There isn't necessarily a theme to the Walton Arts Center's new Broadway lineup, but looking at the shows just announced for the venue's 2019-20 season, one thing does stand out. "New, new, new, new, new," says Scott Galbraith, WAC executive producer and vice president of programming.
"Our audiences are always clamoring for the latest and greatest to come directly from Broadway," Galbraith shares. "And typically we're able to get one, two, shows a year that are in that category -- that are brand new from the season before, recent award-winners or in their first year of touring. This year, we have an abundance of them."
The new season offers seven shows; six are official Broadway premieres for the entire state, and five are embarking or are already on their first national tour. There are 2018 Tony winners, including Best Musical and Best Musical Revival. Northwest Arkansas has stepped into the big leagues of Broadway presenters as the shows traveling to larger markets straight from Broadway also make Fayetteville a stop in their first year.
"It is unlike any season we've been able to put together before," Galbraith enthuses.
"I was in Chicago two weeks ago and saw two of the shows we're doing next season on their next season, and then they had two or three we're doing this season on next season," adds Jennifer Ross, WAC director of programming. "For us, it means that the industry is taking notice of Northwest Arkansas."
The first of those Arkansas debuts opens the regular Broadway season in October as audiences enjoy a few cheeseburgers in paradise with "Escape to Margaritaville." The colorful, beach-side romp is everything you would want from a musical put together of Jimmy Buffett songs, Ross affirms.
Following the sure-to-be sing-along season opener, the WAC hosts the season's only nonmusical in November. "The Play That Goes Wrong" closed on Broadway just after the start of the year and was dubbed by Huffington Post "the funniest play Broadway has ever seen!" Ross describes the play-within-a-play -- where a local theater company strives to put on a show in spite of, as the title suggests, more than a few mishaps -- as Agatha Christie meets Monty Python.
"We as an institution try to present plays as well as musicals in the Broadway series. Not every market does that, and in fact, they're becoming more and more rare," Galbraith explains. "The fact that this is one of the most fall-down funny plays you will ever see in your life only makes it that much more sweet to be able to do it. I've seen a lot of comedies, and this one just keeps pushing farther and farther past the line of believability. And yet you believe it."
The classic holiday favorite-turned-musical making its Arkansas debut in December was set to music by the same songwriting and composing duo that worked on Tony-winner "Dear Evan Hansen" and Oscar-winner "La La Land." "A Christmas Story: The Musical" is a "home run of a musical," Galbraith says, as it stands up on its own as a piece of theater, but also lives up to the weight of its status as a beloved holiday tradition.
Bring up the 2018 Tony winner of Best Revival of a Musical in front of Galbraith, and you'd better be ready for an enthusiastic response.
"One of my favorite shows of all time!" he gushes over "Once on This Island." The story of an island girl rescued by the gods from a hurricane's devastation explores how love and loss can bring people together.
"I love this show," Galbraith continues. "I love how simple the story is. I love how complex the situation is. The music is compelling and engaging, and it just has that authentic Caribbean feel to it. It transports you, and this particular production moved me to tears because it was so clever. It creates some real artistic brilliance that just has to be seen."
From the French Antilles archipelago in the Caribbean Sea, Walton Arts Center travels next to Russia and Paris with the stage adaptation of "Anastasia." Inspired by the 1997 animated film, the musical keeps six of the movie's most beloved songs and reunites the original lyricist and composer to flesh out the show with all new music.
"It's such a pretty story," Ross says warmly. "When I saw this, I thought, 'Oh my gosh, they brought Technicolor to the stage.' It's just tremendous. Their use of projection is just thrilling, the costuming is gorgeous, and the music is lush."
One of Broadway's most iconic stories and the only returning show in next year's regular season, director Bartlett Sher's reimagining of "Fiddler on the Roof" imbues the classic story with freshness and renewed authenticity. Northwest Arkansas audiences previously saw Sher's work with his stunning revival of "The King and I" two seasons ago. Patrons can translate that technique to "Fiddler" to get of sense of how the theater staple has been reinvigorated, Ross says.
"'The Band's Visit' transported me," shares Ross of the final production of the season. "It is a quiet musical. If they had warmed up the theater a little bit, I would have thought I was in the desert. It's just so different than pretty much anything I've ever seen. It's about people who wind up in the wrong place, but they're taken in by strangers, so it's about hospitality. It's about feeling like you're missing out on life and then realizing you're not."
The unassuming musical took the theater world by storm and made a sweep at last year's Tony Awards, with a story that uses music and our shared humanity to overcome differences.
"People haven't heard of the third most-awarded show in Broadway history! But they're going to get to see it here in its first year, along with the major markets in the country," Galbraith says. "That's the essence of this Broadway series."
“Escape to Margaritaville”*
Welcome to Margaritaville, where people come to get away from it all — and stay to find something they never expected. Get ready for a hilarious and heartwarming musical with the most unforgettable songs from one of music’s greatest storytellers.
“The Play That Goes Wrong”*
A riotous comedy about the theater, the play follows the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society who are attempting to put on a 1920s’ murder mystery. As the title suggests, everything that can go wrong does, as the accident-prone thespians battle on against all odds to get to their final curtain call.
“A Christmas Story: The Musical”
This Christmas classic chronicles young and bespectacled Ralphie Parker as he schemes his way toward the holiday gift of his dreams, an official Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-Shot Range Model Air Rifle. An infamous leg lamp, outrageous pink bunny pajamas, a maniacal department store Santa and triple-dog-dare to lick a freezing flagpole are just a few of the distractions that stand between Ralphie and his Christmas wish.
“Once on This Island”*
Feb. 11-16, 2020
Winner of the 2018 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical, “Once on This Island” is the sweeping tale of Ti Moune, a fearless peasant girl in search of her place in the world, and ready to risk it all for love. With a score that is full of life from Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, the Tony Award-winning songwriters of “Anastasia” and “Ragtime,” “Once on This Island” is a timeless testament to theater’s unlimited possibilities.
March 10-15, 2020
Inspired by the beloved films, “Anastasia” was declared “one of the most gorgeous shows in years” by the New York Observer. This dazzling show transports audiences from the twilight of the Russian Empire to the euphoria of Paris in the 1920s, as a brave young woman sets out to discover the mystery of her past, and find home, love and family.
“Fiddler on the Roof”
April 14-19, 2020
“Fiddler on the Roof” is the moving story of fathers and daughters, husbands and wives, and life, love and laughter. A classic musical, rich with Broadway hits, “Fiddler” includes the praiseworthy songs “To Life (L’Chaim!),” “If I Were a Rich Man,” “Sunrise Sunset,” “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” and “Tradition.” This acclaimed revival proudly introduces a new generation to the iconic musical adored around the globe.
“The Band’s Visit”*
May 19-23, 2020
One of the most Tony Award-winning musicals in history, the story of “The Band’s Visit” starts when a mix-up happens at the border and an Egyptian Police Band is sent to a remote village in the middle of the Israeli desert. Under the spell of the desert sky, their lives become intertwined in the most unexpected ways.
BONUS — Tickets to a brand new production from the Blue Man Group in September and the return of “The Book of Mormon” in July 2020 can be purchased as season add-ons.
COST — Seven-show subscription packages range from $316 to $515; Broadway subscriptions are on sale now, with single tickets available in the summer
INFO — 443-5600, waltonartscenter.org
NAN What's Up on 03/17/2019
Print Headline: Fresh Faces