a community service project, return borrowed books to her voice teacher, and pick a night to see “Noises Off” at Phoenix Theatre. Such is the life of a senior theater arts major.

"Noises Off" runs Aug 25-Sept 12 at Phoenix Theatre

It reminded me that “Noises Off” will open Phoenix Theatre’s 90th season this week–and that associate artistic director Robert Kolby Harper, who’ll appear in the fabulous farce, recently did some of his own ‘noising off’ as we discussed trends in musical theater.

“Musical theater has always reflected the temperament of the culture at hand,” observes Harper. The ’50s were a sort of golden era with a “happy, feel good focus.”

During the ’60s, “our thinking as a culture became less linear because of Vietnam.” As the ’70s ushered in new styles of popular music, Sondheim brought us the first “concept musical”–called “Company.”

"3 Redneck Tenors" runs Sept 29-Oct 17 at Phoenix Theatre

Today a good story isn’t enough, reflects Harper. A good musical must also consider “the human condition.”

“As our culture has grown up,” says Harper, “musical theater has gotten more thoughtful.”

Many of today’s musicals, such as “American Idiot,” are “used as instruments to get across a particular point of view.” Sometimes, notes Harper, the stories get a little bit boring.

"Hairspray" runs Nov 10-Dec 12 at Phoenix Theatre

Harper says he enjoyed seeing “American Idiot” in New York (“there was some amazing lighting”) although he confesses to wishing someone would just turn the music down a tad. (I hear you.)

So what of today’s musical theater landscape? “We have a little bit of everything,” reflects Harper. “Musical theater is becoming incredibly artistic because everybody is diversifying.” Think “Spring Awakening” and “[title of show].”

"No Way to Treat a Lady" runs Jan 12-30 at Phoenix Theatre

As we question ourselves more on issues like war and sexuality, we see those struggles reflected in works of musical theater. “The point of view of the underdog is more popular than it used to be,” adds Harper.

Another trend? The use of on-stage cameras, huge screens and other technology. It’s due in part, says Harper, to the growing influence of multi-media in all parts of American culture.

Musical theater is growing in popularity as it’s being developed by younger and younger artists, observes Harper.

He cites the musical “Rent” as an example–noting that it was “the first one in years that was a huge hit by an unknown.”

"Avenue Q" runs Feb 23-March 20 at Phoenix Theatre

“Now it happens all the time,” muses Harper. He describes “Avenue Q,” which Phoenix Theatre will present Feb 23-March 20 of next year, as a prime example.

Still, many seasoned musicals continue to attract new audiences. Harper recalls being struck by the incredibly long line of patrons waiting to see “The Phantom of the Opera” last time he hit New York.

“Lots of people still haven’t seen it,” notes Harper. “I don’t care if that’s all they see–because the point is that they tried it.”

I’m reminded of Lizabeth’s first trip to DC and NYC, during which fellow travelers were thrilled to see “Phantom” on Broadway while Lizabeth and a fellow student made their way to the Booth Theater to experience “Next to Normal.”

It’s all good, I suppose.

"Nine" runs April 13-May 8 at Phoenix Theatre

After all, reflects Harper, many Broadway visitors will return home to support their local community theaters.

Soon the Valley’s many theater companies (including Phoenix Theatre, Arizona’s oldest) will open their 2010-2011 seasons. They’ll offer everything from classic to contemporary, giving us all a bit of Broadway–and beyond.

To enjoy an insider’s look at Phoenix Theatre’s 90th season, and your own conversation with associate artistic director Robert Kolby Harper, you can enjoy “A Noises Off Tea” at The Ritz-Carlton Phoenix, featuring an exclusive opportunity to chat with Harper about his role in the comedic play “Noises Off” and more.

The event takes place at noon on Wed, Sept 1, and costs $35. Phoenix Theatre promises ‘no sardines, but a lovely English Tea.’ For reservations, call 602-468-0700.

Prepare those dialing fingers and pointed pinkies…

–Lynn

Note: You can double the fun by seeing Harper and others perform in “Noises Off” live at Phoenix Theatre and renting the 1992 film version of “Noises Off” starring Michael Caine and Carol Burnett (direction by Peter Bogdanovich). Other comedies coming soon to the Valley include “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” (Mesa Arts Center, Aug 27-Sept 12) and “The Kitchen Witches” (Tempe Center for the Arts, Sept 17-Oct 3).

Coming soon: Focus on fall festivals, Music and dance with William Shakespeare, “Eat Pray Love”–museum style

Too good to be Q?

My neighbors must think it odd. Every day after I take my mail from the mailbox, I stop in my tracks to see what’s arrived. I probably did the same thing umpteen years ago, hoping Donny Osmond would actually reply to some of my fan mail. He never did, and so I’ve moved on. (Davy Jones and Bo Donaldson were no better.)

Nowadays I watch for announcements of upcoming music, dance and theater performances. I learned that lesson the hard way, seeing a poster of the musical “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” featuring Osmond hanging on a wall of the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix only after it had come and gone.

I did a curbside happy dance when I opened a humble looking envelope from Phoenix Theatre the other day. It announced their 2010-2011 season—something not even posted on their website yet. Better yet—they told me I could share it with our readers right away, even though a certain show (a Tony Award winner for best new musical) won’t be ‘official’ until March.

I had an inkling a couple of months ago when a Phoenix Theatre 2010/2011 season survey hit my virtual mailbox—something I received because I’m on their e-list, the modern day version of a mailing list used to send news via e-mail instead of snail mail. The survey, something they’ve done for years, invites patrons to vote on possible shows for the coming season.

The surveys were also available in the programs patrons received when attending Phoenix Theatre productions earlier in the current season, and each survey included a place for respondents to provide their name and such (so stuffing the survey box wasn’t a problem).

Patrons were asked to select two choices in each of four categories, with combined results weighing heavily in the decision making process when it came time for artistic director Michael Barnard and his team at Phoenix Theatre to decide on the 2010-2011 season.

What would you have selected from the following options?

Large musicals: Hairspray, Nine, Damn Yankees, The Drowsy Chaperone, My Favorite Year, Annie, La Cage Aux Folles or The Mystery of Edwin Drood? Mid-season musicals: Avenue Q, Iron Curtain, Hats! The Musical, Working or Wildest? Intimate musicals/revues: The Marvelous Wonderettes, The Big Bang, No Way to Treat a Lady, Twisted TV or Pump Boys and Dinettes? Comedies: Unnecessary Farce, Noises Off, Boeing Boeing or The Wallace and Ladmo Show?

The survey also asked patrons which type of programming they enjoy seeing most at Phoenix Theatre—offering four choices to choose from: new Broadway musicals, classic Broadway musicals, comedies and world premiere musicals. The trend, according to Phoenix Theatre marketing director Brian Kunnari, is towards newer Broadway musicals rather than Broadway classics.

Hence the upcoming season will feature the following:

• “No Way to Treat a Lady”

• “Hairspray”

• “3 Redneck Tenors”

• “Noises Off”

• “Nine”

There’s also a little something almost too good to be true—something, I’m told, involving a Q.

I suspect there will be a happy dance or two Friday evening, Feb. 26th, when Phoenix Theatre takes to the Madison Event Center in downtown Phoenix for its “Phoenix Theatre LIVE” event featuring “song, dance, comedy, cocktails and supper club dining.”

If you’re free, you may want to don your “studio audience glam” and join the fun. Visit www.phoenixtheatre.com ASAP for details and ticket info.

If an evening with Phoenix Theatre sounds fun, imagine joining artistic director Michael Barnard in London this spring for “400 years of theatre in one week.” The deadline to register for this baby is drawing nigh, so check out the details right away if you might want to take part in this April 24th to May 1st adventure.

There’s a trip brochure at the Phoenix Theatre website, or you can contact Beth Reynolds at the theater for more information (602-889-5299 or e.reynolds@phoenixtheatre.com).

Travelers will enjoy three theatre productions, including “Love Never Dies,” Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to “Phantom of the Opera”—and excursions to sites every theater buff dreams of seeing (Shakespeare’s home in Stratford-upon-Avon, the Globe Theatre and more).

Today, I fear, will bring a rather uneventful trip to the mailbox. Unless there’s news of a Valley stop for a national tour of “Next to Normal,” nothing’s likely to rival my excitement over all things Q…

–Lynn

Note: The “Broadway Across America” national touring production of “Avenue Q” comes to ASU Gammage in Tempe March 4th-9th. I’m attending opening night so look for a review of the show soon after. Better yet, find me and say “hello” at the show!

Update: It’s official! Phoenix Theatre’s 2010-2011 season includes “Avenue Q.” To enjoy adult puppet theater in the meantime, check out the adult puppet slams presented by Great Arizona Puppet Theater in Phoenix (www.azpuppets.org).