For more photos, click gallery, above.
On the heels of the Overture Center's record-breaking run of The Lion King, the arts center is queuing up other Broadway shows with easy name recognition and pop-culture ties.
Over the course of its four-week run, The Lion King pulled in 68,000 theatergoers and grossed over $4.8 million. It generated an additional $15 million in spin-off economic activity, such as hotels and restaurants.
In light of that success, it's little wonder that well-known Broadway shows are at the core of Overture's 2010-2011 season, which also includes kids' programming, celebs as diverse as Joan Rivers (Oct. 23) and bad-boy chef Anthony Bourdain (Nov. 18), and world music and dance.
Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Union Theater has an edgier Broadway offering on tap, plus its usual, varied mix of classical, jazz, folk and world music, with a little dance and theater sprinkled in for good measure.
While both the Overture Center and the Union Theater are hosting a number of performers who've come to Madison before - if not multiple times - there are also plenty of new offerings. (And generally those familiar performers, like Momix, are presenting new material.)
While it's nearly impossible to sum up the entire Overture and Union Theater seasons in a single go - and new events will no doubt be added - here's a look at some of the highlights of the 2010-11 performing arts season. With tickets on sale now, it's time to grab your calendar and start planning.
The M&I Bank Broadway at Overture series kicks off Wednesday, Sept. 22, with the hotly anticipated Wicked, based on the 1995 novel by Gregory Maguire, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. As of late July, 80% of the seats had already been sold. The show runs through Oct. 10.
Wicked's tagline is "So much happened before Dorothy dropped in." It tells the story of Elphaba, the green gal who becomes the Wicked Witch, and Glinda, the Good Witch. While it opened on Broadway in 2003 to mixed reviews from critics, it's proven to be an audience favorite. It also did well at the 2004 Tony Awards, with 10 nominations (including Best Musical) and three wins. Interesting side note: the book writer, Winnie Holzman, was also the writer of the '90s cult TV show My So-Called Life. Cue the teen angst.
After Wicked, Broadway shows take a break at Overture until a very short run of the ABBA musical Mamma Mia! (Jan. 28-30), which last came to Overture in 2007. Even though some of the first records I ever bought were ABBA LPs - in my defense, I was about 8 - I found the star-studded film version of this show truly dreadful. But if it's your idea of escapist fun, have at it.
The Mel Brooks musical Young Frankenstein (Feb. 22-27) is based on Brooks' 1974 movie of the same name. That flick, now a cult classic, played to an appreciative audience at the Wisconsin Film Festival three years ago, but it remains to be seen if those fans will also want to watch a Broadway show. Then again, Monty Python fans flocked to Overture's run of the silly-yet-enjoyable Spamalot in 2008.
Like Legally Blonde, Young Frankenstein puts its audience in the tricky position of mentally blocking out memorable film performances. Who can forget Peter Boyle's hilarious, shuffling delivery of "Puttin' on the Ritz"? You've gotta feel for the cast that fills roles originated by the likes of Boyle, Madeline Kahn, Gene Wilder and other comedy legends. Let's hope they can make the characters their own.
Legally Blonde (April 5-10) continues the movies-into-musicals theme with its spring 2011 run. (In the way pop culture seems to endlessly recycle itself nowadays, that Reese Witherspoon film vehicle was itself based on a chick-lit novel by Amanda Brown.)
Also next spring, a 25th-anniversary production of Les Misérables (May 10-15) storms the barricades. Les Mis was part of the pack of '80s juggernauts that included Cats and Phantom of the Opera (though it is not, one should note, an Andrew Lloyd Webber show).
The stage version includes scenic design inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo, who also wrote the 1862 novel on which Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil's show is based. While Les Mis has had a long, successful history, interest in it has revived of late; "I Dreamed a Dream," the song that thrust Susan Boyle into the limelight, comes from this show.
Overture's highly commercial Broadway season is not necessarily a problem - The Lion King proves that a show can be both wildly successful and smartly done. But if it's edgier musical theater fare you're seeking, the Wisconsin Union Theater's lone Broadway offering may be more your speed.
Spring Awakening has a brief run at the Union Theater on Oct. 23-24 (Saturday's two shows include a midnight one). It cleaned up at the 2007 Tony Awards, nabbing 11 nominations and eight wins, including Best Musical. Duncan Sheik, probably still best known for his mellow 1996 hit single, "Barely Breathing," wrote the music.
Like everything on Overture's Broadway lineup, Spring Awakening is an adaptation, but its source is a bit more obscure: the 1891 play by German naturalist writer Frank Wedekind. Considered very shocking for its time, Spring Awakening wasn't even staged until 15 years after its writing.
The show takes on the touchy subject of adolescent sexuality in a number of facets: possible rape, homosexuality, masturbation. While turning all of this into a rock musical may seem a little sketchy - as rock musicals frequently are - The New York Times enthusiastically dubbed it "ambitious if imperfect." And I'm glad to see the Union program a show that won't have instant name recognition.
If you have sprouts to entertain, Overture's children's series looks quite promising. Budding goths should appreciate Lemony Snicket's The Composer Is Dead, in which various instruments are the suspects in a dastardly whodunit (March 6). Like Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf (a recording of which I listened to endlessly as a child), the show is intended to introduce children to various orchestral instruments while hooking them with a good story.
The San Francisco Symphony commissioned The Composer Is Dead as a collaboration between composer Nathaniel Stookey and Lemony Snicket (a.k.a. Daniel Handler, the popular author of A Series of Unfortunate Events). Expect puppetry, droll humor and lots of fun.
If Lemony Snicket is a contemporary classic in the world of kid lit, other Overture shows reach farther back to the work of beloved authors/illustrators like Tomie de Paola and Eric Carle. On Nov. 21, Tomie de Paola's Strega Nona: The Musical will blend commedia dell'arte techniques as it tells the story - familiar from the pop-up book - of a friendly witch who seeks to cure the everyday ills of her small Italian village. Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia presents The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Other Eric Carle Favorites (March 12). Blacklight puppetry should make the show visually engaging and easy to follow for very young audiences (it's recommended for kids ages 2-8).
Other Overture family shows include a Dutch troupe's production mixing puppetry and live actors, Pero, or the Mysteries of the Night (May 1), about the romance between a laundress and a baker; and Childsplay Theatre's Ferdinand the Bull (Feb. 20). Childsplay is a professional troupe out of Tempe, Ariz.
In Overture's dance offerings, many names are familiar, such as Momix (March 29) and River North Chicago Dance Company (Nov. 20). Momix was last here in 2004.
Describing itself as "a company of dancer-illusionists," Momix specializes in creating dreamlike, surrealistic images, often using props, yet there's also a mainstream savvy to their work (they've appeared in ads for Hanes underwear and Target).
Momix will be touring its new show, Botanica, billed as an "herbal remedy and natural aphrodisiac for our current universal blues." Online clips look lithe, athletic and haunting.
In musical offerings, the Wisconsin Union Theater's extensive lineup includes the free Madison World Music Festival (Sept. 23-25), the Isthmus Jazz Series and a classical concert series. The World Music Festival lineup includes acts from Africa, Europe, the U.S. and South America. Colorful stilt walkers from Dragon Knights Stilt Theater will add to the festive mood.
Union Theater's jazz series offers the likes of Eddie Palmieri Latin Jazz Band (Nov. 5), Grammy-winning vocalist Dianne Reeves (April 8) and the mostly free Isthmus Jazz Festival June 3 and 4. Overture likewise has jazz in the offing with crooner Michael Feinstein, who brings his Sinatra Project April 1. In a similarly swinging vein is Overture's Cabaret Dinner Series, which includes intimate events like Reel Love with Beckie Menzie & Tom Michael (Feb. 14).
Around the holidays, expect a poignant blend of music and drama at Union Theater as the acclaimed male vocal ensemble Cantus presents All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914 (Dec. 11). It's based on the incredible World War I temporary truce between the Allies and the Germans in "no man's land" (and memorialized in the 2005 French film Joyeux Noël).
On a completely different holiday note, the legendary Chicago comedy troupe Second City brings its "Dysfunctional Holiday Revue" to Overture Center Dec. 11.
Union Theater's classical choices include the familiar Keyboard Conversations with Jeffrey Siegel series (with music this year by Schumann and French composers). The Jerusalem String Quartet performs Oct. 22, and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Edo de Waart, plays Nov. 21.
Young violin virtuoso Hilary Hahn - no stranger to Madison - performs at the Union Theater with pianist Valentina Lisitsa on Feb. 17. They'll tackle music by Bach, Beethoven and Ives. (Odd fact about Hahn: She tweets, rather bizarrely, in the persona of her violin case. To wit: "I wonder what it's like to eat food.")
Other Union Theater offerings include '60s folk icon Joan Baez, who makes a stop on Oct. 8. And Celtic music lovers will want to take note of Gaelic Storm on Feb. 19, followed just a few weeks later by the Chieftains at Overture Hall (March 3). Gaelic Storm is part of the Union Theater's World Stage Series, which also features Ballet Hispanico (Oct. 2) and Acoustic Africa (March 10).
This is just a taste of the performing arts highlights from dozens of offerings in the 2010-11 season. For complete schedules - and late-breaking additions - visit the Overture Center and Union Theater websites.