Kristin Chenoweth's singing her way to Des Moines
The Des Moines Register's Michael Morain introduces this years Civic Center Broadway line up.
It’s play time again at the Des Moines Civic Center.
The 2016-2017 Willis Broadway Series will include a non-musical play, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” for the first time since the national tour of “War Horse” galloped to town in 2012 from the same director, Marianne Elliott.
More than 1,500 theater fans heard the news at the annual season-announcement party Tuesday night, when Des Moines Performing Arts leaders unveiled the Broadway lineup as well as the upcoming season’s offerings in music, dance, comedy and family-friendly theater, both at the Civic Center and the Temple for Performing Arts.
“The Curious Incident,” which won the 2015 Tony Award for Best Play for its account of a boy with Asperger’s syndrome, will share the season with the 2015 Tony winner for Best Musical, “Fun Home,” about a young lesbian’s complicated relationship with her gay dad. Other biggies on the schedule are “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” “An American in Paris,” an Alpine-fresh revival of “The Sound of Music,” and a concert with Broadway diva Kristin Chenoweth, who will sing a few showtunes with the Des Moines Symphony.
Three Broadway stars flew in Tuesday night for the big to-do. Jacquelynne Fontaine (from the recent national tour of "The Phantom of the Opera") sang "Climb Every Mountain" from "The Sound of Music," Sarah Bockel took a night off from the "Beautiful" national tour to sing the title song and "Natural Woman," and 10-year-old Alessandra Baldacchino performed a forthright take on "Ring of Keys" from "Fun Home."
DMPA has a solid track record of booking Tony-winning musicals within the first year or two of their national tours. The list includes “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” which visited last month, plus “Kinky Boots,” “Once,” “Memphis,” and “Billy Elliot.”
So it’s likely that “Hamilton,” the hottest musical on Broadway right now, will hit Des Moines in the next season or two — although DMPA President and CEO Jeff Chelesvig declined to offer any details during a recent interview.
But non-musical plays go on tour less often.
Chelesvig explained that non-musical plays usually follow a different path than their song-and-dance counterparts because plays usually have more competition. When producers balk at the financial risks of a 25- or 30-week national tour, the playwrights often release the rights to major regional theaters, like the Guthrie in Minneapolis and the Goodman in Chicago, or community theaters.
Here in Des Moines, the list of recent homegrown productions of Tony-winning scripts includes the Mark Rothko-inspired drama “Red” at the Des Moines Community Playhouse, “God of Carnage” from Repertory Theater of Iowa, plus “Clybourne Park” and “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” from StageWest.
But when non-musicals do go on national tour, DMPA signs right up.
“In the last 10 years, we’ve done just about every play that’s come our way,” Chelesvig said.
That includes memorable national tours of “Doubt,” “Twelve Angry Men” and the sharp-edged comedy “August: Osage County,” about an Oklahoma family reeling in the wake of their patriarch’s drowning.
As in the past, DMPA’s bargaining clout for the national tours benefits from its unusually large base of season-ticket subscribers. More than 10,800 Iowans bought tickets for the current season that wrapped up last week with “Cabaret.” That’s slightly up from the previous year, which is unusual in an era of endless entertainment competition from TV, Netflix and other livestreaming options.
But DMPA still wants to fill every seat. This year for the first time, patrons will be able to pay for Broadway subscriptions (which start at $161) and all the other series, in six installments rather than just two or three.
“That’s going to be a big deal for people who have thought about season tickets before but thought it was kind of pricey,” Chelesvig said.
Here’s a quick look at what’s ahead, coming to a stage near you.
Willis Broadway Series
The titles in the main five-show subscription are marked in bold.
Jason Robert Brown, the Tony-winning composed of “The Bridges of Madison County,” performs a cabaret concert at the Temple. Oct. 14 and 15.
“Rent” returns on its 20th anniversary. Nov. 25-27.
“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” traces the songwriter’s rise to fame. Dec. 6-11.
“Mamma Mia!” returns on a farewell tour. Jan. 17-22, 2017.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music” revives the classic with a new production from Los Angeles. Feb. 7-12, 2017.
Kristin Chenoweth sings showtunes with the Des Moines Symphony. Feb. 25, 2017.
“Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles” returns to honor the Fab Four. March 12, 2017.
“Jersey Boys” returns to do the same for the Four Seasons. March 14-19, 2017.
“Fun Home” turns Alison Bechdel’s 2006 bestselling comic-book memoir into a musical. April 4-9, 2017.
Stephanie Block, another Broadway star, sings at the Temple. April 21 and 22, 2017.
“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” adapts Mark Haddon’s 2003 mystery novel into a play. May 16-21, 2017.
“An American in Paris” revives the Gershwins’ classic with new Tony-winning choreography by Christopher Wheeldon. July 18-23, 2017.
Prairie Meadows Temple Comedy Series
“Triple Espresso,” which holds the state record for the longest-running show (106 weeks) returns for a refill of comedy from the bumbling vaudeville trio. Nov. 15 through Jan. 7, 2017.
“I See You Made an Effort” highlights lessons and indignities of middle age. Feb. 21 through March 12, 2017.
“One-Man ‘Star Wars’ Trilogy” skims through episodes IV, V and VI (the best ones, obviously) in 75 tidy minutes. April 4-9, 2017.
“The Male Intellect: An Oxymoron” returns for another attempt to explain the inexplicable. April 25- May 14, 2017.
Prairie Meadows Live at the Temple Concert Series
The series starts with the fiddling Quebe Sisters (Sept. 22), followed by flamenco guitarists Las Migas (Oct. 12), old-school jazzers The Hot Sardines (Oct. 29), the Fred Hersch Jazz Trio (Feb. 9, 2017), the Irish folk group Altan (March 21, 2017), the Afro-Mexican roots group Las Cafeteras (March 30, 2017) and bluesy soul singer Danielle Nicole (May 19, 2017).
The three-show series starts in 2017 with Kyle Abraham’s group, Abraham.In.Motion (Feb. 1), followed by a new take on “Beauty and the Beast” from the French-based Malandain Ballet Biarritz (March 28), and mix of contemporary works by Les Ballets Jazz du Montreal (April 27).
Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield Family Series
The lineup starts in 2017 with “A Year With Frog and Toad” (Jan. 14), a “Mother Goose” adaptation with the Enchantment Theatre Company and Des Moines Symphony (Feb. 18), “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” and other Eric Carle stories (March 25), “The Man Who Planted Trees” (March 26), “Grug and the Rainbow” (April 15) and the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble (April 22).