You can debate whether the 2019-20 PNC Broadway Lights season at Blumenthal Performing Arts is the edgiest, hippest, most balanced or most kid-friendly in recent memory. One thing’s sure: It’s the newest.
Theatergoers have become accustomed to seeing eight shows in that series that have never come to Charlotte, usually with a ninth tacked on as an option. The Broadway Extras slate, sold not as a season but show by show, brings back old favorites.
Yet the upcoming season has too many first-time visitors to cram into the available slots. So two local premieres, one a musical nominated for 12 Tony Awards last year, have been added to the Extras roster.
“This Broadway Lights season is heavy on family-friendly shows, so we wanted to put ‘The SpongeBob Musical’ into the Extras series for variety,” explains Tom Gabbard, president and CEO of the Blumenthal. “And ‘The New Colossus’ is a play; not everyone who buys season tickets to Broadway Lights wants one of those.”
They’ll already get a nonmusical Lights entry in the set-destroying farce “The Play That Goes Wrong.” But Blumenthal continues to offer up to four ticket exchanges to any of its other presentations, a flexibility Gabbard thinks may be unique to this facility. (You can even ask staffers to advise you.) If one songless show is too many, swap it out.
Seven of the 16 productions will run in Ovens Auditorium, an unusually high number. That mostly reflects Blumenthal’s eternal juggling act between commitments to local organizations (which prefer the Belk and Knight Theaters) and available dates in tour schedules. Gabbard says only the massive “Wicked,” which will play over the Christmas holidays in 2020, chooses Ovens to maximize ticket sales.
This Broadway Lights series ranges from $200 to $805.50 for the eight-show package, not including fees. (Prices have yet to be set for the package with the optional ninth show.) Season subscriptions are on sale through May 24, and Blumenthal continues its Ticket Protect program this year: For about half of what one show in a season package costs, insurance provides refunds if you can’t attend due to dangerous weather, illness, accidents, etc.
You can get information or subscriptions by visiting BlumenthalArts.org/Broadway, calling 704-335-1010 or going to the Belk Theater box office, 130 N. Tryon St., Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
PNC BROADWAY LIGHTS
“Once on This Island,” Nov. 12-17, 2019 (Belk) – This show takes place on a spot in the French Antilles, where relatives and other forces separate young lovers. The 1990 version relied more on fantasy, but the one that recently closed on Broadway — which won a 2018 Tony for best revival of a musical — immerses you more thoroughly in the lives of island inhabitants.
“The Play That Goes Wrong,” Nov. 19-Dec. 1, 2019 (Knight) – The title says it all. Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields wrote the winner of the 2015 Olivier Award (Britain’s Tony) for best new comedy, in which an underfunded amateur dramatic society mounts a murder mystery that collapses when actors and technicians inadvertently destroy it.
“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” Dec. 10-15, 2019, (Ovens) – The show includes “The Candy Man” (although the London version didn’t) and “Pure Imagination,” but other songs from the 1971 film about Willy Wonka’s emporium have been supplanted by a new score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Broadway’s “Hairspray”). Expect significant special effects..
“Come From Away,” Jan. 7-12, 2020 (Belk) – Christopher Ashley won a 2017 Tony for directing this gentle musical about a Newfoundland town, which embraces 7,000 stranded passengers and crew members who end up there when incoming planes are grounded on September 11, 2001. He’s also directing the national tour of this show, which is based on a true story.
“My Fair Lady,” Jan. 21-26, 2020 (Ovens) – Speaking of directors, Bartlett Sher has spent much of the last 12 years re-examining famous musicals, from “South Pacific” to “The King and I” to “Fiddler on the Roof.” Charlotte has seen the first two and will find out what he’s done with this Lerner and Loewe classic about the speech professor who transforms a Cockney flower girl.
“Anastasia,” April 28-May 3, 2020 (Ovens) – Composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens (“Once on This Island”) scored the 1997 animated musical film; it tanked but, like “Newsies,” found so much love via home video that it spawned a Broadway show. The heroine suspects she’s the rightful heir to the throne of Romanovs killed during the Russian Revolution.
“Jesus Christ Superstar,” July 28-Aug. 2, 2020 (Belk) – Gabbard saw the original arena show staged at Fillmore West in the early 1970s, which relied on lights and a scaffolding set to present the stripped-down story of the last days of Jesus. He says this version, which started in 2016 at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in London, goes back to those hard-rocking roots.
“Disney’s Frozen,” Oct. 7-18, 2020 (Belk) – This is not stripped down: Disney added elaborate effects and a dozen new songs by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez to the highest-grossing animated film of all time. Illness prevented Anderson-Lopez’s mother, who lives here, from attending the Broadway run, so this will be her first chance to see this revision.
“The New One,” Oct. 8-13, 2020 (Knight) – Mike Birbiglia’s one-man shows cross the lines connecting theater, stand-up and memoir. (He’s an expert at self-revelatory storytelling.) The title character in this one is the baby he and his wife decided to have as Birbiglia approached 40.
“Les Misérables,” Oct. 29-Nov. 3, 2019 (Ovens) – Nothing to tell about the Cameron Mackintosh revival of this brilliant adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel, except for one thing: Gabbard says this will be Charlotte’s last chance to see the full-scale production on tour.
“Jersey Boys,” Dec. 6-8, 2019 (Ovens) – Same as “Les Misérables:” Last chance to see the full-scale touring version of this biography of the Four Seasons’ rise, fall and rise.
“The New Colossus,” Jan. 28-Feb. 2, 2020 (Knight) – The title comes from the Emma Lazarus poem inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty. Tim Robbins directed this 2017 production, written by the ensemble of the L.A.-based troupe The Actors’ Gang. It “celebrates the courage and great character of the refugees who came to this country throughout the last 300 years.”
“Riverdance: 25th Anniversary,” April 7-12, 2020 (Belk) – The undying revue of Irish song and dance has accommodated other kinds of ethnic performers over the years; this one promises new music and choreography.
“Blue Man Group,” April 24-26, 2020 (Ovens) – This unique, loud, bizarre show has run for three decades internationally since its premiere on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
“The SpongeBob Musical,” June 16-21, 2020 (Belk) – This was “SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical” when it won a Tony last year for scenic design. Nickelodeon now figures everyone knows the cuddly yellow protagonist by one name, like Beyoncé. This tells of his undersea adventures with Patrick and Squidward in the town of Bikini Bottom.
“Wicked,” Dec. 9, 2020-Jan. 10, 2021 (Ovens) – This five-week run should accommodate everyone who wants to see (or see again) the musical tale about the origins of the supposedly evil Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz.”