The distance between Broadway and Buffalo just got a lot shorter.
Shea’s Performing Arts Center, whose reputation in the American theater world has been on the rise in the past several years, announced its 2013-14 season Thursday night before a crowd of subscribers in the storied Main Street theater.
The season includes four fresh-from-Broadway tours: “Ghost the Musical,” which kicks off the season Oct. 15; “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess,” winner of the 2012 Tony Award for best musical revival; the hit film-turned-musical “Once,” which won eight Tonys last year; and the 2012 revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s evergreen “Evita.”
The lineup also includes the fan favorite play “War Horse” as well as a touring production of “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical” in late December. And fans of the perpetually popular “Wicked” will be happy to know that the theater is bringing that show back for a three-week run in January 2014 for a special engagement. There also will be a short run of “Beauty and the Beast” later that year.
Shea’s also announced the return of Neglia Ballet Artists’ annual performance of “The Nutcracker,” slated for Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, as well as a production of the touring comedy “I Love Lucy Live on Stage” in the recently reopened 710 Main Theatre (formerly Studio Arena) running from Sept. 17 to Oct. 13.
Over the past several seasons, Shea’s rising fortunes as a Broadway presenting house have allowed the theater to snag productions much earlier in their touring lives than the theater was able to do even five years ago. That’s the result of a longtime collaboration between Shea’s President and CEO Anthony Conte and Broadway producer Albert Nocciolino. Together, they methodically built Shea’s base of subscribers to nearly 13,000 and turned the former movie house into the most lucrative stop for one-week engagements in the United States.
“When [producers] decide to do a tour, Albert and I are one of the first calls they make,” Conte said. “It’s usually the first question that comes out: Can we manage to get our tour in Buffalo the very first year? So it’s really neat. The support that people have given us, both season-ticket holders and single-ticket buyers, has resulted in them seeing shows out of New York much faster. We used to get them in year three sometimes.”
“The idea that we have a big subscription base and terrific single-ticket support from the community has generated the kind of sales and support that all the shows want to get Buffalo in as soon as possible,” Nocciolino said. As one of the producers of Broadway’s “Once,” he had a hand in making sure Buffalo saw the tour of that show in its first year.
For Conte, the two most important shows to snag for the 2013-14 season were “Once,” which has drawn a large and enthusiastic following on Broadway, and the in-demand “War Horse” – the first play ever to appear on Shea’s musical-heavy subscription series. And when the producers of “Porgy and Bess” announced that show, a revival of the classic George Gershwin opera, Conte insisted on bringing it to Buffalo.
“We don’t get a major show touring that appeals to the African-American audience [often], we just don’t. It’s a powerful, powerful show,” Conte said. “To bring a show that will appeal to the African-American audience is important. I think it’s something we need to be doing.” The rest of the season organized itself naturally around those three core shows, Conte said. For its holiday spot, Nocciolino said, the theater was able to finally clinch a show it had tried to bring to Buffalo before but had to pass up for scheduling reasons: “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical.”
The inclusion of the 710 Main Theatre in Shea’s season announcement points to Conte’s desire to funnel some Shea’s subscribers interested in smaller-scale work into the recently revived theater space just north of Shea’s. Conte helped to orchestrate the reopening of the theater and hopes Shea’s can use its growing clout to rebuild the fractured subscription base of the former Studio Arena Theatre. The process of repairing the damage done by the mismanaged Studio Arena, Conte suggested, is already well underway. He championed the recent 710 Main presentation of “Circle Mirror Transformation,” produced by the local theater company Road Less Traveled, and said that some audience members wanted to buy tickets for the 710 Main season without even knowing what the shows were going to be. “That I didn’t expect,” Conte said. Cross-promoting between Shea’s and the much smaller 710 Main, he said, “gives people an experience in a theater they maybe haven’t been in before and gets them comfortable with the theater, too.”
A closer look at Shea’s Center’s 2013-14 Broadway Series:
“Ghost the Musical,” Oct. 15-20; adaptation of Oscar-winning 1990 film starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore opened on Broadway last April to tepid reviews and closed in August.
“War Horse,” Nov. 12-17; puppetry-heavy staging of children’s novel about a young boy and his horse during World War I, has been an audience favorite across the globe.
“Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical,” Dec. 17-22; musical retelling of the widely read children’s book and its classic television adaptation. It opened in 1994 in Minneapolis and has since had a healthy touring life.
“The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess,” March 11-16, 2014. Winner of the 2012 Tony Award for best revival of a musical; retooled version of classic opera by George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward has a new book, new arrangements and orchestrations aimed at familiarizing new generations of theatergoers with the iconic piece of theater.
“Once,” March 25-30, 2014. This adaptation of a 2006 film about a love affair between two young musicians in Dublin has been getting rave reviews from audiences, critics and Tony voters alike since its Broadway debut last year. It won eight Tonys last year, including best musical, book, direction and sound, lighting and scenic design.
“Evita,” June 10-15, 2014. The latest revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s bio-show about the life of Argentinian leader Eva Peron just closed its Broadway run in January .
• “The Nutcracker,” Neglia Ballet Artists, Nov. 30-Dec. 1
• “Wicked,” Jan. 8-26, 2014
• “Beauty and the Beast,” April 29-May 4, 2014
In the 710 Main Theatre:
• “I Love Lucy Live on Stage,” Sept. 17-Oct. 13.