Regional Riches: Celebrating the Legacy of Regional Theatres on Broadway
Broadway shows are made, not born. Though the polished final product of a Broadway show seems to land before our very eyes as if put there by some divine circumstance, the life of the average show before it makes its way to New York is long.
The process of writing, producing, and polishing a play or musical to a high Broadway sheen can take years of hard work. And in order to make it to their final destination, these shows and the artists behind them will endure years of writing, workshops, rehearsals, cuts, re-writes, more cuts, more re-writes, more workshops, and dozens more rehearsals (lather, rinse, repeat ad infinitum) in order to develop properly.
To complete the development process, many in the industry turn to regional theatres around the country. Using these smaller venues and their audiences to help fine-tune their product, an out-of-town tryout is the number one way for artists to gauge the quality of their work before making the move to the Broadway stage.
In many cases, however, it is the regional theatres who bring the work to us. Commissioning, developing, and presenting new works is a central component of many theatres across the country and for each season over the past fifty years, Broadway has welcomed productions from many of them. This Broadway season is no exception to the regional legacy on Broadway, with a significant number of shows from the 2016-2017 Broadway season having been developed and workshopped at not-for-profit and regional theatres.
Regional theatre is so essential to the lifeblood of Broadway, that in 1976 the American Theatre Wing established the Regional Theatre Tony Award, a non-competitive category which recognizes the contribution of an outstanding regional company each season.
To celebrate the legacy of regional theatres and all of the important they've brought forth, let's take a look at just a few of these artists and organizations, and their contributions to Tony Awards past and present.
This season's buzziest new musical, Dear Evan Hansen, is breaking hearts and winning fans on Broadway this season, but the show's road to Broadway began when it received its initial premiere at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. in summer of 2015. Arena was also the first to begin the great tradition of regional contributions to the New York stage. In 1967, the play The Great White Hope hit Broadway with a cast that included Tony Award-winner James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander. As part of its 50th anniversary commemoration, Washington Magazine identified the Arena Stage's production of The Great White Hope as one of "50 Moments That Shaped Washington, DC. In 1976, Arena Stage became the second theater outside New York to receive the Regional Tony Award for theatrical excellence.
Before making its way to the Shubert Theatre, the hit Broadway musical Memphis began its life at Theatreworks Silicon Valley, where it premiered at TheatreWorks' New Works Festival in 2002. In 2004, the show received its world premiere production on the TheatreWorks Mainstage. The show would go on to receive a number of other productions, including runs at at La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego in 2008 and the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle 2009, before opening on Broadway and taking home four Tony Awards, including Best Musical in 2010.
In recent years, Paper Mill Playhouse in Milburn, New Jersey has become one of the more popular stops (and starts) for hit Broadway shows. Beginning with the stunning success of the Disney cult favorite, Newsies, Paper Mill has spent the past few years churning out Broadway favorites including Jason Robert Brown's short-lived, but much-praised, Honeymoon in Vegas. This season, the company is represented on Broadway by not one, but two brassy, bluesy musicals, Chazz Palminteri's coming of age story, A Bronx Tale, and Andy Blankenbuehler's war time smash, Bandstand. The Playhouse is also last year's recipient of the Regional Theatre Tony Award.
La Jolla Playhouse has created 28 productions that have transferred to Broadway, earning 35 Tony Awards. An additional 36 productions have gone on to successful runs Off-Broadway and to regional theatres across the country, including the Kennedy Center, Chicago's Goodman Theatre and the Humana Festival, as well as to international venues in London, Brussels, Rotterdam, and Moscow. They are represented on Broadway this season by the Best Musical nominee, Come from Away and Best Play nominee, Indecent.
Other contributions include the 2014 revival of Side Show, Hands on a Hardbody, Peter and the Starcatcher, the 2012 revival of Jesus Christ Superstar, Bonnie & Clyde, Memphis, Jersey Boys, 700 Sundays...Billy Crystal...A Life in Progress, I am My Own Wife, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and Jane Eyre.
In 2004, Barrington Stage Company developed and premiered the cult-hit musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, which, in addition to enjoying a successful Broadway run, nabbed two Tony Awards for Best Book and Best Featured Actor for Jared Fogel. In June 2013, BSC produced the hit revival Leonard Bernstein and Comden and Green's big city love letter, On the Town, directed by John Rando and choreographed by Joshua Bergasse. It received across-the-board rave reviews and moved to Broadway in October 2014, where it once again received rave reviews and was nominated for four Tony Awards.
Steppenwolf Theatre is another winner of the Regional Theatre Tony Award. Their road to Broadway success began in 1988, when Steppenwolf presented the world premiere of Frank Galati's adaption of The Grapes of Wrath, based on the John Steinbeck novel, which eventually went on to win the Tony Award for Best Play.
In December 2007, Steppenwolf opened a new play written and directed by ensemble members at the Imperial Theatre on Broadway. Tracy Letts' August: Osage County was hailed by critics and was named number one in Time's Top Ten Theatre Performances of 2007. August: Osage County garnered five Tony Awards including Best Play of 2007, Best Director, Best Leading Actress in a Play, Best Featured Actress in a Play, and Best Scenic Design. Letts went on to win the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the play.
The princess Anastasia gained new life on Broadway this season, but the gorgeous new Broadway musical received its original production at Hartford Stage in Hartford, Connecticut in 2016, with direction by Darko Tresnjak and choreography by Peggy Hickey, starring Christy Altomare and Derek Klena as Anya and Dmitry. The musical opened on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre on April 24, 2017, featuring the majority of the original Hartford principal cast. The show is up for two Tony Awards this year for Best Featured Actress in a Musical and Best Costume Design. Since Tresnjak's appointment in 2011, the theatre has presented the world premieres of A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, winner of four 2014 Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Direction of a Musical by Tresnjak, and Quiara Alegría Hudes' Water by the Spoonful, winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, among many others.
The leading ladies of War Paint may be battling it out for queen of cosmetics on Broadway this year but this gltizy new musical received its world premiere at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. Upon its arrival, the Broadway production received 4 Tony award nominations, including nods for Christine Ebersole and Patti LuPone were nominated for Best Actress in a Musical, David Korins for Best Scenic Design of a Musical and Catherine Zuber for Best Costume Design of a Musical. The Goodman's Broadway legacy, however, began in 1975, when the company was the first to produce David Mamet's play American Buffalo, which came to Broadway in 1977 and went on to receive a nomination for Best Revival of a Play in 1984. The company also premiered David Henry Hwang's world-premiere comedy Chinglish, which came to Broadway in 2010. In 1992, the theatre company became a recipient of the Regional Theatre Tony Award,
The beloved musical Next to Normal opened at Broadway's Booth Theatre in 2009, but the road to Broadway was a long one. First premiering under the name, Feeling Electric in reading form at the New York Musical Theatre Festival the show went on to receive a development production at Village Theatre in 2005. An Off-Broadway production launched at Second Stage Theatre in 2008 before the show moved to Broadway, where it was nominated for eleven Tony Awards and won three. The show is also the winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Also featured in the 2002 Village Theatre Festival of New Musicals was the jukebox hit, Million Dollar Quartet, which opened on Broadway on April 11, 2010 with four of Village Theatre's original cast members. Levi Kreis won a Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for his portrayal of Jerry Lee Lewis.
Center Theatre Group is a non-profit arts organization located in Los Angeles, California. It is one of the largest theatre companies in the nation, programming subscription seasons year-round at the Mark Taper Forum, the Ahmanson Theatre and the Kirk Douglas Theatre. A staple of the regional theatre scene, Center Theatre Group has had a hand in the success of Tony nominated classics such as Angels in America, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Children of a Lesser God, The Drowsy Chaperone, 13, and 9 to 5 the Musical,