As the fall theater season approaches, a number of popular and beloved productions are preparing to hit the road, bringing notable musicals from Broadway and beyond to a national audience.
Two of musical theater’s busiest and most celebrated luminaries, director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw and choreographer Sergio Trujillo, are both helming new tours while overseeing established favorites. Nicholaw’s Mean Girls launches its trek September 21 at Shea’s PAC in Buffalo, New York, while his staging of Disney’s Aladdin, touring since April 2017, continues its successful journey. Nicholaw notes, “So many good people came in” to audition for the various roles in Mean Girls — most of them high school students, albeit with widely varying personalities and levels of popularity — and among them fans of the 2004 movie on which the show is based. “It’s funny, but you could tell which ones were fanatics right away,” Nicholaw says. “You wouldn’t have to ask; it would be, ‘I’ve always felt like Janis,’ or ‘I’ve always felt like Gretchen.’”
Of Aladdin, Nicholaw notes the show “had been playing for two and a half years [on Broadway] when it started touring, so there was great anticipation. For me, it’s the excitement of sitting in the audience, being in a crowd that sees ‘A Friend Like Me’ for the first time, and the response is huge. Everyone is enjoying the magic of it as much as they have in New York.”
Trujillo, fresh off his Tony Award win for Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations, is readying Summer: The Donna Summer Musical for a tour kicking off October 1 at the Auditorium Theatre in Rochester, New York. The titular diva’s catalog of hits “represents a period of innocence and decadence, before the AIDS epidemic,” Trujillo observes. “It was a period that was very joyous, and I think people will come for the music, because it’s been the soundtrack for so many people’s lives.”
The choreographer adds of Summer, “I want it to dance even more than it did on Broadway,” noting that he added more dancing for the tour of A Bronx Tale, which continues its journey, begun last October. In this show, too, an uplifting spirit is key: “I think A Bronx Tale is an intimate, moving story that’s told with great humor. It brings us joy and laughter — not bad qualities to have right now.”
Those elements are also central in Once on This Island, which enjoyed a Tony-winning revival in 2018 (opening the year before); that production begins a tour October 12 at the Carson Center in Paducah, Kentucky. Director Michael Arden points out that the road show “will be in proscenium and not in the round,” as it was on Broadway, “so that will provide a huge change. There will be plenty of other surprises too.” The musical remains, he stresses, “a story that brings people together. … I think it will be a celebration of love and hope for audiences around the country.”
Other shows poised to launch tours include another Disney property, Frozen, and a Golden Age classic, My Fair Lady. The latter recently ended an acclaimed run at Lincoln Center Theater, in a production directed by Bartlett Sher, long praised for his ravishing revivals of American classics ranging from the works of Rodgers and Hammerstein to plays by Clifford Odets and August Wilson. The road company — which begins performances December 10 at Syracuse’s Landmark Theatre prior to an official opening at Washington’s Kennedy Center on December 19 — will be led by Shereen Ahmed, who made her Broadway debut in Sher’s staging as Eliza Dolittle, and Broadway veteran Laird Mackintosh (The Phantom of the Opera, Jekyll & Hyde, Mary Poppins) as Henry Higgins.
The touring production of Frozen begins performances November 10 at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady, New York, before opening at Hollywood Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles, where performances start December 4. It stars Caroline Bowman, an alum of Broadway and road productions of Kinky Boots, Evita, and Wicked, as ice queen Elsa, and Caroline Innerbichler, whose credits include the national tour of Little House on the Prairie and regional productions of Guys and Dolls, Mamma Mia!, and The Sound of Music, as her plucky devoted sister, Anna.
For those seeking more of a warm-weather vibe, the musical Escape to Margaritaville will bring a winking comedy fueled by the songs of Jimmy Buffett to various locales, starting its trek at the Providence Performing Arts Center in Providence, Rhode Island. “One of the best things theater can offer is an escape,” says tour director and Broadway associate director Amy Corcoran. “I’m thrilled that this incredibly talented group of actors and musicians will be telling this story around the country for the year to come, giving people all over the nation a ‘license to chill’!”
A London-based staging of Jesus Christ, Superstar is also on tap, after winning an Olivier Award for best revival. The production first opened in 2016, at the outdoor venue Regents Park, notes Stephen Gabriel, president of Work Light Productions. So “the team had to make some adjustments in the set and lighting to re-create that feel for an indoor theatre. We had a chance this summer to test this idea at the Barbican in London, and it was another great hit.” He adds that the revival “re-creates the original 1971 concept album with an authentic feel of a rock concert, while still [offering] a powerful theatrical experience.”
Continuing tours include the multiple Tony winner The Band’s Visit, initiated in June. Producer Orin Wolf points out that “the underlying theme of our show” — set in a small Israeli town that briefly hosts a group of Egyptian musicians — “is that music brings people together,” adding, “It only feels fitting now to have our company move from city to city and be welcomed by Broadway fans throughout the country.”
Come From Away, which hit the road last October, also keeps spreading its message of unity among disparate people, while the Dear Evan Hansen tour, begun last September, stresses the elusiveness and the necessity of connection in the digital age — even as both musicals continue to draw enthusiastic crowds on Broadway. And an older contemporary classic, Rent, commemorates the third year of its 20th anniversary tour, which since September 2016 has brought the musical to cities across Japan and China as well as the United States.
Says Gabriel, who is also producing the Rent tour, “When you bring a show like Rent back, it’s so iconic, but you don’t really know if it’s in the zeitgeist anymore. This tour has done so well. We’re being put on seasons with first-run Broadway shows. It shows you that Rent really was the Hamilton of its time.”