Hippodrome will present a year of musicals

theater column

March 29, 2007|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,sun theater critic

A stage version of the super-popular Disney TV movie High School Musical, three recent Broadway shows and two Lerner and Loewe classics highlight an all-musical season to be announced today at the Hippodrome Theatre.

High School Musical is typical of the family appeal of the Hippodrome season -- and of a broader trend seen by Marks Chowning, executive director of the theater.

"There's been a whole push in the entertainment business in the broad sense in recent years about creating more family-friendly opportunities," he said. "It's just trying to capitalize on those things that Disney's been doing forever -- creating opportunities for families to play together."

The season also includes: Camelot (starring Michael York), the British revival of My Fair Lady, The Wedding Singer, Avenue Q, The Color Purple and a theatrical cirque piece called Cirque Dreams.

Chowning ascribed the lack of nonmusical offerings to the fact that the biggest plays that are touring -- Twelve Angry Men and Doubt -- are part of the current season.

Here's a closer look:

The Wedding Singer (Sept. 11-23). Baltimore-born producer Margo Lion brought this adaptation of Adam Sandler's 1998 movie to the musical stage. The romantic, 1980s-era musical recounts the budding relationship between two people who work at a wedding catering hall -- a rock-star wannabe and a waitress.

My Fair Lady (Nov. 6-18). Director Trevor Nunn's revival of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion will be headlined by two of its British stars, Christopher Cazenove as Professor Henry Higgins and Lisa O'Hare as the flower seller he's determined to turn into a lady.

Avenue Q (Dec. 11-23). A funny, mature tale of a group of struggling, twentysomething New Yorkers, this sassy puppet musical explores issues ranging from racism to sexuality (yes, there's even puppet sex). Two puppeteers from the show will be at the Hippodrome today, participating in the season announcement.

Cirque Dreams (Jan. 22-Feb. 3). Created by Neil Goldberg, whose Cirque Ingenieux played the Lyric Opera House a decade ago, this high-flying jungle fantasy takes place in a magic forest and features an international cast of aerialists, contortionists and strong men.

High School Musical (Feb. 19-March 2). Disney's 2006 TV movie -- about a brain and a jock who find common ground when they sing -- takes to the stage in a production that adds two new songs to the movie score. The show is one of several spinoffs of what could be called High School Phenomenon. A concert tour went out this season; an ice tour is planned for next season; and a TV sequel, High School Musical 2, airs this summer.

Camelot (March 25-April 6, 2008). Michael York (whose best-known movies include Cabaret, The Three Musketeers and the Austin Powers trilogy) stars as King Arthur in Lerner and Loewe's tuneful account of the love triangle involving Arthur, Guenevere and Lancelot.

The Color Purple (April 29-May 25). Oprah Winfrey presents this uplifting musical based on Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1982 novel and Steven Spielberg's 1985 film. The show chronicles four decades in the life of a woman who progresses from a victim of abuse to proud self-sufficiency.

The Hippodrome is also announcing two nonsubscription offerings: Hairspray will make its third visit to Baltimore Oct. 16-21, and Menopause The Musical will take up residence in the M&T Pavilion beginning June 27 for what Chowning expects to be a six-month run.

The parent company that manages the Hippodrome, Live Nation, recently announced plans to divest most of its North American theatrical business assets, including its subscription series, Broadway Across America, and its interest in seven major markets, including Baltimore.

This week, Chowning minimized concerns about the impact of the proposed sale. "It's not going to affect the way that we do business," he said, referring to the fact that the company that books and manages the Hippodrome has had three different ownership entities in seven years.

Jack Vlautin, vice president of communications for Live Nation, also said, "We do not expect the upcoming season to be affected by this potential sale."

Subscriptions to the current season totaled 13,800, up from 11,000 the previous season.

Subscriptions to the seven-show 2007-2008 season cost $154-$612 and are on sale now. Call 800-343-3103 or visit Broadway AcrossAmerica.com.

j.wynn.rousuck@baltsun.com

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