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Musicals to dominate Hippodrome's 2014-15 season

The 2014-2015 lineup presented by Broadway Across America at the Hippodrome does not boast blockbusters on the order of this season's "The Book of Mormon." But it will offer several recent Tony Award winners, a couple of dirty dancers and a famous foursome: Lucy, Ricky, Ethel and Fred (or approximations thereof).

"It's hard to beat a season with 'Mormon' and 'War Horse,' " said Jeff Daniel, president of the Hippodrome at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center. "But I think we’ve got a strong season with all sorts of things in it. To say there’s something for everyone is an understatement."

The musical-filled package includes three shows currently on Broadway: "Once," which earned eight Tonys, including Best Musical, in 2012; "Newsies," which picked up Tonys for Best Score and Best Choreography that same year; and "Pippin," which got the nod for Best Musical Revival in 2013.

In addition to "Pippin," two other musicals that originated in the 1970s — "Chicago" and "Annie" — will be on the Hippodrome's roster for 2014-2015. There’s a newer musical, too: "Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage," a production based on the hit movie from 1987.

Rounding out the list of musicals is "Wicked," returning to Baltimore for the third time. And, for something completely different, there's a production called "I Love Lucy Live on Stage," which will include some music, too.

"We're trying to reach a broad demographic," Daniel said. "There's always a couple of shows I wish we could have booked. It would have been fun to sprinkle 'Kinky Boots' into our season. We'll still get 'Kinky Boots' [in the future], but it's hard getting some shows with D.C. competing."

Competition with the Kennedy Center is a longtime issue for the Hippodrome, but Daniel said that the Baltimore venue has become more successful at it.

"We have adjusted the model," he said. "We used to emphasize two-week engagements. Now we are booking more one-week runs, which producers like. That means we are getting some hotter recent shows a season or two sooner. We couldn’t get 'Once,' 'Newsies' and 'Pippin' if we didn't have that flexibility."

"Once," based on the 2006 film of that name about a Dublin busker and the woman who enters his life, will open the season, running Sept. 9 to 14.

"It can be hard to get the heartbeat going when you're in the biz," Daniel said, "but I fell in love with this show. It was literally heartwarming. I couldn't put my hands on it soon enough for Baltimore."

"Newsies," a Disney production based on the 1992 film about the 1899 strike by newsboys in New York, will play the Hippodrome from Dec. 2 to 7. The show started out at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey in 2011 and moved to Broadway the next year.

"Pippin," with a score by Stephen Schwartz (he went on to compose "Wicked"), returned to Broadway last year for the first time since it opened there four decades earlier. The new staging, directed by Diane Paulus, adds a burst of acrobatics to the plot about a prince and his existential journey. The Hippodrome engagement will be June 23 to 28, 2015.

The other one-week booking next season is the jazzy musical "Chicago," which was last presented at the Hippodrome in 2007. It will play March 3 to 8, 2015.

"It's an old Baltimore favorite," Daniel said. "This touring version hasn't changed materially [from the Broadway one]; it's un-messed with."

Another returning show is "Annie," the kids-and-mutt musical inspired by the comic strip "Little Orphan Annie." It was last seen at the Hippodrome in 2009.

The production -- which will get a two-week run, Jan. 20 to Feb. 1, 2015 -- is not related to the Broadway revival that closed earlier this month, and the cast will be non-Equity — performers will not be members of Actors' Equity, the union representing theater performers. (Broadway theaters are Equity houses, as are Center Stage and Everyman in Baltimore.)

"This version of 'Annie' went out on tour about a year ago and, I would say, has found its way," Daniel said. "It's a solid version. Every now and then, we book a non-Equity show. If we find the right title and we believe in the producers, we’ll book it."

Daniel also believes in "Dirty Dancing," a product that has been floating around for a decade in one form or another.

This summer-of-'63 story about two people brought together by a passion for sultry dance moves was first adapted for the stage in Australia a decade ago and went on to have success there and in the United Kingdom.

An American tour of the production in 2008 did not end up on Broadway as announced; another tour is being put together next season.

"The first one went out before all the rights issues were resolved," Daniel said. "Although the new tour has yet to launch, investors are very excited about it."

"Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage" will play the Hippodrome from May 12 to 24, 2015.

Another new-to-Baltimore product is the tribute to the TV sitcom "I Love Lucy." The staging aims to re-create the Desilu studio and what audiences witnessed there during the live taping of the show. Two "I Love Lucy" episodes from 1952 are re-enacted during this production, which will be at the Hippodrome from Oct. 14 to 26.

"It's a fun, slightly different show for us, more a play with music," Daniel said. "I decided to take a chance on it. I don’t expect the show to sell at 'Wicked' level, but I think we can do two weeks here."

Speaking of "Wicked," the third Baltimore run for this popular musical, a prequel to "The Wizard of Oz," will be April 1 through 26, 2015.

"Honestly, it seems this show won't stop," Daniel said. "Many cities are on to their fourth or fifth engagement."

Daniel is not expecting a post-"Mormon" decline in subscriptions for 2014-2015.

"We had anticipated a large increase in our subscription base with 'Book of Mormon' and 'War Horse' on the season, but we didn't get it," Daniel said. "I imagine 'Mormon's' long engagement in D.C. had something to do with that. We saw a subscription renewal rate for [2013-2014] of about 80 percent, as we usually do. I think we will probably stay around 9,000 subscribers."

A year ago, there was talk of supplementing the Broadway series at the Hippodrome with appearances by the Pennsylvania Ballet during the 2013-2014 season. That did not materialize.

"We are still in discussions, but we want to ensure they enter the market appropriately," Daniel said. Such issues as audience development and financial risk are still being evaluated.

Meanwhile, Daniel is looking ahead to 2015-2016, which is likely to include "Motown: The Musical," as well as "Kinky Boots."

"I am always looking for shows, always asking," he said.

Subscription renewals will begin next month. New subscriptions, priced at $149.50 to $694.50 (higher for grand suites seating), will go on sale Feb. 24. Visit the Hippodrome box office at 12 N. Eutaw St.; call 800-343-3103; or go to BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com/Baltimore.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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