Broadway, ballet, John Waters to inaugurate Modell Center

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Medieval knights searching in all the wrong places for the Holy Grail, singing as they go, will help fuel the first full season in the Patricia and Arthur Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric. So will John Waters, Baltimore's champion of all things weird, and the storied Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

As for those knights, they're part of the wacky musical "Monty Python's Spamalot," one of five touring productions of popular Broadway shows to visit the venue, which is reopening after extensive renovations.

Those renovations, scheduled for completion over the next few months, will expand and modernize the stage house of the venue, which opened in 1894 as the Lyric Opera House. The improvements will allow for larger sets and greater ease of getting shows on and off the stage.

The fly tower is being expanded from 62 feet to 80 feet high, from 32 feet to 38 feet deep. The outdated hemp and sandbag system for raising and lowering scenery will give way to a mechanical counterweight system. New lighting and sound systems are also being installed.

"The old house couldn't handle some of the programs we're bringing in," said Sandy Richmond, president and executive director of the Modell/Lyric. "The renovation gives us the ability to do more and do it in a more economical manner. We'll have more performances next season than ever before."

In addition to "Spamalot," which will be presented at the center Oct. 8 and 9, the Broadway lineup includes the popular jukebox musical incorporating heavy '80s hits, "Rock of Ages" (Dec. 2 and 3), and the Mel Brooks musical version of his hit film, "Young Frankenstein" (May 12 and 13, 2012).

A revival of the Broadway classic "Fiddler on the Roof" is also on the calendar (Feb. 2-4), along with the Baltimore premiere of "Come Fly Away," the 2010 Broadway musical that combines the sounds of Frank Sinatra, a live big band and the choreography of Twyla Tharp (Feb. 24-26).

All of those shows, except for "Come Fly Away," have played previously at the Hippodrome; "Rock of Ages" was just there in February.

The dance portion of the Modell/Lyric season includes the Moscow Ballet performing a production of "The Nutcracker" featuring what are billed as 3-D effects (Dec. 17 and 18).

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the celebrated modern dance troupe founded in New York 1958, "has not been here in almost two decades," Richmond said. The company will perform May 22 and 23, 2012.

The new Lyric Opera of Baltimore, formed under the auspices of the Modell/Lyric, will also be part of the inaugural season, filling a void left when the Baltimore Opera Company, a longtime tenant at the center, folded in 2009.

There will be three productions: Verdi's "La Traviata" (Nov. 4 and 6), Mozart's "Le Nozze di Figaro" (March 9 and 11), Gounod's "Faust" (April 20 and 22).

"We've been very happy with the support and enthusiasm for the Lyric Opera of Baltimore series," Richmond said. "Subscriptions are doing very well."

Peabody Opera Theatre will also stage a production at the Modell/Lyric next season: Stravinsky's "A Rake's Progress" (Nov. 18 and 20).

Single-date events announced for 2011-2012 include "A John Waters Christmas," with the famed filmmaker offering his distinctive take on the holidays (Dec. 21).

The center's "Grand Inaugural Grand Re-opening Concert" on Oct. 15 will feature veteran song stylist Tony Bennett. Also on the schedule: comedian Lewis Black (Oct. 22); a Christmas program with Amy Grant and Vince Gill (Dec. 7); the Irish Tenors (Dec. 22); and improv comedians Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood (May 11, 2012).

"We will have more dates in 2011-12 than we've ever had before," Richmond said. "And we're in negotiation to add performances."

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