As the fall theater season launches, a string of musicals that have enjoyed success on Broadway in recent years will become available to audiences across the country. Now fans who have just read about these shows, or perhaps caught a glimpse of them in a Tony Awards sequence, can enjoy them live.
One of the first productions to hit the road is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. This musical adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic brought contemporary touches, both wacky and thought-provoking, to the material while retaining ideas that are relevant to kids and parents alike. “I think the fantasy and morality elements are very current,” says choreographer Joshua Bergasse. “Promoting the use of imagination in putting down our cellphones and video games, not being gluttonous, raising our children with manners — these themes never go out of style, do they?”
Bergasse notes that the physical production, with its colorful costumes and shenanigans, “is being modified in order to help us travel across the country. But those modifications are allowing us an opportunity to further enhance the show.” Charlie launches its trek September 21 at Shea’s Performing Arts Center in Buffalo, New York.
Another musical that has touched hearts and given audiences of all ages a lot to ponder — the Tony Award–winning Dear Evan Hansen — will begin a tour September 25 at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Librettist Steven Levenson notes that the show was in tech rehearsals during the 2016 presidential election, “and there was an uncanny sense in which the story we were telling on stage was the same as the one playing out in the national political conversation.”
“Great care has been taken and a great commitment has been made to create a touring version of the show that matches Broadway’s physical production”
From the beginning, Levenson says, he and composer/lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul “wanted to write a musical that would go past any kind of reductive view of social media as either unequivocally good or unequivocally evil.” Director Michael Greif adds, “Great care has been taken and a great commitment has been made to create a touring version of the show that matches Broadway’s physical production” — in which a multitude of screens is used on stage — “and depicts the viral world in the same vibrant, original, absorbing way.”
Come From Away has already had a number of productions, but Kelly Devine, who crafted the Broadway show’s musical staging, notes that preparing the uplifting hit for the road has proven a challenge. In portraying the bond that forms between residents of a small Canadian town and the travelers they host after several planes were diverted there on 9/11, the musical casts actors in different roles and keeps them in constant motion, often moving chairs around as part of their duties, with spikes marking set locations.
“Come From Away is deceivingly complicated and extremely hard on the actors,” Devine says. “It’s like running a race each time.” But the work helps build “a lovely sense of community” that mirrors and enriches the one in the story. “And we’re working, again, with a wildly talented company, so I can’t wait to get started.” That will happen October 9 at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre.
The musical Anastasia, which also begins a tour on that date, at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady, New York, takes us further back in time, but director Darko Tresnjak has observed how its story, in which a young woman defies powerful forces to forge her own path, has resonated with contemporary audiences. “Someone said it’s a show about a princess who chooses her own prince and insists on being respected. All the key decisions are made by women, by Anastasia and her grandmother.”
Tresjnak says the creative team is “tweaking a few things judiciously in the show, the book, the lyrics” — the latter two by Terrence McNally and Lynn Ahrens, respectively — but the musical, which takes viewers to Russia and Paris, will retain its sweep. “We’ve had the happiest audiences I’ve ever seen,” the director says. “They’re incredibly diverse, and all the young people who come turn off their cellphones. I never thought I’d see that.”
Chazz Palminteri is equally excited about bringing a slice of his home to fans outside New York City when his musical adaptation of A Bronx Tale — based on his one-man show, previously the source of a hit film — starts its trek October 14 at the Auditorium Theater in Rochester, New York. “A lot of [cast members] from the Broadway show are coming,” Palminteri notes. He’ll join them, along with co-directors Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks, to see the launch.
“When you take a great story and add music and dance, it becomes something bigger than life,” Palminteri says. He’s not altering the libretto: “Everyone loves this show, people from 10 to 90, white and black, male and female. They have incredibly emotional reactions, and they want to see it again and again and again. It just works.”