As Music Circus approaches its 62nd season its 10th in the Wells Fargo Pavilion the organization has incorporated new ideas along with old ones as it reinvents itself.
For the first time since it began presenting shows in a canvas tent erected in a parking lot, the Music Circus schedule will have a dark week between each show.
There are five scheduled shows this year, down from the seven of the past several years. Each production has a six-day, eight-performance schedule except for "Disney's The Little Mermaid," the second show of the season. "Mermaid," a scheduling coup for the Music Circus, will run 12 performance days in consecutive weeks for 16 total performances.
In a throwback to old-school Music Circus times, artistic director Glenn Casale will direct all the shows except the last one. While Music Circus has been casting the best national musical theater talent available for many years, Casale has also upped the ante with a number of more visible stars. Headlining "The Music Man" will be the legendary Academy Award-winning Shirley Jones, who starred in the film version of the musical and has had a major film and television career along with her theater work.
Alongside Jones will be her son Patrick Cassidy, another nationally know theater and film presence. For other shows this season, Casale has signed Adrienne Barbeau ("Fiddler on the Roof"), Music Circus favorites Vicki Lewis and Eric Kunze (both in "The Little Mermaid"), Bob Amaral ("Fiddler on the Roof") and Beth Malone ("Grease"), giving the season more of a star presence than any in recent memory.
The show choices reflect the most requested and highest-rated titles on the Music Circus' annual surveys of what patrons indicate they'd like to see.
The changes in scheduling were conceived to combat a declining subscriber base, and so far they seem to be working. Music Circus reports an increase of 2,213 subscriptions this season over last season, with 8,782 in 2012 compared to 6,569 in 2011.
Associate producer Scott Klier came up with the idea of stretching the schedule after reflecting on the 2011 season.
"I feel that we collaboratively Glenn, myself, our team on and off stage gave close to the best season we possibly could last summer," Klier said. But the bottom- line numbers didn't support the onstage excellence, as subscriptions and overall attendance dipped in 2011 from the 2010 season. Total attendance in 2011 was 90,278, a drop of about 9 percent from 98,602 in 2010.
Through discussions with patrons and even some of his family members, Klier realized the the weekly Music Circus schedule had become an untenable treadmill for many people.
"What I was hearing was, 'Our schedule just doesn't allow us to go to the theater every week,' but every other week seems to be more reasonable," Klier said.
"I realized we needed to rethink what we're doing it was a puzzle: What if we did this; what if we did that. Through trial and error I arrived at this idea of giving our subscribers a week off," he said.
Not getting a week off will be Casale, who'll direct the first four shows of the season before giving way to James Brennan for the Gershwin finale "Crazy for You."
"I'm working a lot because I know all these shows in here," Casale said, sitting in the Wells Fargo Pavilion during an early "Grease" rehearsal.
"I'm also thinking we're going to do something new because a couple of them I haven't done in 10 years, and now we do things differently," he said.
"I feel differently about 'Grease' than a lot of people do. I think it's a fun show to do," Casale said. "It's about this bond these kids have that's what makes everybody go to it."
Casale said he personally recruited some of the season's stars and feels responsible for helming their productions.
"Shirley and Patrick doing 'Music Man' is the reason I'm doing it. I went to them and pitched them, and they both said, 'Yes.' So I can't say, 'Oh by the way, so-and-so is going to direct it.' It's Shirley, and I have to take care of her."
Casale's relationship with Disney Theatricals made the production of a re-imagined "The Little Mermaid" possible. Casale has directed both "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Little Mermaid" across Europe for Disney and was asked by the company to give the under-the-sea vehicle some artistic tweaks.
Casale in turn asked if he could stage it here. As a result, the Music Circus is the only theater in the United States with the rights, but it also has a production with new material and a new song never heard in this country before.
"With anything I do, I try to create a safe environment where people can be their most creative," Casale said.
"I told this 'Grease' cast today, 'I don't want anything fake. I want you to be creative and explore. I've cast you because I know you can give me what I want.'
"That's what people trust. They know I'll get my work done, they'll know I'll be prepared, and they know we take care of them here."
THE 2012 MUSIC CIRCUS SEASON
Music Circus productions are presented at the Wells Fargo Pavilion, 1419 H St., Sacramento. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday, at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Thursday and Saturday. Tickets are $30-$60. Tickets are available by phone at (916) 557-1999, online at www.tickets.com, or in person at the Wells Fargo Pavilion Box Office.
"Grease": Tuesday July 1
Credits: Book, lyrics, music by Jim Jacobs, Warren Casey. Director: Glenn Casale; choreographer: Patti Colombo; music director: Michael Rice.
Cast highlights: Kirsten Scott is cast as Sandy and Brandon Albright as Danny. Lesli Margherita plays Betty Rizzo. Beth Malone plays Marty and Melissa WolfKlain plays Jan.
CMT History: Fifth production by Music Circus; first production was 1980; most recent production was 2005.
Trivia: Original Broadway production opened Feb. 14, 1972, and ran for 3,388 performances, closing April 13, 1980. There were two subsequent Broadway productions, one running from May 11, 1994, to Jan. 25, 1998, and the other from Aug. 19, 2007, to Jan. 4, 2009. Original production nominated for seven Tony Awards in 1972; Adrienne Barbeau received 1972 Theatre World Award for best actress.
Miscellaneous: The songs "Hopelessly Devoted to You" and "You're the One That I Want" were not in the original Broadway production but were in the movie and will be in the Music Circus production.
"Disney's The Little Mermaid": July 1022
Credits: Book by Doug Wright; lyrics by Howard Ashman, Glenn Slater; music by Alan Menken. Director: Glenn Casale; choreographer: John MacInnis, music director: Craig Barna
Cast highlights: Vicki Lewis stars as Ursula, with Eric Kunze as Prince Eric. Jessica Grové is Ariel and Ron Wisniski plays Grimsby.
CMT History: Music Circus premiere
Trivia: Original Broadway production opened Jan. 10, 2008, and ran for 685 performances, closing Aug. 30, 2009.
Miscellaneous: Music Circus is the only venue in the United States granted rights to produce this show this year. The Music Circus production includes new songs not in the original Broadway production and will mark the first time the show has been staged in the round.
"The Music Man": July 31 Aug. 5
Credits: Book, lyrics, music by Meredith Willson. Director: Glenn Casale; choreographer: Dan Mojica; music director: Dennis Castellano
Cast highlights: Patrick Cassidy stars as Professor Harold Hill. Playing Mrs. Paroo will be Shirley Jones, and Brandi Burkhardt plays Marian Paroo.
Trivia: Original Broadway production opened Dec. 19, 1957, and ran for 1,375 performances, closing April 15, 1961. There were two subsequent Broadway productions, one running from June 522, 1980, and the other from April 27, 2000, to Dec. 30, 2001.
Miscellaneous: Patrick Cassidy will take the stage with his mother, Shirley Jones, who starred in the classic film version of the musical, as well as the classic television series "The Partridge Family."
"Fiddler on the Roof": Aug. 1419
Credits: Book by Joseph Stein; lyrics by Sheldon Harnick; music by Jerry Bock. Director: Glenn Casale; choreographer: Bob Richard; music director: Jeff Rizzo
Cast highlights: Bob Amaral plays Tevye, Adrienne Barbeau plays Golde, Ron Wisniski plays Lazar Wolf and Sacramento- based actors Michael Stevenson is Mordcha and Blair Leatherwood is the Rabbi.
CMT History: 12th production by Music Circus; first production was 1971; most recent production was 2006.
Trivia: Original Broadway production opened Sep. 22, 1964, and ran for 3,242 performances, closing July 2, 1972. There were four subsequent Broadway productions: Dec. 28, 1976, to May 21, 1977; July 9 to Aug. 23, 1981; Nov. 18, 1990, to June 16, 1991; Feb. 26, 2004, to Jan. 8, 2006.
Miscellaneous: Original production nominated for 10 Tony Awards in 1965, and won nine, including best musical, best composer & lyricist, best actor (Zero Mostel), best choreography (Jerome Robbins).
"Crazy for You": Aug. 28 Sept. 2
Credits: Book by Ken Ludwig; lyrics by Ira Gershwin; music by George Gershwin. Director: James Brennan; choreographer: Deanna Dys; music director: Dennis Castellano
Cast highlights: Noah Racey plays Bobby Child, Anne Horak plays Polly Baker, Aaron Serotsky is cast as Lank Hawkins, and Elisa Van Duyne will play Irene Roth.
CMT History: Third production by Music Circus; others were 1998 and 2005
Trivia: Opened Feb. 19, 1992, and ran for 1,622 performances, closing Jan. 7, 1996. Nominated for nine Tony Awards in 1992, and won three, including best musical, best choreography (Susan Stroman); also won Drama Desk Awards for outstanding musical and outstanding choreography (Susan Stroman). This Music Circus production will use the Susan Stroman choreography.
Miscellaneous: "Crazy for You" was originally billed as "The New Gershwin Musical Comedy," as it takes off from the Gershwin's 1930 musical "Girl Crazy," but the show includes songs from several other productions written by the Gershwins as well.