Tuesday, March 29, 2011

PlayhouseSquare 2011-12 KeyBank Broadway Series Launch

Today was the day that PlayhouseSquare announces their next KeyBank Broadway season. Tonight was a party with a recap of those selections for group sales, and I was glad to be invited back. Before we get to the new, let's not forget that there are still a few shows left in this season not the least of which are Next To Normal which I've been eagerly anticipating since seeing it on Broadway (and I made a minor fool of myself by singing along with I'm Alive while the theater filled up this evening) and Jersey Boys, although I think I'm going to pass on it this time, it holds a special place in my musical heart having seen it twice pre-Broadway, and pre-Lincoln in Cleveland while I was living in California at the La Jolla Playhouse (including once with director Des McAnuff and Frankie Valli just a couple rows in front of me). The warmup for tonight's announcement was a buffet and open bar -- the food was pretty good, and the conversation amongst fellow theater-goers was likewise enjoyable. It was great to hear what other people love about Cleveland, and for the life-long Clevelanders what they've seen change -- including when the theaters that are now PlayhouseSquare were movie palaces in the 50s. For the new season, I remembered several of the shows from the trip that I won to last year's Tony Awards courtesy of Playhouse Square... and they were all numbers that I enjoyed to some extent* so I'm really looking forward to this season: Million Dollar Quartet (October 11-23, 2011, Palace Theatre) - Based on the true story of a Sun Records jam session on December 4, 1956, Million Dollar Quartet is a gritty look inside the recording studio when Elvis Presley, Johnny Carson, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins were together for the first and only time. While I was interested from the beginning, the surprise appearance of the Original Chicago cast (who will be reprising their roles and kicking off the national tour in Cleveland) certainly amped up my level of excitement for the show. Of course, it's worth mentioning that the performance by members of the Million Dollar Quartet cast this evening took place in the same building that Alan Freed's WJW-AM radio broadcasts, credited for popularizing Rock and Roll -- both the term and the music -- originated from. La Cage Aux Folles (November 8-20, 2011, Palace Theatre) - Of the shows this season, I'm least sold on La Cage because I'm still a bit foggy on what it's about, though the "we are what we are and what we are is an illusion" line quoted by Ms. Vernaci is intriguing (as are the conservative parents from Ohio coming for dinner; this seems to be a Broadway musical theme). Hair (January 17-29, 2012, Palace Theatre) - A legendary musical, and one of the shows I most regret not seeing during my last trip to New York [nude scene and my discomfort with nudity notwithstanding]. I know it for the songs Age of Aquarius and Let the Sun Shine In, the promo material is dripping with the catchy Hair. A musical about Americans searching for peace and love amongst turbulence, it looks like this should be an interesting and entertaining look at a time past with themes that are ever relevant. Hair generated violent reactions in its era and has two notable connections to Cleveland's PlayhouseSquare: When the first national tour opened in the Hanna Theatre, someone attempted to bomb the theater (breaking several windows and causing no injuries) and several family members of the touring company died in a Cleveland hotel fire. Memphis (February 28-March 11, 2012, Palace Theatre) - 1950s Memphis, the story of a white DJ who wants to change the world with music, a black singer waiting for her big break, forbidden love and expolosive danging. An original score with music by a founding member of Bon Jovi (David Bryan), I couldn't resist toe-tapping in Radio City during the Tony Awards show, and I had a hard time restraining myself this evening. The Addams Family (April 10-22, 2012, Palace Theatre) - The "conservative parents from Ohio come for dinner" theme from La Cage Aux Folles" resurfaces here when Wednesday Addams falls for a "sweet, smart, young man from a respectable family". Billed as a "family portrat that's completely off the wall" this musical has looked beyond the films and the television series to Addams' original cartoons that ran in the New Yorker for inspiration. Come Fly Away (May 8-20, 2012, Palace Theatre) - Music of Frank Sinatra and the choreography and direction of Twyla Tharp... I'm not the biggest Sinatra fan, but the excerpts staged during the Tony Awards were captivatingly energetic, combined with unexpected enjoyment from Michael Fieinstein's Sinatra Project with The Cleveland Orchestra's makes this a definite possibility on my list. Last but most certainly not least, Sondheim on Sondheim (May 30-July 22, 2012, Hanna Theatre) -- co produced by PlayhouseSquare and Great Lakes Theatre Festival to celebrate GLTF's 50th anniversary season and is "revue of a lifetime" and takes you inside the head of the Broadway's "greatest living composer" featuring videotaped interviews with Mr. Sondheim interspersed with live action, I'm quite looking forward to it. I'm reminded of the Invocation and Instructions to the Audience from The Frogs and recapitulated in Side by Side by Sondheim which is how I came to know it...I'd hum it for you but you're better off iTunes or Googling it -- or just watch from about 2:40 in this YouTube video -- though the version I'm most familiar includes a variation on the standard curtain speech that makes me crack a smile every time). I'm a firm beleiver that this should be used before any performance, not just Sondheim. Ok, so now I'm just rambling... Lincoln *- One show very thankfully not in this season was Fela! which ranks among the worst theater I've seen, and is the only time I've disputed a credit card transaction for a purchase I actually made (and I won that dispute). A several friends who saw the performance during the Tony Awards described it as "suck[ing] all of the energy from the room" so I'm obviously not alone there.

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