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Durham Performing Arts Center announces its inaugural season

The show will go on

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Legally Blonde - PHOTO BY PAUL KOLNIK

It's definitely happening.

A much-anticipated announcement on Thursday of the Broadway lineup for Durham Performing Arts Center's inaugural season brought out city dignitaries eager to see the lights come on at the city's major downtown investment.

A "10th-anniversary" production of Rent will begin the season next January, followed by Fiddler on the Roof in March, Legally Blonde The Musical in April and The Color Purple—which closed on Broadway Feb. 24, after 910 performances—in May. (That means Oprah might be coming to Durham after all—or at least her production will.)

Meanwhile, the long-running smash Wicked, which opened on Broadway in late 2003 and has been touring the continent since 2005, has been confirmed as the main attraction for the 2009-2010 series. Season ticket prices range from $81 to $292—or $20.25 to $73 per show.

While the City of Durham owns the $44 million, 2,800-seat venue, it will be co-managed by two major players on Broadway, Nederlander and Professional Facilities Management (known as PFM). Under the operating agreement, the operator, not the city, will absorb any financial losses. PFM/ Nederlander's operating agreement with the city runs to 2013.

PFM President Lynn Singleton was on stage for the announcement at the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting at the Durham Civic Center, where he addressed a packed crowd of business executives, elected officials and other city boosters. Singleton boasted that DPAC will be the largest theater in North or South Carolina and promised that the new performance series, called Broadway Carolina, will bring in only the freshest touring productions. "The shows that will come here will come in the first three to six months of the national tour." In a subsequent interview with reporters, however, Singleton conceded that such fresh programming would be a goal, not a guarantee.

The event culminated with a performance by singers from the Nederlander touring show 3 Mo Divas, who sang numbers from all five of the announced shows. "Defying Gravity," a song from Wicked, could have been a message to skeptics of the theater's potential. "It's time to trust my instincts/ Close my eyes, and leap! ... think I'll try defying gravity, and you can't pull me down!"

The drought has helped put construction on the building ahead of schedule, which is what prompted PFM/ Nederlander to book this abbreviated season. Singleton says there are even some holiday-themed performances penciled in for December.

Spring 2009 Season
Rent • Jan. 20-25
Fiddler on the Roof • March 17-22
Legally Blonde The Musical • April 14-19
The Color Purple • May 12-17

2009-2010 Season
Wicked • Date TBA
DPAC's managers say they plan to keep the stage lit about 100 nights each year. Broadway Carolina, Singleton says, will make up 40 percent of those nights (a typical season will include six shows, playing six nights each). Another 40 percent will include national commercial touring acts—music concerts and family shows—booked through PFM's national headquarters in Providence, R.I. (As an example of such an act, Singleton invoked the name "Josh Groban" several times, to the audience and to journalists afterward.)

The other 20 percent, Singleton says, will come from the local market. DPAC's general manager Bob Klaus, formerly general manager of Walnut Creek Amphitheatre in Raleigh, will take the lead on booking those shows.

Klaus and Singleton say they have reached out to performing arts programmers at Duke University and North Carolina Central University, discussing everything from making student rush tickets available to possibly collaborating on productions.

"We don't have any of those announcements yet," Klaus says, "but we're in very positive discussion with a wide variety of major regional arts presenters and hope to have some exciting announcements this spring."

As for the American Dance Festival, Singleton says negotiations on a booking arrangement are "on the two-yard-line. We're excited. We want them here." ADF director Charles L. Reinhart confirmed to the News & Observer that the dance festival intends to use the DPAC space.

As long as plans for the DPAC have circulated, local arts supporters have worried that it might cannibalize popular acts and audiences from the area's other venues. Two Broadway series run in the 2,300-seat Memorial Auditorium in downtown Raleigh. Then there are the nationally touring concerts and family shows at the Carolina Theatre, home of 1,015-seat Fletcher Hall. The Carolina is also owned by the City of Durham.

Connie Campanaro, director of the Carolina Theatre, says that concern is overblown. "Nobody stole The Color Purple or Legally Blonde from me. We don't do that here, we don't have the deep pockets or the deep stage." She says frequent conference calls with PFM executives and face-to-face meetings with Klaus keep the lines of communication open about which acts each programmer is seeking. "We're trying to find ways to complement each other. We have the same parents."

The DPAC and the Carolina are close to announcing collaboration on a two-night run of an off-Broadway show at the Carolina in November, just before the DPAC's grand opening. The collaboration means both parties will share either profit or loss.

Singleton says that because of their size and clout in the industry, PFM and Nederlander are able to absorb financial risks, which enables them to bring in high-profile shows and performers, something small, local non-profit and not-for-profit arts groups just can't do.

"That's absolutely true," Campanaro says. "The advantage that they have that is quite impressive is that when it comes to Nederlander product, it's as though they're both the wholesaler and the retailer, and it's a great situation that the city was able to secure that added advantage."

More information and season tickets available at www.DPACnc.com.

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