'Hairspray' will return to 5th Ave. next season
Seattle Times theater critic
"Hairspray," the Tony Award-winning musical romp based on a popular John Waters film, launched its world premiere at the 5th Avenue in 2002. It returns on its first national tour to open the company's new season with a Sept. 7-26 run.
Other productions in the lineup:
• "Smokey Joe's Cafe," a fresh version of the long-running Broadway hit revue based on the pop tunes of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, includes such golden oldies as "Jailhouse Rock" and "Stand By Me." Last seen here in a touring edition at Paramount Theatre in 1998, the show will be produced by the 5th Avenue with a largely local cast and run Oct. 19-Nov. 7.
• "Peter Pan" returns in what is being billed as the "farewell tour" of a long-traveling production starring former gymnast Cathy Rigby as Peter. It will play Dec. 1-19.
• "Singin' in the Rain," the stage rendition of the classic movie musical about early Hollywood, gets a new co-production by 5th Avenue and Sacramento's California Musical Theater. It runs Feb. 13-March 5, 2005.
• "Miss Saigon," a new staging of the mega-hit Vietnam War pop-musical based loosely on the opera "Madame Butterfly." The production originated at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, and is touring to other cities also. Runs here April 5-24, 2005.
• "We Will Rock You," a lucrative London hit based on the hard-driving electric music of Queen. Coming to the 5th Avenue on its first American tour, May 31-June 19, 2005, the show may be Broadway-bound in future.
Apart from "Peter Pan" and "Singin' in the Rain," the season is light on the more traditional American musicals the 5th Avenue company has often relied on, and heavier on shows with pop and rock scores.
5th Avenue artistic director David Armstrong says this is mostly a coincidence. "It's just the way the pieces fell into play, with tours and rights to older shows and other things," he explains.
But he adds that the baby-boomer crowd has become a major bloc within the 5th Avenue's ranks of 27,000 season subscribers. And this demographic group seems keenly receptive to musicals that dance to a rock drumbeat, including "Hairspray" and "Smokey Joe's Cafe."
"We baby boomers grew up listening to pop music on the radio and show music on the family record player," notes Armstrong. "We have both the Beatles and 'My Fair Lady' in our fiber."
He's hopeful that boomers, and their children, will also take a shine to "We Will Rock You," which Armstrong says is in the style of "Mamma Mia," a show based on Abba tunes, "in that it's taken songs everyone knows and invented a story to go around them. But I find it more successful than 'Mamma Mia' in being an incredibly fun and raucous ... a hybrid mix of theater and rock 'n' roll concert."
Such high-recognition titles as "Hairspray" (which sold out much of its pre-Broadway run here), and "Miss Saigon" (a repeat visitor to Seattle before its long-running national tour ended) may give the 5th Avenue a box-office boost it could use.
Subscription levels held steady over the past year, but single-ticket sales have been "about 10 percent under our goals across the board," Armstrong reveals. "Fortunately, we had a break-even budget to begin with, and we still think with frugality we can wind up even for (the 2003-04) season."
Misha Berson: email@example.com
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