As California Musical Theatre announces its 2016-17 Broadway Sacramento season, the company will focus as much on the building it presents in as what it puts on the stage.
If CMT’s Richard Lewis has his wish, this new season will be last before drastic renovations begin on the over-40-year-old Community Center Theater in the summer of 2017.
The six-show season opens in October with “The Sound of Music” and continues through May 2017 with a reconfigured “The Phantom of the Opera.”
The season also includes “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas,” “Kinky Boots,” “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” and “The Bodyguard.”
While advocacy for the theater renovation represents a new direction for CMT (it has created Transform916.com for social media), the selection of shows represents business as usual for the presenter. And business has been good. Since a 2010-11 season decision to book most shows for one week rather two, CMT has been in the black after nearly crashing with everything else for two years.
The new season’s shows include back-to-back presentations of best musical Tony Award winners: 2013’s “Kinky Boots,” written by Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper; and 2014’s “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder,” written by Robert Freedman and Steven Lutvak. There’s a show CMT is actually an investor in and producer of, “The Bodyguard”; an old reliable, “The Phantom of the Opera”; and an oldie but a goodie, “The Sound of Music.”
For Richard Lewis, president and CEO of the organization that presents the Broadway series and produces the summer Music Circus, putting together the fall and spring touring show schedule has become equal parts foresight, negotiation and creative compromise.
“The Phantom of the Opera,” which closes the season, still has enough audience cachet to rate an extended engagement despite this being the show’s fourth iteration in Sacramento. Since this production has been “re-thought” and re-designed, Lewis had to bring in a structural engineer to ensure the CCT could physically handle the show’s new requirements. “We had to do a new survey of the building to make sure the show didn’t weigh too much for the stage and that it would fit,” he said.
“The chandelier is different. It’s still a chandelier, but it doesn’t do what the last one did. … You have to have a whole new place to hang it – create a new structural support point for where the chandelier has to hang this time,” Lewis said.
“The Sound of Music” is nothing if not familiar, Music Circus has produced it 12 times, most recently in 2008. Yet when Lewis was trying to fill the November slot and the title came up, he realized the company had never presented the show on a proscenium stage, only in the round. “I just think it’s pretty cool, to finally present it this way,” Lewis said.
The production may have a cast that includes Paige Silvester, who was born and raised in Sacramento. Silvester has been on the tour in the role of the daughter Liesel.
“Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” was last in Sacramento in 2006. “This is one of those – like ‘Elf’ – that has a really limited life span (in terms of touring schedule),” Lewis said, adding that he was lucky to secure it particularly, considering where it’s coming from.
“In this case we’re back-to-back with San Francisco, which is really interesting because perhaps some of the competitive relationship may be disappearing,” Lewis said. Productions had been averse to booking tours that include the two cities in the same cycle, feeling there was an overlap in the markets.
That symbolic sign of progress, though, gives way to a more tangible challenge. What to do with the building where Broadway Sacramento presents the national touring productions? Built in 1974, the Community Center Theater sits across L Street from Capitol Park at the east end of what was once the K Street mall. At the other end of K Street and essentially the other end of the building spectrum sits the Golden One Arena, taking shape for its fall opening.
CMT has always presented in the 2,350-seat auditorium, needing the structure’s audience capacity and infrastructure for production requirements. However, there is agreement the current building doesn’t work any more for multiple reasons, and a change is needed. CMT has settled on a renovation option that will keep the building open for seasonal use during a three-to-four-year construction cycle.
“We think it’s important to use common sense. The current location is perfect,” Lewis said. “We want to transform the CCT into a iconic structure in a signature location.”
He believes the theater can have the same effect on the east end of K Street that the new arena is having at the west end. “Let us now have two solid anchors and therefore all of the blocks in between will transform themselves,” Lewis said.
Transformation has become central to Lewis’ vision. He said a preliminary rough estimate of the project’s cost puts it at $75 million to $80 million, but added it won’t be known until the details are settled.
“We need to take the 13th Street wall and push it all the way out to the sidewalk. We need to take the L Street wall and push that out towards L Street as far as we can,” Lewis said. “There will be complete ADA compliance, new lighting, sound and set technology, significantly larger lobby space, more bathrooms, and a larger modern loading dock.”
Lewis also wants to change completely how the structure appears from the outside – “lots of glass at the street level so people can understand this is a place of public gathering.”
The key for Lewis and the other users of the building, including the Sacramento Ballet, Sacramento Philharmonic & Opera, Sacramento Speakers Series and Sacramento Choral Society & Orchestra, is to accomplish the transformation without closing the building.
Lewis said he would like the exterior work to be done year-round while the interior work “would be restricted to the months of June, July, August and September over three of four different summers,” Lewis said. “We all want to see the audience mildly inconvenienced by temporary entrances, by sheets of plastic and sheets of plywood, but seeing visibly the transformation process.”
Just where the whole plan stands will be more clear after the City Council receives recommendations on the theater from the city manager. Those are expected Tuesday, April 19.
Broadway Sacramento 2016-17 Season
What: California Musical Theatre has announced its upcoming lineup:
- “The Sound of Music,” Wednesday-Sunday, Oct. 26-Nov. 6
- “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas,” Tuesday-Sunday, Dec.27-Jan. 1
- “Kinky Boots,” Tuesday-Sunday, Jan. 31-Feb. 5
- “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder,” Tuesday-Sunday, March 7-12
- “The Bodyguard,” Tuesday-Sunday, April 18-23, 2017
- “The Phantom of the Opera,” Wednesday-Sunday, May 17-28, 2017
Where: Productions presented at Community Center Theater, 1301 L St., Sacramento
Cost: $123-$433 for five- or six-show season subscription, on sale Monday, April 11; single-show tickets ($25-$88) will go on sale in the fall.
Information: 916-557-1999, BroadwaySacramento.com, or Wells Fargo Pavilion Box Office, 1419 H St., Sacramento.