- By Michael Barnes American-Statesman Staff
First, the news you have been craving: The national tour of “Hamilton,” the once-in-a-generation Broadway smash hit about the nation’s founders, will stop in Austin for three weeks during the 2018-19 season.
Once you have digested that nugget, be aware that the intervening 2017-18 season, which fires up in October, includes seven shows. Five arrive as part of the core lineup, while two — returning winners “Rent” and “The Book of Mormon” — are called “special subscriber options.”
The main season presents revivals and remoldings of older material, such as “The King and I” and “An American in Paris,” along with newer creations, including “Finding Neverland” and “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder.” Of special interest to Austinites is the stage musical version of “School of Rock,” based on the charming movie about kid rockers directed by Austin’s Richard Linklater.
That group of big musicals should stoke the producers, Broadway in Austin, given a potential total attendance of some 150,000 people, making the series one of Austin’s biggest entertainment draws.
“Austin has become a big arts and entertainment market,” says Kathy Panoff, director of Texas Performing Arts. “From my perspective, that includes just about anything that’s out there, including both large and small presenting and producing organizations, in addition to commercial theater, like Broadway and concerts. I’ve been in Austin just eight years, and I am stunned by the continued growth of the market.”
Some details about the coming shows:
• The 2015 edition of the 1951 masterwork “The King and I,” by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, won four Tony Awards, including best revival of a musical.
• “Finding Neverland” is based on the Academy Award-winning movie — itself taken from a play, “The Man Who Was Peter Pan” — about author J.M. Barrie and the family that inspired “Peter Pan, Or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up.”
• The original songs for “School of Rock” are preserved from the movie, but — of all composers! — Andrew Lloyd Webber created 14 new ones for the stage adaptation.
• The delightful romp “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” received 10 Tony Award nominations and won four, including best musical. Original Tony-nominated star Lauren Worsham was raised in Austin. You might have seen this early-blooming talent on local stages.
• As with “Gigi,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” “White Christmas” and “Meet Me in St. Louis,” it was inevitable that somebody would make the film classic “An American in Paris” into a Broadway musical. Luckily, this was one of the adaptations that turned out well.
• “Rent” is going out on its 20th anniversary tour. Hard to believe that this show, inspired by the opera “La Bohème,” took the New York stage by storm oh so long ago.
• “The Book of Mormon” is the musical we can’t stop loving. From the unkempt minds that created “South Park,” this show about Mormon missionaries still shocks a little while entertaining and educating.
Since Austin is a city that embraces live music in all forms — and much theater in many forms — do these shows resonate in a special way here? Or are we seeing yet another chapter in America’s long love affair with musicals?
“I can’t say for sure that’s it’s one or the other,” Panoff says. “Other businesses are following suit. There’s a new hotel or restaurant popping up every day! I will say that this tremendous growth in demand for these offerings has been driving up ticket prices, which is why organizations like Texas Performing Arts work hard to keep them affordable, especially for University of Texas students.”
Ever since Bass Concert Hall opened at UT in 1981, commercial theater productions such as pop concerts, stand-up comedy and Broadway musicals have subsidized a wide range of global offerings during the rest of the year.
Panoff points out that any student in the metro Austin region — with a student ID — can purchase a $10 ticket for any performance from the Essential Series, the center’s noncommercial season of classical music, jazz and world music, along with productions like the National Theatre of Scotland’s “Let the Right One In.”
The center offers something else special for UT students only, the Bass Pass. For $40 a year, pass holders get priority access to a limited number of $10 tickets to Broadway in Austin titles and commercial concerts. Over and above these options, most Broadway shows here offer discounted student rush tickets.
In addition to affordable ticket access, the center provides community-based activities from each Broadway production that comes to campus.
Here is one reason why folks might want to subscribe to the 2017-18 season: They get to be first in line for the 2018-19 season, when a certain highly anticipated chart-buster comes to town.
UPDATE: In an earlier version of this story, Lauren Worsham’s name was misspelled.