Arts & Theater

Yes, musical spinoffs work – here’s a whole season’s worth

Actress Lauren Zakrin plays Elle Woods in the Music Circus season opening production of “Legally Blonde.”
Actress Lauren Zakrin plays Elle Woods in the Music Circus season opening production of “Legally Blonde.” Randy Pench

The 66th Music Circus season opens with Lauren Zakrin as the indefatigable Elle Woods in the bright musical spinoff “Legally Blonde.” The contemporary, surprisingly empowering comedy was first a movie, but then all six of this season’s productions started off as something else before becoming musical theater. To preview the summer season in the round, we look at what will be onstage and where it came from.

Legally Blonde – June 14-19

The lowdown: Zakrin, who plays law student Elle here, made her Broadway debut in “Rock of Ages.” A castmate from that show, the Music Circus favorite Paul Schoeffler, returns for his ninth Music Circus season as Professor Callahan. Schoeffler has been seen here as Capt. Hook in “Peter Pan” and Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady.” His other Broadway credits include “Sweet Charity” and “Beauty and the Beast.” This is the Music Circus premiere of “Legally Blonde.” Michael Heitzman directs with choreography by Mara Newbery Greer.

The original: With music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Neil Benjamin and a book by Heather Hatch, the musical is based on the 2001 film with a screenplay by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, which was based on an Amanda Brown novel of the same name. The Reese Witherspoon-starring film was a surprise hit with both audiences and critics who were charmed by the star’s lively performance. The $18 million production grossed $141,774,679 and spawned two movie sequels. The musical opened on Broadway on April 29, 2007, and closed Oct. 19, 2008; it was nominated for seven Tony Awards but did not win any.

Hello, Dolly! – June 28–July 3

The lowdown: Lynne Wintersteller stars as matchmaker Dolly Levi. Wintersteller currently appears as Mrs. Shubert in the off-Broadway production of “Shear Madness.” Music Circus vet Jacquelyn Piro Donovan (the Wicked Witch in “The Wizard of Oz,” Nancy in “Oliver!” and Grizabella in “Cats”) plays Irene Malloy. She is the only actor in Broadway history to portray both Cosette and Fantine in “Les Misérables.” Sainty Nelsen, who played Ursula Merkle here in “Bye Bye Birdie,” returns as Ermengarde. Nelsen has a recurring role on TV’s “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll.” Glenn Casale directs with choreography by Randy Slovacek.

The original: Suggested by Thornton Wilder’s play “The Matchmaker,” the musical opened Jan. 16, 1964, on Broadway. The book was by Michael Stewart with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman. Carol Channing starred, of course. That production won 10 Tony Awards, running to Dec. 27, 1970, for a total of 2,844 performances. There have been three revivals; an all-black company made Broadway history with Pearl Bailey as Dolly and Cab Calloway co-starring.

Seussical the Musical – July 12-17

The lowdown: Leading the production as the Cat in the Hat will be Music Circus veteran Jason Graae (“Brigadoon,” “Sugar” and “The Music Man”), whose Broadway credits include “Falsettos,” “Snoopy!” and “A Grand Night for Singing.” A-list creators Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty crafted the musical’s book. The pair have also collaborated on “Ragtime” and “Once on This Island.” “Seussical” premiered on Broadway in 2000. This is its Music Circus premiere. Glenn Casale directs.

The original: Theodor Geisel’s first book “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” was rejected 27 times before a chance encounter on a New York street helped get the book published in 1937. Geisel then went on to become Dr. Seuss, writing and illustrating over 60 books (translated into 20 languages), selling over 600 million copies and winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1984, two Academy Awards, three Emmy Awards, three Grammy Awards, and three Caldecott Honors. The musical conflates several characters and plots from the good doctor’s works.

Cabaret – July 26-31

The lowdown: Robin de Jesús takes the key role of the Emcee. A two-time Tony nominee for his work in the 2010 revival of “La Cage Aux Folles” and as Sonny in the original production of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights.” Kaleigh Cronin, who has played Sally Bowles on Broadway, returns to the role here. She was on a national tour of “Jersey Boys” and in the world premiere of “A Bronx Tale” at Paper Mill. Casale directs the sixth Music Circus production of the musical by Tony winners John Kander and Fred Ebb.

The original: Christopher Isherwood’s short 1939 novel “Goodbye to Berlin” inspired John Van Druten’s 1951 play “I Am a Camera.” The Broadway musical based on the material was directed by Harold Prince and opened in November 1966, running for 1,166 performances and winning eight Tony Awards, including best musical. The 1998 revival won four Tony Awards, including best revival of a musical. Bob Fosse’s 1972 film version won Oscars for him and Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles.

Nice Work If You Can Get It – Aug. 9-14

The lowdown: Matt Loehr and Kristie Kerwin star as the mismatched lovers in Joe DiPietro’s modern screwball take on material by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse. Loehr, who plays poor little rich boy Jimmy Winter, was an original Broadway cast member of “The Producers,” “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” “Mary Poppins” and most recently was on Broadway as Elder McKinley in “The Book of Mormon.” Kerwin, cast as the erstwhile bootlegger Billie Bendix, has been on Broadway in “Dames at Sea” and “Spamalot.” Sacramento favorite Jamie Jones appears as Millicent Winter.

The original: There isn’t one really but there are several precursors. “Nice Work” is basically a jukebox construct pulling together some gems from the George and Ira Gershwin songbook. The title song was written for the 1937 film “A Damsel in Distress” and performed by Fred Astaire. “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” was written for another 1937 film “Shall We Dance” and also first performed by Astaire. “But Not for Me” was written for their 1930 musical “Girl Crazy” and sung there by Ginger Rogers. “Someone to Watch Over Me” was created for their 1926 musical “Oh, Kay!” Other songs are also pulled from the brothers’ films and revues.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame – Aug. 23-28

The lowdown: A powerhouse cast has been assembled by director Casale for the season finale. John McGinty, who makes his Music Circus debut as Quasimodo, has played Billy, the deaf member of a dysfunctional speaking family, in “Tribes” with the Guthrie Theater, Everyman Theater and Steppenwolf Theatre Company. McGinty was also in Deaf West Theatre’s production of “Pippin.” The elegant Olivier Award winner Lesli Margherita returns to Music Circus as the gypsy Esmeralda. Margherita was recently on Broadway in “Dames at Sea.” Eric Kunze, last seen here at Broadway Sacramento as the Prince in “The Little Mermaid,” plays Phoebus de Martin. Though based on the 1996 Disney film version of the story, “Hunchback” is darker and closer to the original novel in tone. The creative heavyweights are James Lapine, who wrote the book, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Though highly regarded in Europe, this musical version has had few American runs.

The original: Victor Hugo’s French Romantic Gothic novel was published in 1831. Originally titled “Notre Dame Cathedral,” the book was renamed by its English translator, Frederic Shoberl. An ensemble of characters from throughout society inhabit the narrative of this epic and influential work in which the cathedral is a distinct presence.

Marcus Crowder: 916-321-1120, @marcuscrowder

Music Circus season

When: Each musical runs for six days, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 2 p.m. matinees Thursday and Saturday; 3 p.m. Sundays.

Where: Wells Fargo Pavilion , 1419 H St., Sacramento

Information: 916-557-1999, the Box Office,, or online at

Cost: $45-$73; for “Seussical” $40 for children 4–12

Calculating Music Circus

A look at some of the numbers relevant to the 2016 Music Circus season:

  • 6 productions
  • 48 performances
  • 276 volunteer ushers
  • 388 staff members
  • 2,549 room nights at local hotels to house the actors, creative and production artists this season
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