California Musical Theatre is still listening to its Music Circus audience. Similar to the last two seasons, the new schedule of productions is heavily influenced by patron choices.
The five-show summer season in the Wells Fargo Pavilion, announced today, consists of musicals appearing in the top 10 of last year’s end-of-season survey of more than 30 productions.
This will be the 64th Music Circus season for the only professional theater in the round west of the Mississippi.
“One thing we’ve all decided is to look at the audience we have and decide what they’re looking for on many levels,” artistic director Glenn Casale said.
In response to audience comments, all evening shows this year will have 7:30 p.m. curtains. There will also an added Sunday matinee for all productions.
The new season is “A Chorus Line” (June 24-29), “Mary Poppins” (July 8-13), “South Pacific” (July 22-27), “Brigadoon” (Aug. 5-10) and “La Cage Aux Folles” (Aug. 19-24).
“This season, probably more than any previous season, is the top of the list,” CMT’s executive producer Scott Klier said. “The audience dictated it.”
Casale said the interest in “Chorus Line” was particularly surprising to him.
“Why are (audiences) so interested in it again?,” he asked. “I think it’s because ‘Chorus Line’ is really a reality show. It’s one of the first reality shows we’ve seen, watching those kids go through that routine and trying to decide who’s going to get a Broadway show. I think that’s what the fascination is.”
The legendary, original Broadway production directed by Michael Bennett (with a book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Edward Kleban), opened July 25, 1975, and ran for nearly 15 years and 6,137 performances. It won nine Tony Awards in 1976, including best musical. The show also won the Pulitzer Prize for drama that year.
Following “Chorus Line” is “Mary Poppins,” which extends Casale’s and the Music Circus’ relationship with Disney Theatricals.
Disney has hired Casale to direct several of their shows abroad, so he has strong ties to the company. Subsequently California Musical Theatre enjoys access privileges to Disney works other producers likely covet.
“We’ve been so successful with having a Disney show the last couple of years that I went to them and said what can we have next year?” Casale said. “They said ‘Mary Poppins.’ ”
With the high-profile film “Saving Mr. Banks” – starring Tom Hanks as Walt Disney negotiating the film rights with Emma Thompson’s P.L. Travers, the author of the Poppins books – in theaters, Casale believes the musical will have even more resonance with people who’ve seen the film.
“It will be fun for us to tell this story now because stories are just so much clearer in the round,” he said.
“I’m going to change it around, make it for our space,” Casale said.
The musical’s book is written by Julian Fellowes, creator of “Downton Abbey,” who went back to Travers’ books for the characters rather than the Disney movie versions.
In addition to directing “Poppins,” Casale also plans to direct “South Pacific,” the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, and “Brigadoon,” from the pens of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe.
“I’ve never done ‘South Pacific’ in (the Wells Fargo Pavilion) and it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do,” Casale said. “The revival (Broadway 2008) was so well done, so fresh, I think we can a do a nice job on it here.”
Klier said “Brigadoon” is the only musical that successfully incorporates fantasy into its narrative; Casale will also direct that production as well.
The season-ending production “La Cage Aux Folles” will be directed Tony Spinosa, a long-time veteran of the show, using a revised book from the show’s theatrical adapter, Harvey Fierstein.
“There’s a new version that Harvey licensed that was on Broadway with Douglas Hodge and Kelsey Grammer,” Casale said. “We’re going to do that version, which I think will fit great in the round space. It’s much more real. It was never a big, fluffy show. It was a small club (setting), like ‘Cabaret.’ It has that feel now.”
Casale said casting for the season will be “crucial.” As usual, the artistic director will see performers from around the country, with casting sessions in New York, Los Angeles and locally.
“The pressure’s on more than ever to find the triple threats” – people who can sing, act and dance – “in the business,” Klier added. “I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to stack the deck with really great talent that can carry all five of these titles.”
Call The Bee’s Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120. Follow him on Twitter @marcuscrowder.