The watchword for Wichita Grand Opera’s latest production is “new.”
As in a new type of performance, in a new (to the company) venue, with new artistic collaborations, directed and produced by WGO’s new president and CEO.
“The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber” will be presented in two performances this weekend at the Crown Uptown Theatre.
Webber, celebrating his 70th birthday this year, is the composer behind a plethora of Broadway hits, recently joining the elite EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) club with an award for his staging of “Jesus Christ Superstar” on NBC.
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“This had been a show I wanted to do for a while,” said Dennis Arnold, who has been the president-CEO of the company for about four months, “and I thought it would fit in well as a crossover for the Wichita Grand Opera.”
Arnold was a professional singer-actor for about 10 years and worked at the Crown Uptown for owner Ted Morris in the mid-1980s. He spent 24 years working in economic development in Linn and Anderson counties, south of Kansas City, before taking early retirement.
When the Wichita Grand Opera board found out the Arnold – who finished out school here after his family moved from Waco, Texas, with his Air Force officer father – had both an arts and business background, it was the key to his hire, he said.
Although Webber’s work – including “Phantom of the Opera,” “Evita,” “Cats,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “Superstar” – is clearly in the musical-theater mode, Arnold said it’s a good fit for an opera company.
“A lot of the shows that Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote are basically operas,” he said. “They’re almost all in songs, and the songs advance the plot with little or no dialogue.”
All of the arrangements, including charts for a 12-piece orchestra, were approved by the composer, Arnold said. Each production gets to choose 20 of the 40 songs available for its concerts. The Wichita show will include “Memory” from “Cats,” “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” from “Evita” and “Music of the Night” from “The Phantom of the Opera.”
Each number will be staged, he said, with a company of seven: Patrick Greene, Carter Tholl, Ted Dvorak, Shannon McMillan, Renee Macdonald, Krystin Skidmore and Megan Ahern.
“They kind of run the gamut from heavy opera to heavy musical theater,” Arnold said of the performers.
A predicted highlight, Arnold said, is works from “Phantom,” which is not yet in circulation for theater groups.
“He doesn’t release it to professional or even semi-professional (companies) very much,” Arnold said of the musical that won seven Tony Awards in 1988, and Broadway’s longest-running show.
On some of the songs, the company is collaborating with eight dancers from Ballet Wichita, a collaboration Arnold said he hopes to continue.
The ticket price includes a dessert buffet at intermission.
The concert, Arnold said, is one of the first steps in breaking out from the audience’s perception of opera.
“We’re not trying to get out of our lane,” he said, “we’re just trying to widen our lane a little bit.”
‘THE MUSIC OF ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER’ BY WICHITA GRAND OPERA
When: 7 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Where: Crown Uptown Theatre, 3207 E. Douglas
Tickets: $50 ($70 for a VIP package including premium seating, parking and a bottle of red and white wine per table), including dessert buffet, by calling the Crown, 316-612-7696, or Wichita Grand Opera, 316-262-8054, or online at crownuptown.com