Next season at the Hippodrome Theatre, a character in an iconic outfit will fly off the stage and into the house, soaring high above wide-eyed spectators.
The chances of a mishap during this show-stopping feat are just about nil, however, since we're not talking about the guy who is supposed to zip effortlessly through the air in that unlucky monolith of a musical called "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark."
Baltimore audiences will see instead a primly dressed woman with an umbrella over one arm — the famed governess who takes charge of children and adults alike in the well-traveled Broadway revival of "Mary Poppins." That's one of six musicals scheduled for the Hippodrome's 2011-2012 season.
"We've got the biggest brands in touring entertainment," said Jeff T. Daniel, vice president and executive director of the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, home of the Hippodrome.
In addition to "Mary Poppins," the Broadway series includes such proven commodities as "The Lion King," the Disney musical with a score by Elton John and Tim Rice and design/direction by Julie Taymor; the revelatory, Tony Award-winning revivals of "South Pacific" and "La Cage aux Folles"; and the apparently critic-proof musical adaptation of the "The Addams Family," a product of the creative team behind "Jersey Boys."
Also in the Hippodrome lineup is the 2010 Tony Award-winner for best musical, "Memphis," which recounts the story of a white disc jockey who was among the first to give airplay to black music in the 1950s.
For something completely different, the schedule also offers the autobiographical one-woman play by Carrie Fisher called "Wishful Drinking," which had a Broadway run during the 2009-2010 season. Fisher, daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, has a wickedly funny take on Hollywood and what it can do to a person.
The musicals slated for the Hippodrome are among the most popular Broadway products of recent vintage years. Only "The Lion King" has played Baltimore before.
"We're happy to bring it back," Daniel said. "It's one of the shows we opened the building with in 2005. The Hippodrome was renovated because there was need in the city for a state-of-the-art performing arts center to house larger, complex productions like this one."
The unprecedented (in Baltimore) 14-week run of "The Lion King" in 2005 produced $15 million in ticket sales. The return visit will be for a month, starting Dec. 7.
"The grosses for 'Lion King' and 'Mary Poppins' are tremendous everywhere they go," Daniel said. "Although 'Mary Poppins' and 'South Pacific' have played in Washington, I think they will do very well here. Our subscribers have been asking for 'South Pacific.'"
Maintaining a formula put into place last year, the Hippodrome season will offer a subscription package that includes four multiweek engagements: "Lion King," "Mary Poppins," "Wishful Drinking" and "The Addams Family." The latter opened last season on Broadway to a nearly unanimous grilling by critics but didn't suffer at the box office.
"The reviews didn't dissuade me at all," Daniel said. "It's a fun show with a great title that almost everyone is familiar with. When I saw it in New York and the theme music from the TV show started, everyone in the house went 'snap, snap' together. 'The Addams Family' is a guilty pleasure."
The limited runs for 2011-2012 include "South Pacific," the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical about love, loyalty and prejudice on an island during World War II. This Bartlett-Sher-directed revival opens the series on Dec. 7.
The other weeklong shows are "Memphis," written by Bon Jovi founding member David Bryan and Joe DiPietro; and "La Cage aux Folles," the Jerry Herman musical based on the popular French film about Georges and his drag queen partner Albin.
"Subscribers will get a first come-first served chance to add two or three of the limited engagements before tickets go on sale to the public," Daniel said. "There were 9,000 subscribers who jumped in last year before the public to get the best seats to 'Les Mis,' 'Blue Man Group' and 'Rock of Ages' this season."
Casting for the musicals has not been announced. Only one performer next season is known — Carrie Fisher. "Wishful Drinking" depends entirely on her presence.
"That show is a bit of a departure for us," Daniel said, "but I think our subscribers will really like it. It's a riot, an adult show with all the soupy details of [Fisher's] upbringing. It makes a great way to round out the season."
In addition to its Broadway products, the Hippodrome will focus on expanding the nonprofit side of its activities next season through the Hippodrome Foundation Inc. Daniel envisions collaborative relationships with a wide range of performing arts organizations.
"I love the Broadway tours," he said, "but I want to have resident companies here, too. We can play a role in helping a ballet company emerge here, for example. I'd be happy to collaborate with nonprofits in Maryland. We want to be a facilitator."
The 2011-2012 Hippodrome Theatre's Broadway season: "South Pacific" (Oct. 4-9), "La Cage aux Folles" (Nov. 1-6), "The Lion King" (Dec. 7- Jan. 8), "Wishful Drinking" (Jan. 31-Feb. 12), "The Addams Family" (March 6-18, 2012), "Memphis" (April 3-8), "Mary Poppins" (April 25-May 6, 2012). For subscription information, call 800-343-3103 or go to BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com/Baltimore.