Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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'War Horse' will be among the shows in Straz Center's Broadway lineup

TAMPA

War Horse was last season's surprise hit on Broadway, winning five Tony Awards, including best play, for its depiction of a horse's odyssey from the bucolic pastures of Devon, England, to the trenches of World War I.

It's adapted from English children's writer Michael Murpurgo's bestselling 1982 novel, War Horse, and is also a hit movie directed by Steven Spielberg. The play, still running at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theatre in New York, features life-sized horse puppets by South Africa's Handspring Puppet Company.

"I think War Horse is probably the most unique show we've got next season," said Judy Lisi, president of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, in announcing the 2012-13 Broadway series at the center.

"We were concerned because we weren't sure if they were going to be able to tour it," Lisi continued. "Logistically, it's very complicated. These horses are huge. The production is bigger than most musicals."

The Straz's Broadway bookings are as extensive as ever, with eight shows on the subscription series plus three nonsubscription specials, including the return of Wicked for the fourth time. The offerings include such current musicals as Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Sister Act and a revival of Cole Porter's Anything Goes. But Broadway has not been cranking out the kind of blockbuster shows lately that become pop cultural events transcending theater, such as The Phantom of the Opera or The Lion King. The last new touring show to spawn runaway ticket sales was Jersey Boys.

"We haven't had a blockbuster in six years," Lisi said. "It's nice when you get the big shows, but you can't rely on them. They're not always going to be there. When we have a big blockbuster, you'll see a bump in subscriptions, but then it will go back to your base." This season, the Straz Broadway series has about 8,500 subscribers, she said.

The next big thing for Broadway on the road will be The Book of Mormon, the smash musical that has a tour planned and will likely be on the Straz schedule for 2013-14, Lisi said.

There is a touch of irony in the opening show of the Broadway series next season, a revival of Jekyll & Hyde, the musical that put composer Frank Wildhorn on the map. Wildhorn, of course, wrote the musical Wonderland, which was developed by the Straz and opened and closed quickly on Broadway last season. Wildhorn had a second flop, Bonnie & Clyde, which closed last month.

"Poor Frank," said Lisi, who has not spoken to the composer recently. "I feel sorry for him. It's just so painful. But what can you do?"

There are several offbeat productions in the 2012-13 season. Traces is a Cirque du Soleil-style show from the Montreal troupe Les 7 Doigts de la Main (or Seven Fingers). Fans of the '80s have Flashdance: The Musical to look forward to. American Idiot, a nonsubscription show, is based on a Green Day album. The cabaret show 'S Wonderful is a tribute to George and Ira Gershwin in the Jaeb Theater.

John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.

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