Not all of Wichita’s theaters have announced their 2015 schedules, so there may be some unknown gems waiting in the wings for next year. But already on tap is a slate of local and regional premieres of just-off-Broadway offerings and national prize-winners to get local theater-lovers excited. Here are some of my picks to look forward to:
▪ “Billy Elliot the Musical”: Based on the acclaimed 2000 British film, this compelling, inspiring and joyous musical by Elton John and Lee Hall is about a 12-year-old boy from a dingy mining village who dreams of making his mark in the world of ballet. The story takes place during a crucial miners’ strike and government crack-down, which forces the boy’s at-first-skeptical family and neighbors to unite and let his dreams for a better life become their own. The show won 10 Tony Awards, including best musical.
Details: Music Theatre Wichita; July 8-12; Century II Concert Hall; individual show tickets not available until May but season tickets for all five shows available at MTW box office at 316-265-3107; $110-$205 matinees, $116-$255 evenings.
▪ “Sister Act”: Based on the popular Whoopi Goldberg comedy of the same name, this buoyant and soulful musical by composer Alan Menken (“Disney’s Beauty and the Beast”) and lyricist Glenn Slater tells of a nightclub singer on the run from vengeful mobsters who hides out in a convent. While there, she begins to redeem her past sins by joining the nuns’ choir and opening them up to liberating new musical perspectives. It was nominated for 10 Tonys, including best musical.
Details: Theater League; Feb. 3-5; Century II Concert Hall; 316-303-8100 or www.wichitatix.com; $45-$85
▪ “Cold Sassy Tree”: Opera legend and Kansas native Samuel Ramey heads the cast of Carlisle Floyd’s opera, based on the Olive Ann Burns novel, about scandal in a small southern town when a recent widower announces plans to marry a much-younger woman. Also featured is Karla Burns, a Wichita native and WSU alum who made her mark on Broadway and was the first African-American to win the Olivier Award (the equivalent of Broadway’s Tony) in London.
Details: Wichita State University Theatre; April 9-12; Miller Concert Hall of Duerksen Fine Arts Center; tickets available at 316-978-3233; $16 general public, $14 faculty/seniors/military, $6 non-WSU students, free for WSU students.
▪ “Big Fish”: This fanciful and heart-warming musical, which just closed on Broadway last December, is about a garrulous traveling salesman whose incredible, larger-than-life adventures thrill everyone around him – except his skeptical son, who wants to know the truth behind the stories. Based on the Daniel Wallace novel and the Tim Burton movie, this romp was adapted by John August with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa (“The Addams Family,” “The Wild Party”).
Details: Music Theatre Wichita; July 22-26; Century II Concert Hall; individual show tickets not available until May but season tickets for all five shows available at MTW box office at 316-265-3107; $110-$205 matinees, $116-$255 evenings.
▪ “Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike”: This 2013 Tony Award winner as best play is Christopher Durang’s loving and amusing, modern-day send-up of Anton Chekov’s classic “The Cherry Orchard” about three middle-aged, unmarried siblings who are faced with losing their ancestral home. Two of them are spoiled, overgrown children supported by the third, a flamboyant movie star whose life with a hunky, dim-witted boy-toy, sparks family tensions. You don’t have to be a Chekov scholar to get the joke and enjoy the fun.
Details: Guild Hall Players; March 12-15; auditorium of St. James Episcopal Church, 3750 E. Douglas; tickets available at 316-683-5686; $12 general, $10 students.