The 2011-12 Broadway series from Blumenthal Performing Arts tests the theory that you can't go wrong when a musical is set within hollering distance of the Holland Tunnel or Elvis' Presley's backyard.
The New York/New Jersey contingent is represented by the return of "Jersey Boys" for another three weeks at Belk Theater, by Frank Sinatra's elegant vocal presence in "Come Fly Away," and by the gangs dancing through Hell's Kitchen in "West Side Story."
The Tennessee Two this year are "Memphis," the R&B musical that won four 2010 Tonys, and "Million Dollar Quartet," which shows the magical moment when the Big E, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins crossed paths at Sun Studios in 1956.
The other entries in the Duke Energy Broadway Lights Series are set in lands of unreality, from the gloomily humorous den of "The Addams Family" to the imaginary nightclub of "La Cage Aux Folles" to the cheerleaders of "Bring It On."
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Even the Broadway Extras available outside the package take place in fantasy worlds: "Spamalot" in Monty Python's version of old England, "Beauty and the Beast" in a magical kingdom, "Stomp" in a realm of pure imagination and "Rock of Ages" in some alternate universe where 1980s power ballads by Journey and Twisted Sister qualify as immortal music. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)
Blumenthal President Tom Gabbard and Vice President of Programming Douglas Young have set a slightly smaller season for this coming year: 125 performances, down from 143. Only "Jersey" and "Quartet" (which will play the smaller Knight Theater) will get multiweek runs, while "Spamalot" nips into the Knight for just a three-day gig in February.
But as Gabbard notes, blockbusters don't always offer the best deals; the producers of a big, long-running show may demand a higher percentage of the income.
"The gross numbers don't tell you a lot," he says. "We think the net on this season will be where we need it to be to balance our budget."
His selling points this year are quality - "We want to play only in the world of the first national tour" - and freshness. Except for "Jersey Boys," none of the entries in the eight-show package has come to Charlotte in its current incarnation.
Consider the new "La Cage aux Folles," which won the Tony last year as best revival of a musical. This version, set in a less opulent club with a smaller line of Cagelle "chorines," focuses more on character than splendor. (The band was onstage on Broadway, though it may not be for this tour.)
The most innovative element will be unveiled before any curtain rises. By August, Blumenthal will use a new ticket system that lets you pick the seats you want, not the "best" seats a computer tries to assign. You'll be able to compare seat availability by days or forward seats you select as an e-mail attachment, so someone else can print out the ticket.
"I think people will love this system," says Young. "We'll provide snapshot views of the stage from every seat, so you can go online and see how far back or to the side you'd be."
Keen-eyed readers will note that all 12 of these offerings are musicals; for the third straight season, the PAC will host no straight plays. Gabbard says that's because "literally none were going out on the road."
A possible tour of the Tony-winning "Red" collapsed when the producers refused to let it play theaters with more than 600 seats. (That's a little more than half the seats in Knight Theater.) Jeff Daniels and Richard Thomas were prepared to travel with "God of Carnage," the 2009 Tony-winner for best play, but a San Francisco venue withdrew, and the tour was no longer feasible.
So musicals it is, for another year.
Here's the 2011-12 Broadway Lights series from Blumenthal Performing Arts. An asterisk indicates shows in the Broadway Lights package. Prices were in flux at press time; officials expected a slight increase in prime seats but lower prices for Tuesday and Wednesday mezzanine and balcony seats, maybe as low as $16 per show. Subscription packages will probably range from $126 to $664, depending on performance and seat. Details: BlumenthalArts.org/Broadway.
"The Addams Family,"* Ovens Auditorium, Oct. 11-16: Charles Addams' morbidly funny cartoons come to life, as the son of a straight-arrow family falls in love with somber Wednesday.
"West Side Story,"* Belk Theater, Nov. 1-6: The Leonard Bernstein-Stephen Sondheim masterpiece about gangs now has some Spanish-language lyrics for the Puerto Rican Sharks.
"Million Dollar Quartet,"* Knight Theater, Nov. 22-Dec. 11: The greatest rockabilly lineup ever met in Memphis 55 years ago; two were destined for Olympus and two for briefer success.
"Rock of Ages," Belk, Dec. 26-31: A would-be actress, aspiring rocker and urban planners cross paths in this L.A.-set musical, which uses pop songs from the 1980s as its score.
"Memphis,"* Ovens, Jan. 3-8: This musical is set in the 1950s, when rhythm 'n' blues crossed over from black to white fans. It's loosely based on the life of disc jockey Dewey Phillips.
"Spamalot," Knight, Feb. 17-19: King Arthur and his knights search for the Holy Grail (and maybe a nice piece of shrubbery) in this very silly adaptation of a very silly film.
"Jersey Boys"* (add-on), Belk, Feb. 22-March 11: This is the unstoppable musical about the trials and tribulations of the Four Seasons. Do Charlotteans love vocalist Frankie Valli? The PAC had to add a second date to his sold-out gig last month.
"Stomp," Belk, April 3-8: Percussionists knock out beats on items small and large, from cigarette lighters to garbage can lids to their own sweaty bodies.
"Bring It On,"* Belk, April 10-15: Not just a compilation of the five films about competing black and white cheerleading squads, but a new story about a white captain who transforms the team at an urban school after suddenly being transferred.
"Come Fly Away,"* Belk, May 1-6: Twyla Tharp choreographed a tale of love around 19 songs performed by Frank Sinatra. A live band will accompany vocals lifted off classic recordings.
"La Cage Aux Folles,"* Belk, May 29-June 3: A gay nightclub owner conceals his partnership with its leading man when his son wants to marry the daughter of a homophobic politician.
"Beauty and the Beast," Belk, June 26-July 1: The grand Disney musical about Belle, her daffy dad and her two beastly suitors - one a prince and one a preening bully - hasn't passed through Charlotte since 2002.