For Music Theatre's 39th season that begins June 9, producing artistic director Wayne Bryan has declared that "Everything's Coming Up Broadway!" Yes, of course, the five musicals are all from Broadway — that's a given.
But this year's choices, which include two premieres for Music Theatre of Wichita, also deal with the theme of being on stage, from the dreams of stardom in "Gypsy" to the magical Times Square aura of "Annie" to the show-within-a-show of the new comic murder mystery "Curtains."
This last one, nominated for eight Tony Awards in 2007, including best musical, holds a particular surprise for Kansas audiences through its internal Western spoof called "Robbin' Hood," which is set in "Kansasland." To mention any more, says Bryan, would be to dilute the delicious surprises of this local and state premiere, which is from the John Kander/Fred Ebb combo who gave us "Cabaret" and "Chicago." Kander, a Kansas City native, is expected to slip in to see the Wichita production during its season-capping run in early August.
The other MTW premiere is "Smokey Joe's Cafe," a celebration of 39 Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller rock 'n' roll classics from the 1950s, from novelties like "Love Potion No. 9" and "Charlie Brown" to the romantic "Spanish Harlem" to the haunting "Stand By Me" to, of course, the iconic "On Broadway."
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The three encores are based, in part, on audience polls taken at the end of every season, Bryan says. They were also chosen because it's been many years since each was last performed here. "Gypsy," for example, was done 18 years ago. "Annie," this year's family offering, was 16 years ago. And "Crazy for You," the musical that cleverly recycles George and Ira Gershwin's 1930s music for a new story, was 14 years ago.
As usual, casts will be headed by guest stars, many of them Broadway veterans. Among them are Larry Raben ("The Producers"), Darcie Roberts ("Aida") and Paula Leggett Chase ("Dirty Rotten Scoundrels") for "Curtains"; David Elder ("Curtains"), Matthew Shepard ("Beauty and the Beast") and Darcie Roberts for "Crazy for You"; Grasan Kingsberry ("Finian's Rainbow"), Kevyn Morrow ("Dreamgirls") and Debra M. Walton ("Pajama Game") for "Smokey Joe's Cafe"; and Michael DeVries (taking a two-week break from his current "Wicked") and Denis Lambert ("A Chorus Line") for "Annie."
But Bryan notes that the opener, "Gypsy," was chosen after years of planning to spotlight Wichita veteran and local favorite Karen Robu as Mama Rose.
"Karen first joined our company in 1995 in the ensemble," Bryan says. "Over the years, I kept seeing her do increasingly more interesting and honest work. Karen's voice is unique and powerful but also capable of caressing a lyric very intimately."
After Robu played Emma Goldman in "Ragtime" in 2002, director Joe Locarro, from the show's original cast, told Bryan that she gave "a more complete and balanced performance than any woman who had essayed the part on Broadway," Bryan said.
"I became determined to do 'Gypsy' for her at some point," he said. "We were able to secure the rights this year, despite its recent Tony-winning revival. I can't wait to work with her on it."
Bryan cast Robu's husband, Tim, another local favorite, to play Herbie, the vaudeville clown-turned-manager who falls for Rose and wants to save her and her daughters from the wicked stage. The couple most recently played the horrible (and horribly funny) Thenardiers in MTW's acclaimed "Les Miserables" in 2008.
"Actually, I really cast them individually. Of course, I know they'll work well together," Bryan says. "It's funny, Rose and Herbie have such an unusual, mismatched relationship, it won't be like asking a loving couple to play a loving couple. It will be fun to work with them on this 'courtship' phase of the story."
Here's a quick look at the whole season:
"Gypsy" (June 9-13) —Based on the memoir of striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee, this 1959 show tells of the ultimate stage mother trying to live her own dreams by pushing her two daughters into the spotlight. Highlights: "Everything's Coming up Roses," "Let Me Entertain You."
"Smokey Joe's Cafe" (June 23-27) —1995 rock 'n' roll revue of 39 Leiber-Stoller hits from the 1950s creates a mood rather than tells a story. Highlights: "Stand By Me," "Spanish Harlem," "On Broadway."
"Crazy for You" (July 7-11) —Tony-winning best musical of 1992 uses old Gershwin classics to tell a new story, set in the 1930s, of a stage-struck New York rich kid who goes out West to foreclose on a failed theater but decides to put on a show instead. Highlights: "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Embraceable You," "I Got Rhythm."
"Annie" (July 21-25) —Musical adaptation of Depression era comic "Little Orphan Annie" that won seven Tony Awards in 1977, including best musical, and ran six years on Broadway. Highlights: "Tomorrow," "It's a Hard Knock Life," "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile." With 13-year-old Alyssa Danley from Oklahoma City as Annie.
"Curtains" (Aug. 4-8) —Musical send-up of a backstage murder mystery set in 1959. In the story, a supremely untalented leading lady is murdered during a preview in Boston and a star-struck detective, called in to figure out whodunit, stays around to help put on the show. Highlights: "Show People," "In the Same Boat," "Wide Open Spaces."
If you go
Music Theatre 2010 Season
What: 39th annual summer season of five Broadway shows
Where: Century II Concert Hall
When: 8 p.m. Wed.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sat.-Sun. matinees, 7 p.m. Sun.
How much: Season tickets: Evening $90-$230, matinee $85-$180. Purchase in person at MTW office on second floor of Century II or by calling 316-265-3107 (not available online).
Individual tickets (on sale beginning May 24): Evening $20-$55, matinee $18-$47. Call 316-265-3107 or online at www.mtwichita.org.