Arts & Culture

Summer theater 2015 preview

Mitchell Tobin stars in the title role of Billy Elliot
Mitchell Tobin stars in the title role of Billy Elliot Courtesy photo

Wichita’s live theater venues are gearing up to prove that summer isn’t just a time for movie blockbusters.

With about 30 offerings from nine different groups waiting in the wings, the May-September stage season features regional premieres for three recent Broadway musicals plus the debut of a new original comedy as well as three original melodramas.

There’s also the annual encore of a timely patriotic musical to celebrate Independence Day plus three mini-musicals designed specifically for younger theatergoers (and their parents) where cookies or pizza will be served.

And the Forum Theatre is expanding its schedule into the summer for the first time since it was founded in 2011 because of its new location in the Scottish Rite Center. That will make it a year-round enterprise, says founder Kathryn Page Hauptman.

Music Theatre Wichita launches its 44th season of five major musicals. Wayne Bryan, the group’s longtime producing artistic director, calls this season “Unexpected Journeys” with “bends in the road that take characters to destinations they never imagined.”

Among those exotic and fanciful destinations are forbidden love that stretches from ancient Egypt to modern New York, improbable match-making in 1900s Yonkers, and ethereal ballet dreams arising from the grime and poverty of a small British mining town in the 1960s.

Kechi Playhouse, which is debuting an original new comedy among its five shows, is beginning its 33rd summer season, says founder and artistic director Misty Maynard. “We have been trying to do at least one original script each year,” Maynard says, “not only to save money (in royalties) but to provide something new and exciting for our audience.”

Here are capsule looks at what’s coming, when and how much to help you plan your summer outings:

Music Theatre Wichita

“Aida” (June 10-14): In this 2000 pop musical that won four Tonys, Elton John and Tim Rice retell Verdi’s operatic tragedy, set in ancient Egypt, about a beautiful slave and the pharaoh’s daughter competing for the love of the same dashing soldier.

“Disney’s My Son Pinocchio” (June 24-28; premiere): Family-friendly 2010 tale from Stephen Schwartz (“Godspell,” “Wicked”) gives greater emotional depth to the fairy tale about the puppet who wants to be a real boy by looking through the eyes of would-be father, Gepetto.

“Billy Elliot the Musical” (July 8-12; premiere): From Elton John and Lee Hall comes this musical version of the British coming-of-age tale about the son of a macho miner ditching his boxing gloves for a pair of ballet slippers to pursue his impossible dream. It won 10 Tonys, including best musical, on Broadway in 2008.

“Big Fish” (July 22-26; premiere): The awkward, sometimes strained relationship between a traveling salesman father who spins fanciful tales and his ever-more-skeptical son – based on the Tim Burton movie – is explored in this quirky 2013 musical from Andrew Lippa (“The Wild Party,” “The Addams Family”).

“Hello, Dolly!” (Aug. 5-9): Jerry Herman’s 1964 musical about a delightfully meddling matchmaker named Dolly Levi in turn-of-last-century Yonkers has become an enduring classic (10 Tonys, three Broadway revivals, cast album inducted into Grammy Hall of Fame) with such standards as “Before the Parade Passes By,” “It Only Takes a Moment” and the rousing title tune.

Details: Performances in Century II Concert Hall at 8 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday. Season tickets: $120-$260 evenings, $114 -$210 matinees. Individual show tickets: $28-$64 evenings, $26-$56 matinees. Call 316-265-3107.

Roxy’s Downtown

"Cougar: The Musical" (June 11-July 18)

“Pageant: The Musical” (July 31-Sept. 12): Hilarious, bawdy, long-running 1991 off-Broadway musical spoof features seven men in drag as eager contestants vying for the coveted crown of Miss Glamouresse by competing in swimsuit, evening gown and talent.

Details: Performances at 412½ E. Douglas (upstairs) at 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday (doors open at 6:30 p.m., dinner 6:30-7:30 p.m.) and select matinees at 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $40 dinner and show, $25 show only. Call 316-265-4400.

Mosley Street Melodrama

“Anchorman of Steel” (May 28-July 18): Carol Hughes pens another original hero/villain spoof, this time inspired by a mash-up of “Superman” and “Anchor Man.” Followed by musical revue.

“Mom and Pop’s Cockroach Casino, Or, Quick! Run! It’s a Raid!” (July 23-Sept. 12): Original comic melodrama by Tom Frye. Followed by musical revue.

Details: Performances at 234 N. Mosley in Old Town at 7:50 p.m. Thursday-Saturday (doors open 6 p.m., dinner 6:15-7:30 p.m.). Tickets: Dinner and show, $28 adult, $24 senior, $22 child under 12. Call 316-263-0222.

Forum Theatre

“Side by Side by Sondheim” (July 16-25): Sophisticated 1976 musical revue exploring the variety of styles, moods and themes of Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim through 31 songs from shows like “Company,” “Follies,” “Gypsy,” “A Little Night Music” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”

Details: Performances in Scottish Rite, 332 E. First, at 8 p.m. Thursday-Friday and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday. Tickets: $23 Thursday evening and Saturday matinee, $25 Friday and Saturday evenings. Call 316-618-0444.

Signature Theatre

“Urinetown” (7 p.m. May 31-June 1): 2001 Tony Award-winning musical satire that sharply tackles corrupt politics, corporate greed, bureaucratic mess-ups and misplaced idealism in a future society where water is more precious than gold.

“1776” (7 p.m. July 2-3): This 1969 Tony Award-winning best musical about John Adams and the struggles to finish the Declaration of Independence is now an annual holiday tradition.

“Steel Magnolias” (8 p.m. Aug. 21-22, 7 p.m. Aug. 23): Robert Harling’s acclaimed 1987 comedy-drama, inspired by his own family, captures bonding of an eccentric group of Southern women who may seem frivolous but who are tough when facing challenges in life, love and death.

Details: Performances in Scottish Rite, 332 E. First. Tickets: $12 adults, $10 senior/students/military. Call 316-644-7018.

Guild Hall Players

“The Beams Are Creaking” (May 21-24): Douglas Adams’ inspiring drama about Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s heroic opposition to Hitler.

“Big River” (July 30-Aug. 2): Songwriter Roger Miller and William Hauptman’s 1985 bluegrass-flavored musical retelling of Mark Twain’s classic adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

Details: Performances in St. James Episcopal Church, 3750 E. Douglas, at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $12, $10 students. Call 316-683-5686.

Wichita Community Theatre

“The Foreigner” (June 11-28): Larry Shue’s award-winning 1984 comedy revolves around a shy young man on retreat at a Georgia fishing lodge who pretends to speak no English to avoid conversations. When bad guys brazenly discuss plots in front of him, thinking he can’t understand, he worries how to do the right thing.

“Death by Design” (July 30-Aug. 16): Rob Urbanti’s comedy-mystery mash-up pays homage to the wit of Noel Coward and the plotting of Agatha Christie, combining murder and mayhem with all-out farce.

Details: Performances at 258 N. Fountain at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $14 adult, $12 senior/student/military. Call 316-686-1282.

Kechi Playhouse

“’Til Beth Do Us Part” (June 4-28): Uproarious comedy about a woman trying to balance career and marriage whose efficient new assistant decides that her boss’ husband is standing in the way of her success.

“Things My Mother Taught Me” (July 2-Aug. 1): Katherine DiSaviano’s funny and touching romantic tale, reminiscent of “Barefoot in the Park,” about a young couple trying to please their families while setting up their first apartment clear across the country from home.

“Flaming Idiots” (Aug. 6-30): When two guys who run a troubled gourmet health food restaurant hear that a rival food place took off big time after a mobster was murdered there, they wonder if they can arrange the same thing for themselves in Tom Rooney’s award-winning comedy.

“Pantie-monium” (Sept. 3-27): Premiere of an original new comedy.

“Chapatti” (Oct. 1-25): Gentle, poignant romantic comedy from Christian O’Reilly about two lonely people in Dublin – a man with a dog named Chapatti and a woman with 19 cats – who meet and find an unexpected spark of companionship.

Details: Performances at 100 E. Kechi Road (61st and N. Oliver) at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $11 Thursday and Sunday, $12 Friday and Saturday. Call 316-744-2152.

Wichita Children’s Theatre & Dance Center

Heather Muller Series

“Into the Woods” (July 23-26): Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s sophisticated, surprising 1986 musical re-imagining of “Happily Ever After” when people get what they wish for in a mash-up of classic fairy tales from “Cinderella” to “Little Red Riding Hood” to “Jack and the Beanstalk.”

Details: Performances in Heather Muller Black Box Theatre at WCT&DC, 201 Lulu, at 7 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 8:30 p.m. Saturday (following charity auction) and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $12.50-$8.50. Call 316-262-2282.

Picnic Theatre Series

Pinkalicious” (June 11-19): Musical about a little girl who can’t stop eating pink cupcakes, despite warnings from her parents that she’ll turn pink all over, based on the award-winning kids’ book by Victoria and Elizabeth Kann.

“Chicken Little” (June 25-26): Local actor-turned-playwright Kevin M. Reese’s musical retelling – with a modern twist – of an impressionable and excitable chick who thinks the sky is falling.

“Pinocchio” (July 9-17): Another Reese musical-with-a-twist adaptation retells the classic story of a wooden puppet who longs to be a real boy.

Details: Performances in WCT&DC at 201 Lulu. Cookie show ($6) at 10 a.m., pizza shows ($7.50) at noon and 6:30 p.m. (food service at 11:30 a.m. and 6 p.m.). Call 316-262-2282.