The Lexington Opera House will celebrate the 40th anniversary of its Broadway Live series with a lineup of favorites of the recent and distant past.
Common to the lineup, which was announced Wednesday night at a gala Opera House event, are critically acclaimed revivals of the older titles on the lineup. The season will open with a show that, believe it or not, is now 20 years old.
“Since it’s our anniversary, we’re going to open the season with the 20th-anniversary tour of Rent, which of course opened on Broadway in 1996, had an amazing 12-year run, won the Tony Award for best musical, and it has been at the Opera House twice before to huge crowds, sell-out crowds,” Lexington Opera House program director Luanne Franklin said. “But it has been quite a while since it has a tour, and this is the 20th anniversary.”
Rent pushed boundaries for Broadway audiences in its day, addressing drug use, the AIDS virus and homosexuality in the story of a group of artists living in poverty in New York. On tours through the region, its subject matter drew some detractors but also legions of devoted followers called “Rentheads” who followed tours and productions of the show, which is based on the Giacomo Puccini Opera La Boheme. SummerFest, the annual Lexington outdoor theater festival, presented its production of Rent in 2010.
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After getting started in September, the series will take a bit of a hiatus until January, in part because of the political season. Franklin said producers don’t like to present shows in October and November of an election year because it’s hard to market when so much political advertising dominates the airwaves.
“The TV stations are in sellout mode, and to get any kind of airtime, you have to pay through the nose,” Opera House marketing director Sheila Kenny said.
The new production will be the January presentation of Pippin in a tour based on the production that won the 2013 Tony Award for best revival of a musical. Franklin recalls seeing the last Pippin production to roll through the Broadway Live series. She was in the audience when Ben Vereen was leading the show.
Another hit revival will roll through in February, with Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s take on Cinderella.
“This is an absolutely beautiful show to not only introduce youth, but anyone who has never seen a Broadway show, because the moments on the stage are really magical,” Franklin said. It’s the show featured on the Opera House’s Broadway Buddies program, which seeks to introduce theater to underserved youth through tickets to the show and background classes on the theater and theater etiquette.
The anniversary season will include a non-musical play, the Neil Simon classic Barefoot in the Park, produced by the Montana Repertory Theatre Company, which has previously brought Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Great Gatsby to Broadway Live.
The season will end with another audience favorite that Franklin said audiences have clamored for since its original presentation: The Midtown Men, which features four of the original members of the Broadway smash Jersey Boys.
As is tradition, the Opera House announced a set of Variety Live shows along with the Broadway Series. They are the July production of Mary Poppins, the second annual show by the Lexington Theatre Company, which combines Broadway and area student and community talent on stage; Legends in Concert, which presents tack-sharp celebrity impersonators; and just three days before Christmas, two performances by Mannheim Steamroller, which has defined a modern seasonal sound.
Tickets for Broadway Live are on sale now, and season ticket buyers get the first crack at tickets to Variety Live shows.
Franklin said it’s an interesting year for the Broadway Live series, because a lot of Broadway’s recent hits, including 2013 best musical Tony Award winner Kinky Boots, are still touring primary markets and have yet to “tool down” productions for theaters such as the Opera House. The 2012 Tony-winning musical Once, which played the Opera House in April, was the only new show last season.
Series such as Broadway Live are important to the entire theatrical industry, Franklin said.
“In order for Broadway to survive, it needs the road market,” Franklin said. “It needs people who are willing to go to their hometowns and see these Broadway tours. It keeps the interest level high. So it’s important that we have Broadway Live at the Opera House.”
If you go
Broadway Live 2016-17
Rent, 8 p.m. Sept. 16, 2 and 8 p.m. Sept. 17, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sept. 18
Pippin, 8 p.m. Jan. 20, 2 and 8 p.m. Jan. 21, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Jan. 22
Cinderella, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 17, 1 and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 18, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Feb. 19
Barefoot in the Park, 8 p.m. March 17, 2 and 8 p.m. March 18, 2 p.m. March 19
The Midtown Men, 8 p.m. April 21, 2 and 8 p.m. April 22, 1 and 6:30 p.m. April 23.
Where: Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short St.
Tickets: Season tickets are on sale now, and start at $180. Packages include a variety of benefits from early chances to purchase other tickets to priority seating and club access.
Variety Live shows
Mary Poppins, presented by the Lexington Theatre Company, 7 p.m. July 14, 15, 1 and 7 p.m. July 16, 1 p.m. July 17 (Tickets on sale now for $35 to $80 at the outlets listed above)
Legends in Concert, 8 p.m. Oct. 29
Mannheim Steamroller, 3 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 22
Tickets to the last two shows can be bought as part of season ticket packages now and will be available to the general public later.