Theater League’s new season includes ‘Billy Elliot, ‘Sister Act’

Theater League’s “Sister Act” will play Wichita in early 2015.
Theater League’s “Sister Act” will play Wichita in early 2015. Courtesy photo

Two new musicals based on popular movies will make their Wichita debut during Theater League’s 2014-2015 season.

“Billy Elliot the Musical,” based on the acclaimed 2000 British film, is a joyous and energetic celebration of a coal miner’s son discovering his talent for ballet. And “Sister Act” is a gospel/rock/soul treat based on Whoopi Goldberg’s 1992 romp about a nightclub singer on the run from the mob who dons a nun’s habit to hide out in a convent.

Filling out the four-show season will be the romantic fantasy “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” and the jukebox musical “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story,” bringing to life the rocker who inspired the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Elvis Costello.

“After everyone thoroughly enjoyed ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ (this season), we thought that ‘Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story’ would be a great addition to the series,” said Mark Edelman, president of the Kansas City-based Theater League.

“We’re excited to be presenting the Wichita premieres of the new musicals ‘Sister Act’ and ‘Billy Elliot the Musical.’ And everybody loves ‘Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,’ especially at holiday time,” Edelman said.

“Beauty and the Beast,” based on the 1991 animated film that was the first ever to be nominated as best picture, kicks off the season with three performances Dec. 16-18 in Century II Concert Hall.

“Sister Act” is set for Feb. 3-5, 2015; “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” is March 2-4, 2015; and “Billy Elliot the Musical” wraps up the season on April 21-23, 2015.

Season tickets beginning at $115 for all four shows may be reserved through WichitaTix at 316-303-8100 or at the box office in Century II from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday.

The stage musical of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” opened on Broadway in 1994 and ran until 2007, racking up 5,461 performances and making it the eighth longest running show in Broadway history. An instant crowd-pleaser, it also snagged nine Tony Award nominations, including best musical and best score.

Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken wrote seven additional songs with lyricist Tim Rice to add to the five Menken and his late partner, Howard Ashman, wrote for the animated movie.

The enduring story, adapted from the classic French fairy tale, tells of a handsome but selfish prince who is transformed into a hideous beast for retribution, and a spirited young woman named Belle who learns to see beneath the surface to discover unexpected love. Among favorite songs are the rousing “Be Our Guest,” the comic “Gaston” and, of course, the romantic title song.

“Sister Act,” written by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner with music by the prolific Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater, launched in London in 2009 and opened on Broadway in 2011, tickling audiences and charming critics as well as getting multiple Tony Award nominations, including best musical.

The Menken/Slater songs – ranging from Motown to soul, funk and disco to even a parody of Barry White – tell of a nightclub singer named Deloris who goes underground and hides in a convent after witnessing her gangster boyfriend rub out some of his enemies. To keep her cover, Deloris plays along as a nun but rankles over prohibitions against smoking, drinking and other daily vices. To make things bearable, she takes over as music director of the convent’s lackluster choir and ends up giving the sisters a surprising new voice.

“Buddy: the Buddy Holly Story” was conceived by Londoner Laurie Mansfield as one of the first jukebox musicals. With the help of ex-Beatle Paul McCartney, who owns the rights to Holly’s music, it came to the stage in 1989 and ran for more than 12 years. A Broadway version opened in 1990.

Using many of Holly’s own groundbreaking hits, like “True Love Ways,” “Peggy Sue” and “Maybe Baby,” plus music of other early rockers, like Frankie Lymon’s “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” and Richie Valens‘ “La Bamba,” the show tells of how a brash 19-year-old country singer from Lubbock, Texas, became a rock ’n’ roll legend despite a career tragically cut short.

Holly joined with two friends, known as the Crickets, but the group broke up because of artistic differences over music. He launched a solo career that burned brightly for only a year and a half before he died in a plane on his way to a gig in Iowa in 1959 that also killed Valens and The Big Bopper. Despite that brief career, Holly was considered so musically influential that he was one of the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

“Billy Elliot the Musical” has won virtually every stage award around the world – notably best musical in America, England and Australia – since its launch in 2005 in London, where is it still playing strongly with presales through 2015. It was nominated for a record-tying 15 Tony Awards in 2008 on Broadway, and won 10, coming in second only to the 12 won by “The Producers.”

Because of the demands of the exuberant dancing, three young actors rotate playing the title role of 11-year-old Billy, who trades in boxing gloves for ballet toe shoes during after-school activities, much to the dismay of his rough-hewn coal miner father and older brother in Northern England. The story revolves around the dream of a blue-collar kid trying to overcome skepticism from his family, jeering from his schoolmates and lower-class stigma from outsiders to try winning a rare slot in London’s Royal Ballet School.