Arts & Culture

November 4, 2012

Wichita ready for extended-run blockbusters like ‘Jersey boys’

Even though the show is about three months away, individual tickets go on sale Saturday for “Jersey Boys,” the much-acclaimed musical about Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. It opens Jan. 30 at Century II as part of Theater League’s season.

Even though the show is about three months away, individual tickets go on sale Saturday for “Jersey Boys,” the much-acclaimed musical about Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. It opens Jan. 30 at Century II as part of Theater League’s season.

That’s even before the next show on the schedule, “Rock of Ages,” makes it to town for its Nov. 27-29 turn.

The reason is that “Jersey Boys” will be an extended run like “The Lion King” rather than Theater League’s usual three-day schedule. There will be 16 performances, including five matinees, during a two-week period. Tickets range from $40 to $130 through WichitaTix.

“Jersey Boys,” which won a Tony as best musical on Broadway, as well as a Grammy for best cast album, is a gutsy, tuneful, warts-and-all portrait of four blue-collar buddies — Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Nick Massi and Tommy DeVito — who invented a catchy sound that shot them to international stardom in the mid-1960s and turned them into one of the best-selling groups of all time with 175 million albums sold. The production is told from their scrappy beginnings through their giddy glory days to their eventual break-up.

The show is divided into, well, four “seasons,” with each character getting a chance to give his own perspective of their triumphs and tribulations using more than 30 of their iconic songs, including “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”

Since this will be Theater League’s second extended-run show here in the same season, it pushes Wichita into a new category for future shows, Theater League President Mark Edelman said.

“The city of Wichita really stepped up with improvements to Century II to provide the space needed for 21st-century touring Broadway shows. That, coupled with the success of ‘The Lion King’ this fall and ‘Wicked’ a few years back, now makes Wichita ready for any blockbuster that’s out there,” Edelman said.

“It’s unusual for us to do two extended-run shows in the same season,” he said. “We didn’t even do it in Kansas City this year, but Wichita is ready.”

Edelman said that Wichita is poised for longer runs like this because of its enthusiastic audience.

“You have a more sophisticated audience than a lot of other cities we go to, thanks to standards long established by Music Theatre of Wichita and Wayne Bryan. You absolutely have the regional audience for expansion,” he said. “In other markets, we can bring in revivals like ‘West Side Story’ or ‘Hello, Dolly!,’ but your Music Theatre already does shows like that so well that our goal for Wichita has been to bring in only the newest shows.”

Edelman said that the much-honored “Billy Elliot” about an unlikely ballet star rising from the ashes of an impoverished mining town, is a likely possibility for the 2013-2014 season, along with the new “Million Dollar Quartet” that re-creates a 1956 Sun Records Studios session with Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.

A little further down the road are “The Book of Mormon” about the misadventures of a pair of naive Mormon missionaries from those outrageous “South Park” guys, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. And there’s “Matilda,” a sort of New Age “Annie” based on author Roald Dahl’s quirky kiddie book about a precocious girl. Characterized by Edelman as “the next big things,” the former is the 2011 Tony winner as best musical and the latter is London’s 2012 best musical that opens on Broadway in 2013.

“There’s nothing we shouldn’t be able to get for Wichita,” he said. “There’s even talk of a new ‘Phantom of the Opera’ where the chandelier is engineered as part of the set rather than built into the theater.”

While the audience may be ready, the key to scheduling more and longer runs lies with the availability of Century II, Edelman said.

“We’ve been working with the city and (manager of its Arts and Cultural Services division) John D’Angelo to find additional times, particularly weekends for extended four-day or five-day runs. They’ve been very supportive, but with two resident companies (Music Theatre and Wichita Symphony Orchestra), Century II is booked pretty solidly. We can’t even consider from May to August because of Music Theatre.”

But Edelman said he is optimistic that expanding schedules will happen sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, one way of squeezing in a bigger season is to offer wild card specials outside the four-show season package. This season, it’s an encore of the rousing percussion/dance show “Stomp,” for a two-day run on April 9 and 10. For 2013-2014, Edelman is eyeing “American Idiot,” a musical based on punk group Green Day’s concept album of the same name.

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