Zev Buffman is hoping that the yellow brick road leads to Ruth Eckerd Hall next season. A new stage version of The Wizard of Oz, with several additional songs by none other than Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, tops the hall's 2013-14 Broadway season. • "This Wizard of Oz, and I witnessed it in Toronto, is a technical marvel with projections and floating screens, and the yellow brick road has never been brighter," says Buffman, president of the Clearwater performing arts center. "Andrew and Tim got back together for the first time in 30 years, and they're using the same great songs from the MGM movie, but they added three extra songs to tell the story better. For example, they wrote a song for the Wicked Witch."
The new Wizard of Oz premiered in 2011 in London's West End, where it ran for more than a year, and the production is now playing in Toronto. Buffman, a longtime Broadway impresario who became Ruth Eckerd's chief executive less than two years ago, is making it a centerpiece of the first full season he has programmed. The iconic musical will be there in the week leading up to Easter in 2014.
"For us it's a major deal," he says. "We'll be the first to present it in the Tampa Bay area. We strive to get exclusives, and every once in a while when we get one, it's an achievement."
Buffman readily acknowledges the competitive nature of the Tampa Bay market for arts and entertainment. The David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa gets most first-run Broadway tours, in part because its seating capacity of 2,500, versus the 2,000 seats of Ruth Eckerd, gives producers the potential to sell more tickets. "But we're in the game," he says.
Several of the shows playing just a few performances on the hall's schedule next season made their bay area debuts in weeklong runs at the Straz, such as Million Dollar Quartet, The Addams Family and Elf. The Ruth Eckerd lineup also has the perennials Mamma Mia! and Rain — A Tribute to the Beatles. Rock of Ages, which did play the hall first, returns for a one-night stand. A show by Straight No Chaser, a male a cappella group, is also on the schedule.
The Broadway season includes two presentations in the Capitol Theatre, the historic venue in downtown Clearwater that the hall is renovating with the city. The theater shut down last week for the construction and is slated to open in the late fall as a state-of-art facility seating about 700.
One show, based on the beloved '50s sitcom, I Love Lucy Live on Stage, premiered in Los Angeles in 2011, had a successful run in Chicago and goes to Washington in June. It will play three weeks at the theater May 16-June 8, 2014.
The other Capitol attraction is a concert by Meg Hilty, the Broadway performer starring in the TV series Smash. Buffman, who attended Hilty's concert in Carnegie Hall this month, says she is "someone you want to feature, because that lady's career is just beginning. While we could have booked her at Ruth Eckerd Hall, and it would have worked, the impact of seeing her in an intimate theater like the Capitol will be tremendous."
Here's the Ruth Eckerd Broadway season
Nov. 1-2: Mamma Mia!
Nov. 12-13: Elf
Nov. 23: Straight No Chaser
Jan. 11: The Addams Family
Jan. 13: Rain — A Tribute to the Beatles
Jan. 17: Rock of Ages
April 11-12: Million Dollar Quartet
April 15-19: The Wizard of Oz
April 26: Megan Hilty (Capitol)
May 16-June 8: I Love Lucy Live on Stage (Capitol)
Subscriptions go on sale Monday. The hall has a deal in which a five-show package goes for $295. (727) 791-7400; rutheckerdhall.com.
Asolo season announced
Show Boat, the 1927 classic by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, opens the 2013-14 season by Sarasota's Asolo Repertory Theatre in November. Also on the agenda are contemporary plays such as Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz, 4,000 Miles by Amy Herzog and Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang. Frank Galati will direct Philadelphia, Here I Come! by Brian Friel, opening in January, and then Asolo producing artistic director Michael Donald Edwards will stage Galati's Tony Award-winning adaptation of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, to open in March. Hero, a new musical by Aaron Thielen (book and concept) and Michael Mahler (music and lyrics), will get its regional premiere April 29-June. 1. There will also be a musical to be announced to run in June. Subscriptions are available now, with single tickets on sale in September. (941) 351-8000 or toll-free 1-800-361-8388; asolorep.org.
American operas dropped
After just three seasons, Sarasota Opera has discontinued its American Classics Series. It included some of the company's most noteworthy productions, such as this season's Of Mice and Men by Carlisle Floyd, Vanessa by Samuel Barber last season and Robert Ward's The Crucible in 2011. They garnered critical praise and prestigious awards, such as grants from the National Endowment for the Arts to support Of Mice and Men and The Crucible. But the opera audience is conservative, and these 20th century American works didn't do well enough at the box office to sustain the series.
Onward and upward
David Rogers, a composer who was on the Florida Orchestra management staff for more than eight years, ultimately as artistic administrator and a key aide to then-music director Stefan Sanderling, is getting his own orchestra to run. In April, Rogers becomes executive director of the Yakima Symphony Orchestra in central Washington state.
John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.