by Zack Smith
Sir Andrew’s work may be found in three of the seven new shows announced at DPAC’s SunTrust Broadway Preview Event on Friday, specifically the touring version of the recently-closed revival of Evita, the 2011 West End musical version of The Wizard of Oz film with new songs by Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, and a whole concert featuring songs from Lloyd Webber’s extensive oeuvre, including The Phantom of the Opera and Cats.
If you’re not a Lloyd Webber fan and you hold season tickets for DPAC’s Broadway series, you might be in trouble.
The other new shows are a strange mix. I’m most excited about the touring productions of two recent Tony winners, The Book of Mormon and the minimalist stage adaptation of the film Once. I’m less enthused by a musical of the Patrick Swayze film Ghost that flopped after 136 performances on Broadway last year, or by a new musical of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, though the Grinch costume shown to us is less trauma-inducing than the Jim Carrey film from a decade back.
Mind you, my cynicism wasn't shared by the DPAC members who swarmed the auditorium on Friday for the announcement (at least 1,200 were present, based on the number of raffle tickets submitted to the event organizers), who cheered loudly at the announcements. One patron told me that he was pleased that the lineup features shows with more “broad appeal,” claiming DPAC’s recent showing of Jekyll and Hyde with American Idol’s Constantine Maroulis was “too dark.")
OK, so not everyone's tastes are alike, but it still seems like overselling to brand this lineup as “The Most Amazing Season,” as DPAC does.
Coincidentally, this is also the title of a WTVD-11 special shown for attendees, whose host, professional reporter-turned-community affairs specialist Angela Hampton, repeats the phrase about a dozen times in 20 minutes. The producers explained how Ghost uses a unique LED set to create the illusion of a backdrop against a populous New York City; I’m just squirming at the thought of the Wall Street stock market number briefly displayed.
The Book of Mormon and Once are both aberrations in that they’re minimalist shows (Mormon uses just a few props for sets, while Once takes place on one set, with the cast members playing their own instruments). They're also the big critical hits on display for the series. Sure, Once was based on a film like many of the others here, but it was hardly a blockbuster with the name-brand recognition of the other productions.
A show like Ghost, which received mixed reviews and middling attendance, feels like it’s on this slate because it’s a known quantity and the producers wanted to recoup some of their investment, not because it’s the best musical available. The surfeit of Lloyd Webber is there because … well, Phantom still packs them in. It’s also why at the end of the show, a series of “encore” tours of previous hits are announced as coming through, including Beauty and the Beast, the Blue Man Group, American Idiot and Mamma Mia!.
To be fair, I don't know if there are that many shows currently on Broadway that I’d prefer over the SunTrust lineup. Many of the current hits are cut from the same cloth as what will play at DPAC, in terms of being revivals and adaptations. And, frankly, many of them have already passed through Durham, from War Horse to Billy Elliott to Wicked (twice already!). There are a few all-ages shows that have good buzz, including the hit Newsies (which we’ll likely see next season), Matilda: The Musical (the season after that) and the non-musical Peter and the Starcatcher (either next season or the season after).
But it’d be nice to see some edgier fare in Durham, like Fela, which is currently on tour, or Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (sadly, this was probably too edgy for New York, too, as it closed after 120 performances despite awards and critical buzz).
At the end of the evening at DPAC, Evita understudy Jessica Lea Patty came onstage in a plum-patterned dress to give an exuberant rendition of that musical’s “Buenos Aires” number to a pre-recorded music track. (However, Patty won't necessarily be in the role when Evita comes to Durham a year from now.)
Maybe some will be persuaded that this is “The Most Amazing Season.” Hell, even I’m excited about The Book of Mormon and Once. But that slogan may wear thin during the long intervals between these shows, particularly for those who aren’t crazy about Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Look, I liked the Evita movie in high school, OK? I’m just saying, tastes change. Stop looking at me like that.