Season announcements are always fun for theater nerds, but some are undeniably more exciting than others. That said, the 2019-20 Johnson Financial Group/Broadway Across America line-up at the Marcus Center next year is breathtaking.
The big news, of course is that Lin Manuel Miranda’s hip-masterpiece, "Hamilton" will finally make its way to Milwaukee, four years after its stunning debut on Broadway. If you haven’t already ventured to New York or Chicago to see the musical about the "10 dollar founding father without a father" you should get your tickets today.
If you have already seen it. . . well it’s even more amazing when you know the cast album by heart. And unlike a lot of tours, each company has its own superstars and actors are allowed to make their own character choices so the show isn’t a carbon copy of every one that came before it. There’s a reason it’s called "groundbreaking" and there are a hundred reasons it won 11 Tonys. Don’t throw away your shot at tickets.
And if that was the only really amazing headliner for the season, that would probably be enough. But wait, there’s much more. The Marcus Center has also booked Tony Award winners for Best Musical from the past two Broadway seasons.
"Dear Evan Hansen," which snagged the golden trophy in 2017, made Ben Platt a bonafide star. It’s also the first musical to really address, and compellingly portray, what it’s like for teens to live in the age of social media. It illustrates the isolation and depression that many young people face, and shines a light on complicated family relationships in a way that’s messy and honest for teens or their parents. The cast album won a Grammy Award because it’s both beautifully conceived and executed.
The other recent award winner is "The Band’s Visit," which just announced its final Broadway performance will be this April. In great contrast to the other two enormous odes to showmanship, this musical is very small. Based on both a true story and a foreign film, there are no big production numbers in this show, but there is a lot of music. It’s about small moments and the subtle ways that a lost group of Egyptian musicians impact the people living in an isolated town in Israel. The fact that Milwaukee audiences will see this show so soon after its debut is a coup.
Interestingly, two of the other big musicals in the line-up have both been recently revamped in an effort to make them more palatable for today’s audiences. Bartlett Sher’s production of the classic "My Fair Lady" has been both lauded and criticized for reinterpreting the end of the show to make it follow its source material more closely – George Bernard Shaw’s "Pygmallion."
The original musical and film focus on the love story that blossoms between the upper crust Professor Higgins and the "common guttersnipe" Eliza Doolittle. But contemporary audiences have found the relationship increasingly problematic. This production is an experiment with how far you can bend a classic to fit modern sensibilities.
A hit when it debuted in the West End in 1989, "Miss Saigon" has also been repackaged to address the portrayal of Asian characters in this Vietnam-era retelling of Puccin’s opera "Madame Butterfly." Terrific music from the team who brought the world "Les Miserables" notwithstanding, it will be interesting to see if the new version can rise above its stereotypical portrayals and white male savior/tragic Asian martyr storyline.
And finally, if you are looking for a fantastic way to introduce youngsters to the magic of live musical theater, take them to "The Lion King." Life size puppets of giraffes, gazelles and other animals from the Serengeti literally stroll down the aisles, singing "The Circle of Life." It just doesn’t get much better than that.
Current subscribers can renew their packages now by calling (414) 273-2787 or going online at MarcusCenter.org. New subscriptions will go on sale at noon next Monday, Feb. 18. Single tickets will be available to the general public four to six weeks prior to each performance.
"Dear Evan Hansen"
Winner of six 2017 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and the 2018 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album. A letter that was never meant to be seen, a lie that was never meant to be told, a life he never dreamed he could have. Evan Hansen is about to get the one thing he’s always wanted: a chance to finally fit in. "Dear Evan Hansen" is the deeply personal and profoundly contemporary musical about life and the way we live it.
Oct. 22-Nov. 17
"Hamilton" is the story of America’s founding father Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant from the West Indies who became George Washington's right-hand man during the Revolutionary War and was the new nation’s first Treasury Secretary. Featuring a score that blends hip-hop, jazz, blues, rap, R&B, and Broadway, "Hamilton" is the story of America then, as told by America now.
"The Band’s Visit"
Nov. 26-Dec. 1
Winner of 10 Tony Awards including Best Musical. In an Israeli desert town where every day feels the same, something different is suddenly in the air. Dina, the local café owner, had long resigned her desires for romance to daydreaming about exotic films and music from her youth. When a band of Egyptian musicians shows up lost at her café, she and her fellow locals take them in for the night. Under the spell of the night sky, their lives intertwine in unexpected ways, and this once sleepy town begins to wake up.
Disney’s "The Lion King"
February 5-March 1, 2020
Winner of six Tony Awards, including Best Musical, "The Lion King" brings together one of the most imaginative creative teams on Broadway. Director Julie Taymor brings to life a story filled with hope and adventure set against an amazing backdrop of stunning visuals. "The Lion King" also features some of Broadway’s most recognizable music, crafted by Elton John and Tim Rice.
"The Play That Goes Wrong"
March 17-22, 2020
What would happen if Sherlock Holmes and Monty Python had an illegitimate Broadway baby? You’d get "The Play That Goes Wrong," Broadway & London’s award-winning smash comedy! Welcome to opening night of "The Murder at Haversham Manor," where things are quickly going from bad to utterly disastrous. With an unconscious leading lady, a corpse that can’t play dead, and actors who trip over everything (including their lines), it’s "tons of fun for all ages" (HuffPost) – sure to bring down the house!
Lerner & Loewe’s "My Fair Lady"
April 14-19, 2020
Director Bartlett Sher’s glowing production boasts such classic songs as "I Could Have Danced All Night," "The Rain in Spain," "Wouldn’t It Be Loverly" and "On the Street Where You Live." "My Fair Lady" tells the story of Eliza Doolittle, a young Cockney flower seller, and Henry Higgins, a linguistics professor who is determined to transform her into his idea of a "proper lady." But who is really being transformed?
June 16-21, 2020
Experience the acclaimed new production of the legendary musical "Miss Saigon," about a young Vietnamese woman named Kim who is orphaned by war and forced to work as a prostitute in a bar that caters to American soldiers. There she meets and falls in love with an American G.I. named Chris, but they are torn apart by the fall of Saigon. A cast of 42 performs the soaring score, including "The Heat is On in Saigon," "The Movie in My Mind," "Last Night of the World" and "American Dream."