Joining "Mormon," which took the Tony Award for best musical in 2011, will be the Tony winner for best play that year, "War Horse," a show celebrated for its inventive use of life-sized puppetry. One of last year's big Tony accumulators, "Peter and the Starcatcher," a play with music based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, is also on the Hippodrome lineup.
"It's a strong, subscriber-friendly season, appropriate for our 10th anniversary," said Jeff Daniel, president of the Hippodrome at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center. "It's going to be hard to beat. We've even got a great holiday show to balance it all."
That would be ...
"Mormon," which combines missionaries in Uganda with a slew of contemporary social and religious issues, is likely to become the toughest ticket in Baltimore. It will play for only two weeks, Feb. 25 to March 9, 2014.
"We endeavored to get a longer run of 'Book of Mormon,' but we couldn't," Daniel said. "Subscribers get first right to tickets, new subscribers next. There has already been an increase in subscribers this year, in anticipation of what's coming. Single tickets for this show in other markets have been tight, so I'm sure that will be the case here, too."
Subscription renewals begin Jan. 13; new subscriptions go on sale Feb. 10. Subscription packages include three shows that will be onstage for multiple-week engagements, plus a choice of three or four limited engagements.
In addition to "Mormon" and "Starcatcher" (May 6 to 18, 2014), there will be a multi-week presentation of "Sister Act," the musical based on the popular 1992 movie of that name (June 3 to 15, 2014).
The one-week bookings begin with the season-opener, "We Will Rock You," a jukebox musical with a futuristic plot and songs by Queen (Oct. 15 to 20).
The other one-weekers are "White Christmas" (Dec. 3 to 8); "War Horse" (Feb. 4 to 9, 2014); and "Ghost: The Musical," based on the hit movie from 1990 (April 8 to 13, 2014).
Like the blockbuster musical "Wicked," the critically acclaimed "Peter and the Starcatcher" provides a kind of prequel to a familiar and much loved children's story -- in this case, the J. M. Barrie classic "Peter and Wendy," with a back story for Peter Pan and Captain Hook.
"I think audiences here are going to come out for a quality piece like 'Peter and the Starcatcher.' It's a funny play with music, more of an art piece, really," Daniel said.
"War Horse" is very much an art piece, too, and also comes with music. Based on the children's novel by Michael Morpurgo that also inspired the 2011 Steven Spielberg film, it's the emotional saga of a boy and his beloved horse, and how both end up amid the trenches of World War I. Extraordinarily realistic puppetry brings the horse and other animals to life onstage.
The rest of the Hippodrome season is decidedly lighter in tone -- "To show we do not take ourselves too seriously," Daniel said.
The Queen-fueled "We Will Rock You" has been running for more than a decade in London, despite eviscerating reviews from the British press when it opened. Productions in several other countries have proved equally successful.
"We thought we would take a shot at it," Daniel said. "We like to offer something off the wall. I felt very comfortable with that choice. The music of Queen is great, and what got me is how they use it in the show."
"Sister Act" and "Ghost" also opened in London before landing on Broadway and also generated mixed-to-dismissive reviews, but found supportive audiences.
"'Sister Act' is a popular title and has a very talented cast," Daniel said. "As far as 'Ghost' is concerned, for some reason it has surveyed quite strongly when we ask our audiences what they would like us to bring here."
In addition to the season's seven main shows, three return engagements will be offered outside the subscription, each playing a limited run: "Jersey Boys" (Nov. 12 to 24); "Blue Man Group" (Jan. 10 to 12, 2014); and "West Side Story" (April 26 and 27, 2014).
If all goes well, there will be even more activity at the Hippodrome, this time not related to Broadway. Discussions are underway between the Hippodrome and the Pennsylvania Ballet, one of the country's major professional dance companies.
"We are most interested in establishing a presence in Baltimore and would certainly like to have the community support our efforts," said Michael Scolamiero, executive director of Pennsylvania Ballet. "I think what will probably happen is that we will present a family-friendly, full-length ballet in the spring of 2014 and use that as a test pilot, if you will."
The company was founded in 1963 by George Balanchine protege Barbara Weisberger, who is also longtime artistic advisor of to the dance program at the Peabody Institute. There are other Baltimore connections. Pennsylvania Ballet's training company has performed at the Baltimore School for the Arts; an alumnus of that school, Jermel Johnson, is one of the company's principal dancers.
Partnering with the Pennsylvania Ballet is in keeping with Daniel's goal of making the Hippodrome a performing arts center, not just a presenter of touring shows. The recent designation of the theater's west side neighborhood as the Bromo Tower Arts and Entertainment District provides another incentive.
"The long-range plan is for the ballet to have a full subscription season here, with productions, master classes, and educational outreach," Daniel said. "Fundraising and the educational component would likely be done through the Hippodrome Foundation."
Daniel said that the Hippodrome has stabilized financially, after years of annual $1 million utility bills necessitated by a deal with the Maryland Stadium Authority, a deal re-negotiated in 2011. There are 9,000 subscribers now, down from the 14,000 that signed up when the handsomely renovated theater opened in 2004.
"We renew over 80 percent of our subscribers, and I'm very proud of that," Daniel said. "That said, we are in the risk business, and I will be scouring the earth to find shows that will keep subscribers after 'Book of Mormon.' The more people who subscribe and stay with us, the more we can leverage that to bring more to Baltimore."
'BOOK OF MORMON' PHOTO BY JOAN MARCUS
I would gladly clear a spot on an overstuffed CD shelf for a version of Beethoven's Fifth and Seventh symphonies recently released on the Soli Deo Gloria label, recorded live at Carnegie Hall by New York's classical station radio WQXR.
This disc captures the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique and its conductor, John Eliot Gardiner, at a white-hot peak of expressive fervor. You can get freshly excited about these war horses all over again.
Gardiner and the ORR, a splendid ensemble of period instruments, recorded the nine symphonies nearly 20 years ago. This return to the Fifth and Seventh finds the musicians digging even more forcefully and incisively into the scores.
Detail after detail emerges with new clarity and purpose, from the most vehement fortissimos to the gentlest inner phrase.
Those of us who tightly clutch our Furtwangler and Bernstein recordings of Beethoven sometimes find the more literal approach of the authenticists and the leaner sound of period instrument orchestras wanting. But Gardiner has always been ...
One of my favorite concert experiences was a Beethoven 9 Gardiner and the ORR gave at Lincoln Center in the 1990s. I knew it would be quicker than my old faves; I smugly assumed it would feel less poetic and touching as well. Instead, I was riveted, rewarded, rejuvenated.
Sure, if you make me play the desert-island-recording game, I'd still choose some crackly old Furtwangler/Beethoven gem, but I'd keep Gardiner's interpretations tucked away in the memory banks, too.
I find the British conductor's latest account of the Fifth satisfying from the get-go, as when he takes a slight diminuendo on the D that concludes the fate-knocking motive, thus enabling the strings' next lines to emerge cleanly (too often, from modern orchestras, we get no such separation, so everything runs together -- the Baltimore Symphony's performance earlier this season with Marin Alsop was a case in point).
Many versions of the Fifth performed these days are fast. This one is, too, but with an extra degree of tautness and enough variations in speed to keep things interesting, often startling. Same goes for the Seventh. And in the slow(er) movements of both works, Gardiner never sounds hurried; he leaves lots of room for the beautifully expressive turns of phrase.
Throughout, his players deliver the goods, with terrific cohesiveness and abundant nuances of tone, clearly relishing the richness of ideas packed into each of these enduring, eventful symphonies.
The production, directed by Center Stage artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah, starts previews next week, opens Jan. 16 and runs through Feb. 24. The run coincides with MLK Day on Jan. 21, so the company is adding a performance that night to mark the occasion. Pricing will be different, too -- there's a pay-what-you-can policy for 100 tickets.
In addition to the performance of the play, there will be ...
This extra program is designed to "explore and reflect on Dr. King's dream and continuing his work of racial equality," quoting the press release. With President Obama's second inauguration taking place that day, the Center Stage event becomes all the more timely.
"Living the Dream" will be performed at 5 p.m., followed by a "light reception," which, in turn, will be followed by "The Mountaintop."
The 100 pay-what-you-can tickets to Jan. 21 performance of "The Mountaintop" go on sale at 9 a.m. Friday (Jan. 4) at the Center Stage box office and must be purchased in person. Remaining tickets will go on sale there at noon the next day. More details are available on the box office Web page.
As you know, the women in "Downton Abbey" sometimes forget their place, which can have devastating consequences for them. Seeing this on the telly might inspire women on this side of The Pond to pursue a similar, dangerous course.
The instructional video you are about to see reminds us all of the proper ways of society, so that we may be fully prepared if we ever get a coveted dinner invitation from true British gentry:
As we all know too well, that document alone did not free any slaves, but it was a crucial step that made clear the ultimate goal of the Civil War.
If you have seen Steven Spielberg's riveting film "Lincoln," you've probably been freshly consumed, as I have, by thoughts about this chapter of our country's past.
I know it sounds superficial, but the experience of the movie has made me feel the weight of today's anniversary more, has brought into sharper focus the significance and boldness of the Emancipation Proclamation -- and the subsequent effort to build on that step by fighting to pass the 13th Amendment, which "Lincoln" depicts so vividly.
To take note of this New Year's milestone in history, the deep, soul-stirring voice of Marian Anderson seems appropriate, even essential. Here is her recording of the spiritual "My Lord, What a Morning":
There is a wonderful moment in Act 2 when all of the mirth and slapstick of the operetta gives way to something gentle and, I think, quite genuine.
This number, "Brüderlein und Schwesterlein," sends a message that boils down to: Let's all promise to get along tomorrow after having so much fun tonight -- a message perfect for a New Year's Eve toast. This scene inspired Strauss to exceptional melodic heights -- the ultimate peak in his greatest work for the stage.
I've posted two versions here, because you (OK, I) can never get enough of this gorgeous music. I also thought that ... the contrast in interpretations might intrigue you.
The first version, which moves along nicely, is led by Nikolaus Harnoncourt. The more spacious second clip finds Carlos Kleiber in sublime form on the podium (the camera understandably spends a lot of time on him). The Kleiber video continues after "Bruderlein," so you can enjoy more of festive "Fledermaus" if you like.
So here's my New Year's Eve wishes for brotherhood and sisterhood:
(If such a horrid fate is magically avoided at the last minute, this is still worth a listen.)
Here is the finale of Alfredo Catalani's "La Wally," an under-appreciated opera from 1892 that just happens to end with an avalanche (don't ask) that sweeps the tenor off an Alpine peak to his death, which upsets the soprano no end, so she, naturally, leaps after him. Perfect fiscal cliff-plunging music, if you ask me.
Sorry there's no visual to go with this clip, but the sound effects are good enough to let you know exactly when the fatal denouement arrives for the opera's hapless couple. Feel free to imagine certain politicians joining them:
Here's the attempted filming of promo for a 'Liberace' Christmas Special with a very temperamental 'Orson Welles' as guest star:
I think this performance beautifully underlines the universality of music and the eternal, if ever elusive, hope for peace on earth:
Based on a vivid tale by the Brothers Grimm and first performed Dec. 23, 1893, Humperdinck's most famous opera does, of course, feature lots of talk and images of sweets, notably gingerbread.
So it's easy to make a seasonal tie-in, which is what Washington National Opera did over the weekend with a revival of its 2007 family-friendly production.
This abridged version of "Hansel and Gretel" drew lots of attentive and, as far as I could tell, well-entertained kids -- and adults -- to the Saturday matinee at the Kennedy Center's cozy Terrace Theater.
This sort of production, which keeps an eye on budget as well as the clock, invariably involves ...
I missed hearing the whole thing, but I understand the decision to trim (I have attached the complete overture at the end of this blog post in case you'd like to savor its richness).
The compromises also included the forces assembled in the pit to play that overture and the rest of the score -- an eight-member ensemble in place of the lush orchestra Humperdinck wrote for.
That really didn't matter too much, though, since the WNO players were in great form throughout, delivering this salon-style arrangement with considerable warmth and color under then sensitive guidance of conductor Michael Rossi.
The cast, drawn from current and alumni members of the company's Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program and sensibly directed by David Gately, likewise revealed respect and affection for this gem of an opera.
Bright-voiced soprano Shantelle Przybylo made an endearing Gretel. Mezzo Julia Mintzer summoned a good deal of spirit as Hansel.
As the Father, Norman Garrett made his mark with a sturdy baritone and vibrant phrasing. Sopranos Maria Eugenia Antunez (Mother) and Jessica Stecklein (Sandman/Dew Fairy) fulfilled their assignments vividly.
The production followed the now fairly common practice of turning the Witch into a drag role for a tenor. Corey Evan Rotz jumped into the assignment amusingly and sang colorfully.
Robin Vest's set, with a little hint of Sendak in it, worked well, as did Timm Burrow's costumes (including an unexpected Sandman-as-aviatrix outfit).
Now here's that wonderful overture, complete:
"Maintenance is a breeze. I am so happy that we chose InstantEncore!"