Sunday, February 25, 2018
Stage

Ruth Eckerd Hall's Broadway season features 'Kinky Boots,' 'Mamma Mia!' farewell

CLEARWATER — Ruth Eckerd Hall has announced a new lineup for its 2016-2017 touring Broadway season, with several hit musicals and the premiere of a new one.

The hall broke records this season, helped by eight sold-out performances of The Book of Mormon. Next season is serving up a lot of singing and dancing.

The season opener, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical (Dec. 22), blends the nostalgic effects of a television special that originally aired in 1964 with up-to-the-minute video imagery, set design, costumes and puppets. The story line is an extension of the children's song: After Rudolph is so rudely ousted by those other cliquish reindeer, where does he go? And can he save his family and friends from a snowstorm that threatens to demolish Christmas?

Stop, children, what's that sound? It's STOMP (Feb. 25), an inventive eight-member percussionist band creating electrifying rhythms out of household objects. We're talking about matchboxes, brooms, garbage cans and hubcaps, even Zippo lighters.

The 20th anniversary world tour of Riverdance (Jan. 20-21) comes to town, drawing on Irish traditions. The Irish themes return with Once (March 18), the tale of a street musician who gets a chance to follow his dreams and discover the love of his life. Just who that turns out to be might surprise you in this musical, in which the actors play their own instruments.

The hall is anticipating large crowds for Kinky Boots (April 11-16), the Tony-winning musical about exotic footwear. Based on a true story set in Northern England, Kinky Boots zeroes in on the overburdened Charlie Price, who is duty bound to save his father's floundering shoe factory. A cross dresser gives him some life-changing advice.

After setting attendance records worldwide, the musical about the pop group Abba is taking its final bow with Mamma Mia! — Farewell Tour (April 21-22). It's a feel-good musical in the most unapologetic sense imaginable, packing the Swedish group's hits (Dancing Queen, S.O.S., Super Trouper, The Winner Takes It All and more) into a story about a well planned wedding gone awry.

But if there were ever a winning formula for feel-good, it's an underdog story. That, plus performers with a high level of physical movement, is what you get with Dirty Dancing (May 5-7). The young lovers dance to timeless oldies and fight to keep their independence.

The season also includes the world premiere of Welcome to Heaven by Ron Clark Jan. 10-15 at the Capitol Theatre, which is managed by Ruth Eckerd Hall. This one is set in the afterlife, where there are a lot fewer rules to worry about. Smoking, for example, is permitted (because you can't die twice). Elvis sings with Frank Sinatra, Mahatma Gandhi argues with Richard Nixon (yes, he made it to heaven) over food portions, and a wayward astronaut overshoots Mars and finds himself in heaven. This presents problems, and, wouldn't you know it, some of them include love.

Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

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