Mechanic has something extra

Booked: The theater packs more into next season, with seven shows and long runs


April 19, 1999|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

"More and longer" is the keynote of the Mechanic Theatre's 1999-2000 season. For the first time in almost a decade, the season will include seven shows instead of six. And, after two seasons of mostly one-week engagements, more than half the shows in the new series will run two weeks or more.

"It's been kind of a slow process. It seems like there's a lot more confidence in the shows again. We're getting the sizzle back in our season," said Michael J. Brand, executive director of Jujamcyn Productions, which books and manages the Mechanic.

The diverse offerings range from large-scale Broadway musicals such as "Beauty and the Beast" and "Titanic" to the offbeat audience-participation show "Tony n' Tina's Wedding," which will be presented in a converted space in Scarlett Place.

"We're trying to keep the programming so it appeals to a wide audience," explained Brand. The current season's offerings have been playing to 82 percent to 89 percent capacity, which he said has exceeded expectations. In addition, the theater has been attracting audiences from a broader geographic area.

Brand said he hopes two-week engagements will be the norm in the 2000-2001 season. He added that Jujamcyn remains optimistic about the proposed renovation of the Hippodrome and is "developing our plans to utilize the Mechanic and the Hippodrome simultaneously."

Here's the 1999-2000 lineup:

"Tony n' Tina's Wedding" begins an engagement of at least 24 weeks on Sept. 21 at Scarlett Place. Still running after more than a decade in New York, this partly scripted, partly improvised show allows theatergoers to play the role of guests at a blue-collar Italian-American wedding. In a previous incarnation, the show ran five months in Fells Point in 1990. This, however, is a new production, staged by Minneapolis director Sandy Hey, who will be casting some local professional actors in supporting roles. Jujamcyn has two other companies performing the show; the Portland, Ore., company has run more than two years, and the Minneapolis company has run more than four.

"Jekyll & Hyde," Oct. 26-31. After an early version of this Frank Wildhorn-Leslie Bricusse musical played the Mechanic in 1996, the show underwent significant changes -- including an entirely new set. The revamped production opened on Broadway in April 1997 and is still running. Now local theatergoers can see these changes in a touring production that stars Chuck Wagner, whose Broadway credits include "Beauty and the Beast" and "Into the Woods."

"Beauty and the Beast," Nov. 18-Dec. 5. Disney's first Broadway venture boasts the imaginative, fun-filled lyrics of late Baltimorean Howard Ashman, coupled with music by Alan Menken and a book by Linda Woolverton. "Beauty and the Beast" celebrated its fifth anniversary on Broadway last Thursday. The touring production is one of two Mechanic offerings so large, Brand said they have to be "shoehorned to fit in backstage." The other is:

"Titanic," Dec. 14-26. With a book by Peter Stone and score by Maury Yeston, this musical not only stayed afloat, it won the 1997 Tony Award. Stone's beautifully constructed book focuses on several central characters -- the ship's designer, captain and the owner of the steamship line -- as well as on representatives of the ship's three passenger classes.

"The Civil War," Jan. 11-16, 2000. The newest show in the subscription series, this musical about the War Between the States is currently in previews on Broadway, where it opens Thursday. The show takes place partly in Maryland, where the creative team -- "Jekyll & Hyde" composer Wildhorn and his fellow librettists Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy -- did some of their research. They will return here, together with Tony Award-winning director Jerry Zaks, to launch the show's national tour at the Mechanic.

"Art," Feb. 29-March 5, 2000. Yasmina Reza's 1998 Tony Award-winning play is about three friends -- an aeronautical engineer, a dermatologist and a stationery salesman. The balance of their friendship is seriously endangered when the dermatologist buys an expensive abstract painting, to the dismay of the engineer. The French play, translated by British playwright Christopher Hampton, is directed by Matthew Warchus.

"Cabaret," June 6-18, 2000. Winner of the 1998 Tony for best musical revival, this British production of the John Kander-Fred Ebb-Joe Masteroff musical was originally staged in a cabaret setting by co-directors Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall. Mendes and Marshall have returned to stage the tour and will re-create the darkened tones they brought to this tale of Germany in the early days of the Third Reich.

In addition to the subscription series, Brand also announced one non-subscription offering. The Mechanic will present its fifth engagement of "Les Miserables" April 10-23, 2000. Tickets to "Les Mis" will go on sale in late fall.

Subscriptions to the seven-show season go on sale in May and range from $171.30 to $467.50. Current subscribers will be receiving more detailed renewal information by mail shortly. Call 800-343-3103.

Pub Date: 4/19/99

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