Summer Stock Austin is a-comin’ down the street

Before you know it, Summer Stock Austin will be packing folks into the air-conditioned Rollins Studio Theatre for three shows at the Long Center for the Performing Arts.

Last year, we were bowled over by “Annie Get Your Gun” and mightily amused by “Monty Python’s Spamalot” as performed by students and young pros.

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The three selections this year:

“The Music Man” (July 20-Aug. 11) Meredith Wilson‘s classic about a con man selling the idea of a marching band to small-town Iowa is an ideal match to the Summer Stock project. Bonus: Top teacher Ginger Morris directs and choreographs.

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“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” (Aug. 1-11) This adaptation of the Steve Martin-Michael Caine movie — also about swindlers — is not revived often enough. We admired the David Yazbek-Jeffrey Lane show on Broadway but haven’t seen it since. Dustin Gooch directs.

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“Rob1n” (July 24-Aug.11) Every year, Austin national treasure Allen Robertson contributes a new show to the Summer stock season. He worked with Damon Brown on the book for this family-friendly version of the Robin Hood tales — hey, another lovable criminal?).

Robertson’s job? He only wrote the music and lyrics, co-wrote the book and serves as the show’s director and music director.

Ticket info:

Tickets are available at TheLongCenter.org or by calling (512) 474.LONG (5664). Also available at the Long Center’s 3M Box Office located at 701 West Riverside Drive at South First Street. For groups of 10 and more, please call 512-457-5161 orgroupsales@thelongcenter.org.

The last time we talked to supreme Broadway artist Stephen Sondheim

In the occasion of Zach Theatre‘s first fully staged musical by Stephen Sondheim, “Sunday in the Park with George,” which opens May 30, we republish this Nov. 8, 2009 story that includes my interview with great man himself. 

Stephen Sondheim in 1976. AP

Stephen Sondheim, the creative force behind 18 major musicals, might be the greatest artist Broadway has ever produced.

Consider his music, lyrics and theatrical collaborations over the past 50 years. He transformed the way words go with music during the musical’s so-called Golden Age (“West Side Story,” “Gypsy”). He later fused music and lyrics into darker material (“Company,” “Follies” “A Little Night Music”), which led to his mature theatrical masterpieces (“Sweeney Todd,” “Into the Woods,” “Sunday in the Park with George”) and even his lesser gems (“Merrily We Roll Along,” “Assassins”).

Critics believe his work will survive centuries, if not millennia.

“Sondheim – more than any other composer or lyricist – has given us music and theater that is memorable, challenging, intelligent and inventive, yet emotionally and intellectually satisfying,” says Rick Pender, editor of the Sondheim Quarterly, a national magazine devoted to its namesake. “I do not see this kind of multifaceted genius in any other Broadway artist.”

Sondheim is not so sure about his legacy.

“I wouldn’t make any pronouncements,” he said recently in a rare telephone interview. “Who knows if musicals will be done? Who does the musicals from 100 years ago? They are ridiculous. The songs are good. Not the musicals. You want to listen to an Irving Berlin tune, but not see an Irving Berlin show.”

(“Annie Get Your Gun” might be an exception.)

Thursday, the nine-time Tony Award winner – who also earned an Academy Award and a Pulitzer Prize – will make his first Austin appearance. He will extend a cycle of public conversations started two years ago with The New York Times opinion writer and former theater critic Frank Rich. At the Long Center, his colloquy partner will be Austin Chronicle arts editor Robert Faires.

Local musical aficionados can hardly wait for the verbal exchange.

“Sondheim represents everything that is good about American musical theater,” says Austin director Michael McKelvey, who recently staged an award-winning “Sweeney Todd.” “He is always original and thought-provoking, a composer with a grasp of all that Western music can deliver.”

Born in 1930 in New York City, Sondheim wrote his first musical as a student whose schoolmates included the son of lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II. The elder artist had collaborated with composers such as Jerome Kern and Richard Rodgers to produce classics like “Show Boat,” “Oklahoma!” and “South Pacific.” In one of the happy coincidences of theatrical history, Hammerstein became a sort of surrogate father and oversaw the development of Sondheim’s tender aesthetic.

Although he studied music seriously, it was Sondheim’s lyrics that first drew the attention of Broadway professionals. And, in the postwar period, words made an emphatic point. Hammerstein had already linked the songs closely to the action, so that audiences actually paid attention to them.

“The next big change came with the rock revolution,” Sondheim says. “People started listening to lyrics. Nobody really listened to Cole Porter’s lyrics, except the clever, comic ones. After the pop revolution, people had a lot to say: There was anger and passion – (expletive) the establishment. Before that, lyrics were generally anodyne: ‘I love you darling,’ and all that. I’m oversimplifying, but “”

Sondheim’s lyrics were so adept, so clever, so crucial to each show’s emotional progress, he was recognized as a singular wordsmith.

“I am continually in awe of the multiple emotional layers and thoughtfulness of Sondheim’s work,” says Zach Theatre director Dave Steakley. “The recent spate of stripped-down productions, fewer orchestrations and chorus members, have revealed new truths for his fans and have become new, meaningful works on their own, instead of feeling lesser.”

More than 60 years after penning his first lyrics, Sondheim has collected them in a two-volume book that will include recollections and commentary.

“There are a lot of lyrics and a lot of comment,” jokes Sondheim, one of the few theater artists elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Reviewing thousands of lyrical lines – all stored in the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center – were there any surprises?

“Honestly no,” he says. “Every now and then, I would glow with pride and delight, or wince with shame and embarrassment. But I’m a slow writer. I worked on these things meticulously, so there are not a lot of surprises left. I really know every word.”

Although he had been writing musicals for 25 years, Sondheim did not make his mark as a composer until 1970, with a string of grown-up hits: “Company,” “Follies” and “A Little Night Music.”

“My first exposure to the fully formed Sondheim was when I bought the original cast album of ‘Follies’ in the 1970s,” says Long Center managing director Paul Beutel. “The raw yet soaring emotion of songs like ‘Too Many Mornings’ and ‘Losing My Mind’ – so perfectly captured in music and lyrics – just wiped me out.”

Although musical devotees call these “Sondheim shows,” the artist always emphasizes his collaborations with writers and directors (Harold Prince, James Lapine, etc.) and, especially, his prized orchestrator, Jonathan Tunick, whose full-

orchestra sound undergirds Tim Burton’s movie adaptation of “Sweeney Todd.”

“He is a most generous man, a mentor who is always ready to lend his support – creative, emotional and intellectual – to the work of others,” Sondheim Quarterly’s Pender says.

Recently, two of Sondheim’s collaborators, George Furth and Larry Gelbart, died.

“George was an actor,” Sondheim says. “Music meant nothing to him. So writing with him was interesting. That’s one reason the songs don’t always fit into the script. They are commentary; raisins in the cake. But George’s dialogue is extremely brilliant. It’s dialogic.”

Gelbart, his collaborator in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” adapting the Roman comedies of Plautus, understood music, he says.

“In ‘Forum,’ the songs are respites from the farce,” Sondheim says. “And ‘Forum’ is a very tight farce. The songs are breathing places. Otherwise the comedy would be relentless.”

One reason Sondheim’s shows – almost never big profit machines – are regularly revived is they provide peerless opportunities for performers.

“Sondheim’s work demands that a performer be equally gifted as an actor and as a singer,” says director Steakley. “Sondheim’s melodies and harmonies, as well as the speed of his complicated lyrics in passages of songs, are rigorous for a singer to master. Equal to this is the emotional investment and honesty required to convey his character’s multilayered states of being.”

Patti LuPone, Angela Lansbury, Mandy Patinkin, Bernadette Peters, Raul Esparza, Audra McDonald and Elaine Stritch are among the prime Sondheim interpreters. One of Sondheim’s special muses, Lansbury, was in one of his early musicals, and she’s slated to play aged Madame Armfedlt in the upcoming Broadway revival of “A Little Night Music.” British director Trevor Nunn’s restaging of “Night Music,” transferred from London to New York, is simpler than earlier versions.

“The tone is Chekhovian,” Sondheim says. “That’s implicit in the piece anyway. It’s about shadows. But it’s still a comedy, done with chamber music in a chamber style.”

One musical that made a definite impression in high school and college drama departments is “Merrily We Roll Along,” which deals with the fraying of youthful ideals in a tale told backward. Yet it lasted only 17 performances in its first Broadway run. Later, Sondheim and Furth tinkered with it, and Lapine revived it on the road.

“We are satisfied with it now,” Sondheim says. “The problem – and this was true in the source Kaufman and Hart play – the lead is an unsympathetic character you get to like. James dug into it a little more, without softening it. Just helping audiences out. It may never satisfy them. People are turned off by unsympathetic characters. I like them, when something interesting happens to them.”

Although he was pleased with the movie version of “Sweeney Todd” – and he’s in negotiations for films of “Follies” and “Into the Woods” – he’s not ready to make generalizations about the return of the movie musical, or the success of youth-oriented shows like “Glee” and the “High School Musical” movies.

“Mine are not that kind of musical,” he says. “They are not as freewheeling, when the stories are just excuses for the numbers.”

Sondheim is also uncomfortable talking about his legacy, though he would include the composing teams of John Kander and Fred Ebb (“Cabaret,” “Chicago”), as well as Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick (“Fiddler on the Roof,” “She Loves Me”), as ones that will tend to endure beyond our time.

A notorious perfectionist, Sondheim, at 79, can look back with some pleasure on his work.

“Every now and then I see something of mine and say ‘that was good,’ he says. “It takes a long to not to be neurotic about it. Usually, I see only what’s wrong. Now I accept what’s good.”

Winning the Austin High School Musical Theatre Awards

Forget the Oscars. Never mind the Tonys. Pay no attention to the Grammys.

Give us the Greater Austin High School Musical Theatre Awards.

Contributed by Cathie Sheridan.

Sure, last night’s ceremony at the Long Center clocked in at just under four hours. Nevertheless, we loved almost every minute of this energetic toast to 38 participating high schools and their remarkable talents.

Some quick observations and then some winners. Playbill’s Tyler Mount was the show’s best emcee yet. Fast, funny and on target with his “paid segues” and promos. Despite the total running time, the show, which highlights dozens of slickly produced musical numbers and video selfies from Broadway pros, felt tighter, more on time this year.

RELATED: Tyler Mount returns to Austin for high school musical theater awards.

Austin City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan just about stole the show and earned the evening’s only unadulterated standing ovation. He showed up to read municipal proclamation — usually a dull task — but donned a little, regal hat and performed a magnificent version to the tune of King George III‘s “You’ll Be Back” from “Hamilton.”

To use a show biz term: He killed! Killed! He should come back every year.

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Contributed by Cathie Sheridan.

Enough is enough: Here are the winners.

2018 Greater Austin High School Musical Theatre Awards

Best Production: “The Addams Family,” Dripping Springs High School

Best Actress in a Leading Role: Katie Haberman, “The Addams Family,” Dripping Springs High School

Best Actor in a Leading Role: Stone Mountain, “Catch Me If You Can,” St. Andrew’s Episcopal School

Related: A record 38 schools up for musical awards.

Best Direction: “The Addams Family,” Dripping Springs High School

Best Ensemble: “West Side Story,” McCallum Fine Arts Academy

Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Christine Ashbaugh, “Guys and Dolls,” Marble Falls High School

Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Ryan Mills, “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” Vista Ridge High School

Best Featured Performer: Cassie Martin, “The Addams Family,” Dripping Springs High School

Best Choreography: “Grease,” Cedar Ridge High School

Best Orchestra: “West Side Story,” McCallum Fine Arts Academy

RELATED: All rise for the Austin high school musical.

Best Musical Direction: “Catch Me If You Can,” St. Andrew’s Episcopal School

Best Scenic Design: “Shrek the Musical,” Rouse High School

Student Design Award: Alessandro Hendrix, Crockett High School

Best Costume Design: “Catch Me If You Can,” St. Andrew’s Episcopal School

Best Lighting Design: “Hairspray,” Akins High School

Best Technical Execution: “Chicago,” St. Stephen’s Episcopal School

 

 

Zach Theatre’s next season blazes ahead with new and rekindled shows

Zach Theatre‘s next season includes three new musicals, one musical revival, two new plays and the return of two holiday favorites. Add to that some family options on the Kleberg Stage.

Andrew Rannells played Hedwig in Zach Theatre’s first production of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” in 2002. He went on to a red-hot Broadway career. Ha Lam/American-Statesman

The list includes:

“Once” (Sept. 19-Oct. 28, The Topfer). It was quite a leap from the screen to the Broadway stage for this intimate story about an Irish musician and a Czech immigrant. But it worked and the stage version won the Tony Award for Best Musical. This will be its first Austin-based staging.

“Notes from the Field” (Feb. 27-March 31, The Kleberg). There are many Anna Deveare Smiths. There’s the TV and movie actor (“Nurse Jackie,” “Blackish,” “Let Me Down Easy”), there’s the documentary playwright (“Fires in the Mirror,” “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992″) and the restless theater artist who has previously done research in Austin. She returns to Zach with a new piece about people caught in America’s school-to-prison pipeline.”

“Matilda the Musical” (April 3-May 12, The Topfer). Roald Dahl charmed with his story about the spunky title character. The musical version took that heartwarmer a step further with a rousing cast of singers and dancers. Think “Annie” meets “Billy Elliot.”

“The Ballad of Klook and Vinette” (April 24-May 26, The Kleberg). This world premiere musical comes with an asterisk: Pending final approval. Not sure yet how it’s a world premiere, since it comes with rave reviews from the U.K., but we’ll report as soon as we find out.

“Fire and Air” (June 12-July 14, The Topfer). Terrence McNally is becoming something of a house playwright for Zach Theatre. Texas-born McNally has contributed quite a few plays and musicals to the company past seasons. This is his newest play, based on the history of the Ballets Russes.

“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” (July 31-Sept. 8, The Topfer) Zach was way ahead of its time staging this punkish musical centered around a song stylist who is also the victim of a botched sex-change operation. And its previous staging starred Andrew Rannells, who went on to Broadway’s “Book of Mormon,” “Boys in the Band,” etc. (He also returned to Zach for the opening of the Topfer). Any chance of his return?

HOLIDAY

Zach Theatre’s unique retelling of ‘A Christmas Carol’ returns for the 2018-2019 season. Contributed by Kirk Tuck.

“A Christmas Carol” (Nov. 21-Dec. 20, The Topfer). A special Austin brand of good will suffuses this musical adaptation of the Dickens tale.

“The Santaland Diaries” (Dec. 5-30, The Whisenunt) Some writer at the Statesman called it: “Sardonic tonic for the holidays!”

MOODY FOUNDATION THEATER FOR FAMILIES

“Tortoise and Hare” (Sept 8-Feb. 27, The Kleberg) Allen Robertson and Damon Brown devised this musical version of the ancient fable. It runs for a long time.

“Holiday Heroes” (Nov. 29-Dec. 13) More stage love from Allen Robertson, this time in collaboration with Shuan Wainwright Branigan and Jerome Schoolar.

So how do you obtain season tickets? If you are a subscriber, the deadline to renew your seats is April 15. New subscriptions will go on sale in May. Call 512-476-0541 x1 or go to zachtheatre.org.

 

A record 38 Austin area high school musicals up for awards

A record 38 area schools won nominations for the 2018 Greater Austin High School Musical Theatre Awards, which return to the Long Center for the Performing Arts on April 18.

If you haven’t already heard, this is one of the most entertaining — if overlong — evenings of the season. Not only are songs from nominated shows performed, the nominees for Best Actor and Best Actress sing medleys, and the Long Center Select Ensemble adds its polished skills to still more show tunes. Can there be to many?

RELATED: All rise for Austin high school musicals!

The celebrity emcee this year will be Tyler Mount, who created Playbill’s “The Tyler Mount Vlog.” A graduate of St. Edward’s University and alumnus of Summer Stock Austin at the Long Center, Mount also has performed and produced on Broadway.

RELATED: Look who won the 2017 Austin high school musical awards.

More than 4,000 students participated in the 38 nominated shows.

2018 HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL AWARDS NOMINATIONS

Best Production

Akins High School—Hairspray

Cedar Ridge High School—Grease

Dripping Springs High School—The Addams Family

Jack C. Hays High School—The Mystery of Edwin Drood

McCallum Fine Arts Academy—West Side Story

Round Rock High School—Guys and Dolls

Rouse High School—Shrek the Musical

St. Stephen’s Episcopal School—Chicago

Best Direction

Akins High School—Hairspray

Dripping Springs High School—The Addams Family

Jack C. Hays High School—The Mystery of Edwin Drood

McCallum Fine Arts Academy—West Side Story

Round Rock High School—Guys and Dolls

Rouse High School—Shrek the Musical

St. Stephen’s Episcopal School—Chicago

Vista Ridge High School—Monty Python’s Spamalot

Best Ensemble

Cedar Ridge High School—Grease

Dripping Springs High School—The Addams Family

East View High School—Damn Yankees

Jack C. Hays High School—The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Leander High School—The Addams Family

McCallum Fine Arts Academy—West Side Story

St. Andrew’s Episcopal School—Catch Me If You Can

St. Stephen’s Episcopal School—Chicago

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Jacob Hensey—Austin High School

Hunter Anderson—Bastrop High School

Evan Vines—Cedar Park High School

Justin Florie—Elgin High School

Brough Cosgrove & Ben Miller—Jack C. Hays High School

Keaton Brandt—McNeil High School

Keaton Pugh—Rouse High School

Nicholas Topfer—St. Andrew’s Episcopal School

Stone Mountain—St. Andrew’s Episcopal School

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Sydney LePage—Austin High School

Abigail Holtfort—Cedar Park High School

Katie Haberman—Dripping Springs High School

Erin Swearingen—Jack C. Hays High School

Maddy Sparkes—James Bowie High School

Helena Laing—McCallum Fine Arts Academy

Heidi Wilding—Round Rock High School

Brooke Silverstein—St. Stephen’s Episcopal School

Brittany Young—Vandegrift High School

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Jack White—Cedar Ridge High School

Preston Willis—Dripping Springs High School

Anthony Collins—Lanier High School

Jordan Williams—Leander High School

Zane Sanchez—Liberty Hill High School

Cooper Ward—Round Rock High School

Elliot Esquivel—Rouse High School

Andrew Yow—St. Stephen’s Episcopal School

Ryan Mills—Vista Ridge High School

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Quinn Skarnulis—Anderson High School

Jessica Marcano—Cedar Ridge High School

Emily Warkentin—Dripping Springs High School

Taylor Cooper—Jack C. Hays High School

Riley Sugrue—James Bowie High School

Zoe Gonzalez—Lake Travis High School

Caroline Holmes—Leander High School

Christine Ashbaugh—Marble Falls High School

Lexi Wood—Round Rock High School

Best Featured Performer

Sadie Seddon-Stettler—Anderson High School

Shawn Patterson—Cedar Creek High School

Emily Pesina—Del Valle High School

Cassie Martin—Dripping Springs High School

Noah Wood—East View High School

Krista Hollins—Lanier High School

Sean Hall—LBJ/LASA High School

Jared Brown—Lehman High School

Lucas Boyles—Rouse High School

Catherine Hipolito—Stony Point High School

Darrin Redford—Tom Glenn High School

William Sheriff—Vista Ridge High School

Best Orchestra

Akins High School—Hairspray

James Bowie High School—Mary Poppins

LBJ/LASA High School­—9 to 5 The Musical

McCallum Fine Arts Academy—West Side Story

McNeil High School—The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Round Rock High School—Guys and Dolls

Rouse High School—Shrek the Musical

Vista Ridge High School—Monty Python’s Spamalot

Best Scenic Design

Akins High School—Hairspray

Austin High School—Avenue Q School Edition

Del Valle High School—The Addams Family

Elgin High School—Seussical

Lanier High School—Avenue Q School Edition

Leander High School—The Addams Family

Rouse High School—Shrek the Musical

St. Andrew’s Episcopal School—Catch Me If You Can

Best Musical Direction

Cedar Ridge High School—Grease

Dripping Springs High School—The Addams Family

James Bowie High School—Mary Poppins

McCallum Fine Arts Academy—West Side Story

Round Rock High School—Guys and Dolls

Rouse High School—Shrek the Musical

St. Andrew’s Episcopal School—Catch Me If You Can

Vista Ridge High School—Monty Python’s Spamalot

Best Costume Design

Akins High School—Hairspray

David Crockett High School—Heathers (High School Edition)

Dripping Springs High School—The Addams Family

Lehman High School—Pippin

Rouse High School—Shrek the Musical

St. Andrew’s Episcopal School—Catch Me If You Can

St. Stephen’s Episcopal School—Chicago

Vista Ridge High School—Monty Python’s Spamalot

Best Lighting Design

Akins High School—Hairspray

Dripping Springs High School—The Addams Family

Hendrickson High School—Heathers (High School Edition)

Lake Travis High School—The Wedding Singer

Lanier High School—Avenue Q School Edition

Marble Falls High School—Guys and Dolls

McCallum Fine Arts Academy—West Side Story

Rouse High School—Shrek the Musical

Best Technical Execution

Bastrop High School—Little Shop of Horrors

Dripping Springs High School—The Addams Family

East View High School—Damn Yankees

James Bowie High School—Mary Poppins

Round Rock High School—Guys and Dolls

Rouse High School—Shrek the Musical

St. Andrew’s Episcopal School—Catch Me If You Can

St. Stephen’s Episcopal School—Chicago

 

 

 

 

Former Austinite Harvey Schmidt of ‘Fantasticks’ fame has died

We just read that Harvey Schmidt, co-creator of “The Fantasticks,” the longest running musical in history, has died at age 88.

The 2010 cast of ‘The Fantasticks” at the University of Texas. Contributed by Lauren Tarbel

The last time we chatted with Schmidt, a former Austinite who attended the University of Texas, he was in town in 2010 with his lyricist, Tom Jones, to toast the 50th anniversary of his hit, which ran for nearly 42 years at the 153-seat Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village — 17,162 performances! — before closing in 2002. It returned in 2006 at the Theater Center and ran until its New York total since 1960 reached 21,552.

Word Baker, who directed the show, also attended UT.

In Austin during the 1950s, Schmidt and Jones were part of the Curtain Club, the extracurricular drama group started by critic and scholar Stark Young in 1907. Both “The Fantasticks” and their much less successful “Celebration” relied heavily on their theater historical training at UT.

Harvey Schmidt. Contributed by Photofest

Two more of their best remembered Broadway shows were “I Do! I Do!,” a two-actor musical about love and marriage that was mostly a showcase for Mary Martin and Robert Preston, and “110 in the Shade,” based on “The Rainmaker.” Their major musicals have been revived here periodically. More evidence hometown loyalty: The Paramount Theatre was one of the few in the country that ever exhibited the ill-fated 1995 movie adaptation of “The Fantasticks.”

Here’s a snip from something I wrote back in 2010 before the UT event: So just how did “The Fantasticks” get its start in Austin? The composing pair closely studied the source material, Edmund Rostand‘s “Les Romanesques,” with (UT professor and director) B. Iden Payne and witnessed multiple student versions of the story about parents who bring their children together by pretending to keep them apart. They collaborated on deliriously popular student revues at UT and creative projects in New York before “The Fantasticks” took off, boosting the careers of Jerry Orbach, Robert Goulet, Glenn Close, Rita Gardner, Richard Chamberlain, George Chakiris, John Davidson and others. (The book to read is “The Amazing Story of The Fantasticks: America’s Longest Running Play” by Donald C. Farber and Robert Viagas.)

This is what I wrote afterwards: We witnessed history. Oct. 15, on the first night of the University Texas’ celebration of the 50th Anniversary of “The Fantasticks,” a perky set of undergraduates performed a sharply contoured revue of songs by Texas exes Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt. The portfolio included fewer than two dozen from the composing team’s 1,000+ songs, written over the course of 60 years. Yet it polished up rare gems, like alternative versions of the “I Do! I Do!” title song and the duo’s work as UT students and cabaret composers during the 1950s.

At the end of the show, Schmidt and Jones, now in their eighties, met at the piano. They sang four short songs, but — oh! — it was well worth witnessing the composers of America’s longest running play jazzing it up for the crowd. Two instant hits were “Mr. Off-Broadway,” their self-descriptive salute to the movement they helped popularize, and “Freshman Song,” the first they ever wrote together, 60 years ago for a wildly popular UT student review. How many can say they have witnessed the crowning of such a career at one’s alma mater?

The song’s shy, hopeful lyrics set loose the waterworks for the assembled guests, mostly alumni who packed the weekend of performances, panels and parties. The subsequent reception outside the Brockett Theatre was like old home week for seven decades of theater and dance students.

The eldest member of the Curtain Club — which predated the drama department — spoke of joining in the early 1940s. She was the picture of grace and eloquence.

The next morning, UT playwright Steven Dietz delivered a philosophical keynote speech about theater preparing us “to be.” Texas Performing Arts director Kathy Panoff, with help from music director Lyn Koenning, interviewed Schmidt and Jones for a delightful hour of anecdotes and reminiscences. Both Texans retain a ready wit and literate array of references.

Playwright Kirk Lynn and arts editor Robert Faires then led a discussion of how new work changes theater, dance and training. The panel linked choreographer Kitty McNamee, playwrights Robert Schenkkan, Kim Peter Kovac and Carson Kreitzer. They made a convincing case for the act of making something from nothing.

Costume designer Susan Mickey helped me corral a raucous crew of talents: Bruce McGill (“Animal House,” “The Legend of Bagger Vance”); Todd Lowe (“Gilmore Girls,” “True Blood”); and Brian Danner (Los Angeles fight director). We discussed whether a university arts education was worth nothing – or everything. Other talks and demonstrations honeycombed the Winship Building before a performance of “The Fantasticks.”

 

New Austin subscribers must wait for ‘Hamilton’ season tickets

Broadway in Austin has paused its acceptance of new subscribers for the 2018-2019 season that includes the smash musical “Hamilton.” Current subscribers to the 2017-2018 season can still renew their seats through March 27.

New subscribers to the Texas Performing Arts series can sign up for the waiting list to be notified if additional season tickets become available.

Michael Luwoye and Isaiah Johnson in the ‘Hamilton’ national tour. Contributed by Joan Marcus

This pause is unprecedented in the history of touring shows at the University of Texas’ Bass Concert Hall. Demand must be incredibly high.

UPDATE 11:26 a.m. Feb. 28:

“We’ve heard no complaints or frustrations from customers so far,” says Broadway in Austin spokeswoman Amy Layton. “The numbers on the waiting list for new subscriptions, however, are on the rise.”

Layton said that this situation has happened in other markets where “Hamilton” was on the season list.

“Current season ticket holders’ seats are held,” she says about those with 2017-2018 season subscriptions. “We have not given any of them away. Current subscribers have until March 27 to renew.”

Layton also said that because the touring route is already locked in, it’s highly unlikely that any new performances would be added in Austin. That can happen in markets where hits such as “Hamilton” can “sit down” at one theater for a long time, places such as Los Angeles, Chicago and Toronto.

Get your ‘Hamilton’ tickets for Austin right now

[cmg_anvato video=”3965915″]

UPDATE 8:57 a.m. Feb. 28: Broadway in Austin has paused its acceptance of new subscribers for the 2018-2019 season that includes the smash musical “Hamilton.” Current subscribers to the 2017-2018 season can still renew their seats through March 27.

New subscribers to the Texas Performing Arts series can sign up for the waiting list to be notified if additional season tickets become available.

This pause is quite unusual, perhaps unprecedented in the history of touring shows at the University of Texas’ Bass Concert Hall. Demand must be incredibly high.

———-

At last you have permission to order those “Hamilton” tickets for the once-in-a-generation musical that will stop in Austin at Bass Concert Hall for three weeks in 2019.

Michael Luwoye and Isaiah Johnson in the ‘Hamilton’ national tour. Contributed by Joan Marcus

The happy catch? To secure those tickets beginning at 11 a.m. Feb. 20 when the Broadway in Austin call center opens, you must subscribe to the whole 2018-2019 season, presented by Texas Performing Arts at Bass Concert Hall. That means six other shows, including one comedy, three relatively new musicals and two long-running Broadway standards. Single tickets to “Hamilton” and the other shows will go on sale at a later date.

Yet let’s start with “Hamilton,” which plays May 28-June 16, 2019, at the very end of the coming season.

RELATED: Broadway smash ‘Hamilton’ coming to Austin in 2018-2019 season

“We have been building up to this season since ‘Hamilton’ opened on Broadway,” says Kathy Panoff, Texas Performing Arts director and associate dean of the University of Texas School of Fine Arts. “We’re thrilled it’s finally coming to Austin.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda reinvented the musical theater form with this ferociously smart show about Alexander Hamilton, inspired by Ron Chernow’s best-selling biography. Using a range of musical styles in a sung- and rapped-through score — as well as mostly nonwhite actors, who give every old idea new meaning — the show opened on Broadway in 2015. It has been sold out ever since, and individual tickets can go for hundreds of dollars.

Yet season ticket prices for all seven Broadway in Austin selections, including “Hamilton,” start as low as $224.

While you are holding your breath for the Great Arrival, six other shows wait in the Bass Concert Hall queue.

Alex Mandell and Amelia McClain in the ‘The Play That Goes Wrong,’ the only nonmusical in the Broadway in Austin season. Contributed by Jeremy Daniel.

The one comedy — a rare nonmusical for Broadway in Austin — is “The Play That Goes Wrong,” a British product that has been compared to the backstage farce “Noises Off.” In this show, things go disastrously wrong during the opening night of a play called “The Murder at Havensham Manor,” proving that theatrical life is often the theater’s most effective subject. It lands Oct. 23-28, 2018.

Among the new musicals, “Love Never Dies” is an Andrew Lloyd Webber tuner billed as a sequel to his mega-hit, “The Phantom of the Opera.” Lloyd Webber, however, once said: “I don’t regard this as a sequel — it’s a stand-alone piece.” He later clarified his remarks, saying that of course it is a sequel, but you need not have seen “Phantom” to understand it. Fair enough. It stumbled during its original London run but was embraced in Australia. “Love” tarries Nov. 27-Dec. 2, 2018.

‘Waitress’ is based on a charming indie movie. The musical has run on Broadway for two years. Contributed

Another new musical, “Waitress,” was inspired by the charming 2007 independent movie by the same name and features an admired score by singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles, who currently stars in the New York cast. The musical version of “Waitress” opened on Broadway in 2016 and is still running, which is a feat for a relatively quiet, personal show. It tells of a cafe server stuck in an unhappy marriage who is pregnant and having an affair and who seeks redemption through a pie contest. It takes your orders Jan. 22-27, 2019.

Before becoming a Broadway musical, ‘Anastasia’ was a book, play, film and animated movie. Contributed

“Anastasia,” the third new musical, shares an Austin connection. Local arts backers Marc and Carolyn Seriff are among the credited producers. The 2017 musical is based on the 1997 animated film — itself inspired by plays and novels about the recovery of a possibly lost Russian princess — and many of its fans remain loyal from that experience. It received lukewarm notices in New York, but, based on its built-in appeal, the producers immediately announced a worldwide tour. It appears Feb. 12-17, 2019.

The older musicals need no introductions. “Fiddler on the Roof,” the 1964 Bock and Harnick classic based on shtetl life, brings back Jewish traditions and indelible songs April 2-7, 2019. The musical focuses on Tevye, a dairyman with five daughters who must deal with changing cultural norms as well as the expulsion of the Jews by the Czar’s forces.

The record-breaking show comes to Austin by way of a fresh production from director Bartlett Sher.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s indestructible “Cats,” which debuted on Broadway in 1982 and then ran 18 years, shows up on our collective doorsteps again May 7-12, 2019. You either hate or love this show based on T.S. Eliot poems about feline life and afterlife. There’s no denying that tunes such as “Memory” are hard to pry from your mind. Whether you cotton to the furry costumes, circus makeup and undulating choreography is a matter of personal preference.

How to land tickets to ‘Hamilton’ and more

The seven-show Lexus Broadway in Austin 2018-19 season subscriptions go on sale starting at 11 a.m. Feb. 20. Prices start as low as $224. Visit broadwayinaustin.com or call Broadway in Austin at 800-731-7469 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The deadline for current season subscribers to renew their seats is March 27. Groups of 10 or more may request reservations by calling 877-275-3804 or via email at Austin.Groups@BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com. Individual show ticket sales will be announced at a later date.

‘The Nutcracker’ and “Drowsy Chaperone’ holiday tidbits

Ballet Austin’s “The Nutcracker” and the University of Texas’ “The Drowsy Chaperone” will be well worth your entertainment time this coming week. Here’s a taste of two articles about the shows.

 

The corps de ballet dance through a snowy “Nutcracker” scene in 2016, with Constance Doyle up front. Contributed

READ FULL “NUTCRACKER” STORY.

They come and go so quickly.

Oh, sure, some lucky ballet dancers manage to extend their careers for decades. Others happily switch to congruent creative roles at a convenient age. But just when you think you’ve identified all the major players in Ballet Austin — which opens its holiday treat, “The Nutcracker,” on Dec. 8 — myriad new faces joins the familiar ones onstage.

Already this season, veteran ballet watchers have noted a spate of younger talent on the Long Center stage. Now you can catch all of them through Dec. 23 because, for “The Nutcracker,” it’s all feet on deck.

PHOTOS: Ballet Austin’s ‘The Nutcracker’ through the years

Often a major role will be played by multiple dancers over the course of a long run. Watch for the relative newcomers during the Christmas party scene in Act 1, or dancing through snowflake magic as part of the corps de ballet later in the same act, or playing featured roles during the divertissements — the always diverting specialty dances — in Act 2. And elsewhere.

Some of these dancers are newly minted members of the main company; others serve in Ballet Austin II, the group’s farm team, as it were.

Now, we are not talking about the darling tots who hide under Mother Ginger’s huge skirt or play with gifts while teasing each other during the party sequence. These are professional dancers who have more recently come into the spotlight. Let’s introduce a few …

Natasha Davison (choreographer, center) and Nick Mayo (director, right) during rehearsals for “The Drowsy Chaperone” at the University of Texas. Contributed by Lawrence Peart

READ FULL “DROWSY CHAPERONE” STORY.

A show within a show, “The Drowsy Chaperone” tests the limits of the musical genre. On one level, it is a celebration of the giddy often mindless musicals of the 1920s. On another, it is a sharp critique of the stereotypes and cultural shorthand of the day.

As such, it makes an ideal candidate for a college musical theater program like the one at the University of Texas that, despite some high points, did not work out and will suspend operations — while Texas State University ramps up its efforts — with this carefully chosen material, while continuing to probe the history of theater for all its shifting meanings.

We asked director Nick Mayo about the musical that plays Dec. 6-10 at the Payne Theatre. Getting into the 1920s spirit of the show, he sent us some telegraphic notes.

Warning: The plot is ridiculously complicated. You see, a musical theater fan called Man in Chair introduces a show within a show called “The Drowsy Chaperone” about a mixed-up wedding that includes gangsters, mistaken identities and exotic locales, all of which infiltrate the Man in Chair’s apartment …

Today’s hires, fires, gifts and honors in Austin arts

We lied. This post reports on no firings. You can relax.

Yet “hires, fires, gifts and honors” sounds like a good catch-all headline. We might use it again.

Zilker Theatre Productions makes two key hires

The group that has staged the Zilker Summer Musical for 60 years has taken on J. Robert “Jimmy” Moore as artistic director. Moore, remembered recently for “Buyer and Cellar” at Zach Theatre, will work alongside Executive Director Kate Hix, already in place. Also, one of those beloved behind-the-scenes heroes, Shannon Richey, has been drafted as director of production. Moore and Richey are trusted veterans who will undoubtedly bolster this free and singularly Austin tradition. No word on next summer’s selection.

J. Robert Moore is now artistic director for Zilker Theatre Productions. Contributed

RELATED: Moore joins the Brotherhood of Barbra.

Austin Opera elects new board chairman

Arts benefactors Gail and Jeff Kodosky. Contributed by Becky Delgado

Austin Opera‘s board of trustees has designated Jeff Kodosky, founder of National Instruments and inveterate arts lovers, as its next chairman. He takes over the position from Elisabeth Waltz, who has served as chairwoman 2016. Kodosky has been with the board and the company through thick and thin since 1996. I’m sure this quiet, smiling man could tell some tales about the group that almost went away at least twice, but also has triumphed repeatedly. Next up is “Carmen” in November.

Huston-Tillotson is now an all-Steinway school. Contributed

Huston-Tillotson is now an all-Steinway school

Following a gift of $800,000, Huston-Tillotson University will become the only institution of higher learning in Central Texas, the fourth historically black college or university in the country, and the 196th college or university to join the All-Steinway School club. University officials will unveil the Steinway pianos during their Charter Day Convocation 10 a.m. Oct. 27, 2017 in the King-Seabrook Chapel on the campus at 900 Chicon Street. In addition, Steinway artist Marcus Roberts and the Marcus Roberts Trio will headline a special concert.

Tracy Bonfitto is the Ransom Center’s new curator of art. Contributed by Pete Smith

Ransom Center selects new curator of art

Austinites generally think of the Ransom Center as a literary treasure trove with out-of this-world strengths in modern literature, movies, performing arts and photography. And, oh yes, the Watergate papers. Yet is also houses, preserves and exhibits a lot of excellent visual art, too. Over the summer, Tracy Bonfitto was named curator of art. She comes with sterling credentials from Getty Research Institute, the Fowler Museum at UCLA and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She’s also a University of Texas grad.

I’m sure she will meld partnerships with the other distinguished and closely related cultural spots in that area of Austin, including the Blanton Museum of Art, LBJ Presidential Library, Briscoe Center for American History and Bullock Texas State History Museum as well as UT’s highly regarded Landmarks public arts program and its Visual Arts Center. Maybe the new Ellsworth Kelly house will help point the way visually and viscerally for more of a interrelated cultural campus.