March 24, 2013

Blumenthal Arts brings in biggest, freshest Broadway Lights season

All eight shows - including 'The Book of Mormon' - will be new to Charlotte.

Current Tony-winning musical, previous Tony-winning musical, current Tony-winning revival of a musical.

More shows than ever before and more opportunities to swap tickets you don’t want. And as of this year, no fee to join the pay-as-you-go plan.

That’s the biggest news about the 2013-14 Broadway Lights series from Blumenthal Performing Arts, which begins in November with Matthew Bourne’s new version of “Sleeping Beauty” and ends in autumn 2014 with “Once.”

In between come the revamped “Evita” and the revised “Porgy and Bess,” the lighthearted “We Will Rock You” and the deep-hearted “Ghost,” the frolicsome “Peter and the Starcatcher” and – wait for it – “The Book of Mormon,” which arrives Christmas week.

Throw in the seven shows in the Broadway Extras group, if we count the “Lion King” announced last year and coming this August, and you can see 16 productions overall.

Blumenthal president Tom Gabbard, who coordinated the season with vice-president of programming Douglas Young, says the Blumenthal has never offered so many titles before.

“We do try to match supply to demand,” he says. “Last year, we offered only two extra titles, because our sense was that the market here was fragile.

“This year, there are a variety of indicators that the market is strong. ‘Fela!’ had trouble selling tickets in other cities but sold out two nights here. We were at 95 percent on “Wicked” before it opened. And because we have only one multi-week run next season (‘Book of Mormon’), we’ve booked more titles.”

Theatergoers with sensitive ears will appreciate the move away from acoustically troubled Ovens Auditorium. The Blumenthal will place all these shows in its Belk, Knight, Booth or McGlohon theaters; it uses Ovens as a backup, when a long run keeps a show out of its own heavily booked venues.

“While we won’t be hosting any Broadway Lights events in the upcoming season, we know we’ll have many more opportunities to potentially partner with Blumenthal Performing Arts in the future,” said George Hite, general manager of Bojangles’ Coliseum and Ovens Auditorium. “Ovens will continue to uphold its 55-plus year legacy of entertainment through continued programming of quality events.”

People who like straight plays will be happy (and surprised) to learn that the Blumenthal is bringing three in one season for the first time: “Starcatcher,” the comedy “Potted Potter” (think of Reduced Shakespeare meeting J.K. Rowling) and “The Mountaintop,” Katori Hall’s fictional depiction of Martin Luther King Jr.’s last night before his assassination.

Traditionally, the Blumenthal has let season ticketholders swap one show in the series for any other production in its facilities, including the Charlotte Symphony, N.C. Dance Theatre or Opera Carolina. This year, you can swap two. (If the new ticket is more expensive, you pay the difference; if it’s less expensive, the Blumenthal gives a refund.)

Buyers have always been able to pay off their tickets over 10 months with credit-card deductions, and Gabbard says 40 percent of the buyers do that. But for the first time, that long-term plan carries no surcharge.

Most unusually, 13 of the 16 titles have never been here. That suits his desire to “set a high standard by trying to get first national tour companies.”

The biggest coup is “Book of Mormon,” which opened two years ago today on Broadway and still sells the highest percentage of available seats there.

Plays with religious themes can raise eyebrows in Charlotte, but Gabbard doesn’t expect the Tony winner to do so. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints even bought ads in the playbill for the Los Angeles run. One showed a man smiling next to the words “I’ve read the book.” Another had a smiling woman saying, “The book is always better.”

Says Gabbard, “In their quirky way, the show’s creators honor faith: What people believe is important. The Salt Lake City (News) called this show ‘sweet,’ and it is.”

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