Hippodrome Season 08-09: Old, New, and Kiddies, Too

INFORMATION: Subscriptions to the 08-09 Broadway Across America – Baltimore can be purchased online at www.broadwayacrossamerica.com, by phone at 1-800-343-3103, or in person at the Hippodrome Box Office, Mon-Sat 10am-5pm.


Well, it is old news by now.  Heck, it was old news before they "officially" announced it (it was in the paper and signs were up at the theatre before the "big reveal")!  But, at last we know, after months of speculation, false "inside information" and some decent knowledgeable guesses, what the 2008-2009 season of shows will be at the Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore.

So why write now?  Because a lot of you have asked for my two cents, and because there are some things about the event on Thursday that deserve some recognition.  So, here goes…

First of all, thank you and congratulations to the Hippodrome/France-Merrick PAC Staff for opening up this annual event to the people it matters most to – the subscribers and potential subscribers.  In the past, it has been handled like a top secret briefing at the White House.  I, myself, had to resort to a "deep throat" of my own to get the info in a timely manner last year.  And we all know what that has turned out to be…  Still, I think we should all be grateful that everyone was invited to the party, especially since we, not the TV stations and group leaders represent the largest number of potential subscribers and single ticket purchasers.  A lot of work went into making this event "an event" and it showed.  So bravo to Katie McCulloh, Marilyn Waranch and their respective staffs, plus Karen Eske and her usher staff, and the catering people for some great cookies and hot drinks!  And finally, congratulations and welcome to new Executive Director Stella Benkler!  Her enthusiasm, plus anything she had to do with opening this event to the public, bodes well for the immediate future of this venue.  I am already looking forward to the next one!

Second, I have been reading your posts in the Baltimore Message Boards. (Side Note: I'm glad to see it being used at last!)  And I can understand your frustrations and comments.  But, for what it is worth, this season coming up is about as good as we can expect, all things considered.  As you know, I'd be the first to cry foul (as I did last year) if I thought everything possible was not being done to get the very best of Broadway here in Baltimore.  If you look at the list of potential shows at www.broadwayacrossamerica.com, you will see that with a few notable exceptions, we are getting the newest stuff out there, and we have already gotten everything else.  As it is, we are getting the First National Tours of every brand new (2008-2009) show – Legally Blonde, A Chorus Line, Grease, Spring Awakening, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, A Bronx Tale, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas – which will be receiving its Tour Premiere right here in Charm City!  (Let's hope there is a little more "event" for this – Spelling Bee ended up a non-event, I bet no one except the cast and the 'Drome staff knew that director/Pulitzer Prize winner James Lapine was there, for example.)  This is, whether you like the show or not, a big deal, which we need to support.  Gone are the days when Baltimore served as a pre-Broadway try-out spot – we are too close to NYC, so we need to get on the map as a viable National Tour starting point.  Every time that happens, our cache as a "theatre town" goes up.  The sooner The National Theatre circuit recognizes Baltimore as a place to present sooner rather than later, the closer we'll be to being a first tier city.

I, too, would liked to have seen The Drowsy Chaperone and/or Sweeney Todd on the list, but rumor has it Chaperone on tour is like Chaperone on Broadway – critics love it, crowds are staying home.  Who knows how long that tour will run?  And Sweeney is scheduled to end in the late fall and is already booked.  (Sweeney should have happened THIS season, in my opinion.)  As for Jersey Boys, the minute they made one of the two tours a sit-down in Chicago, I knew we wouldn't get it here this year.  Why?  Because now there is only one touring company trying to hit all of the bigger metropolitan areas first.

As for Wicked or The Lion King, I am kind of surprised they aren't "specials."  Of course, a lot can still happen in that regard, but also remember, The Lion King will be in DC. (And we did get that show YEARS ago!) 

Ok… here's my take on the 2008-2009 season:

Legally Blonde: The Musical (September 30 – October 12) – This is a fun show, much better that the film-to-stage weary NY critics would have you think.  It is fun, fun, fun! Plus, we are one of the first stops of the tour, so it'll be fresh!  At the event this week, Broadway cast member Becky Gulsvig did an awesome rendition of "(I Am) So Much Better Than Before!"  What a voice!

Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas (November 11 – 23) – Be thankful we are having a premiere, people!  And really, the schedulers have to think of more than people like us who are theatrephiles.  They have to think about getting that family buck, and nothing sells better than a kid's show with Broadway pedigree.  I wonder, though, will they adopt the NY 15 shows a week schedule?  At 8 a week, I can't see it being THAT lucrative for producers.  I'll admit, I cringed when I first saw it listed, BUT I gotta tell you, when 2007 NY cast members William Ryall (in full Grinch drag) and sweet little Who Caroline London sang their little duet from the show, it was pretty terrific.  Sweet, but not gross, and seeing him up close was pretty cool.  I have to say…it sold me.

A Chorus Line (December 2 – 14) - The ads say it all.  This really is The Best Musical.  Ever.  (And before you write, I am referring to the show, not any quibbles you have/had with the revival's casting.  The show remains one of Broadway's most perfect creations.)  It'll be exciting to have a relatively fresh group of new comers show off their singular sensations, too.  We can't be too far down the tour stop list.  At the event, original revival star Jessica Lee Goldwyn dazzled as Val, with an all out version of "Dance: Ten, Looks: Three".  The girl can SING!

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (January 6 -18) – Another family show, but with (let's hope) a lot of special "bang bang" effects.  Though I doubt we'll see the full Broadway excess as shown in the highlights clip on Thursday – this isn't a Disney show – this is exactly the huge extravaganza the Hippodrome was reopened to present.  Still, if the car doesn't really fly far out into the audience…

Grease (February 3-15) – Despite an energetic performance from two revival cast members (Emily Padgett and Matthew Hydzik) of "You're the One That I Want", this is the one show I have a real quibble about.  First of all, this show (albeit a different staging) has already been here once.  Second, the reason this revival exists is NOT because it uses the film songs – hell, high schools have been doing it illegally for decades – it is only on Broadway because of a reality show.  And I will be SHOCKED if those two go on tour with it.  If they do, ok, but I'm not holding my breath.  Finally, I'll say it again – Grease is not a show for little kids, no matter what their parents think.  In fact, it has many similar themes to a certain other show coming up that I bet a lot of parents won't bring their kids to…  Grease may be the word, but the word to me is YAWN.

A Bronx Tale (April 14-26) – Since there are only two touring plays (the other is Frost/Nixon), it was inevitable we get one.  And we should be glad we aren't getting both… Chazz Palminteri is a master actor, presenting his masterpiece.  THAT is something we should be grateful for the opportunity to see.  And the man came all the way here to talk for three minutes.  His passion and sincerity sold me.  I bet you'll be sold, too.

Spring Awakening (June 9 – 21) – By the time it gets here, the tour will be nearly a year old.  Time enough for a cast of young unknowns to have really earned their chops and deliver an excellent performance.  It didn't win a ton of Tonys for no reason – there was plenty of competition last year.  What is working against the show is the rumor and innuendo about its content.  It was the talk of the lobby afterwards.   The Hippodrome folks might do well to train their staff in what actually happens in the show.  From what I've heard there is full frontal male nudity, the masturbation scene allows glimpses of penis, and all of the dancing involves self-gratification through erotic massage.  Of course, having seen it several times myself, that is a gross exaggeration.  But I heard all three before and on Thursday… and not from anyone who wasn't wearing a Hippodrome badge.  No wonder a local high school teacher I spoke to was so worried about whether or not to bring his students.  This is EXACTLY the kind of show teenagers should be brought to – what a great way to start the awkward "sex talk"!  Parents and their kids sharing an experience and having something relevant to discuss!  That said, I still would think twice before bringing anyone not yet in high school… (FANS: Note that one photo I've included for you is of the Original Atlantic Theatre Cast in "Totally F***ed", note the adults and the setting…)

The announcement also included the reveal of four special shows that are not a part of the regular subscription: 

Riverdance (March 10-15) – Again.  Ugh.  Billed as "The Farewell Tour"  Again.  Ugh.  Go see Legally Blonde… they do a Riverdance that is way better.

Cats (April 28 – May 3) – Again. Ugh.  The last time it was here, it was the "last chance to see America's Favorite Musical"… Last chance, right.  Like last year was the last time we'll see Hairspray in Baltimore…

Movin' Out (May 8-10) – Loved it!  Great dancing, great music.  If you missed it last time, this is the "add on" to get tickets for!  See you there!

Annie (May 29-31) – After all the ballyhoo that Baltimore was the final stop of the National Tour of Annie last year, are we at all surprised that she's back again, anyway?  Pray they have recast the orphans…

And there you have it.  For whatever it is worth.  I, for one, am choosing to see the glass as half full this time.  We have the newest stuff out there, and there are no "blockbusters" we haven't gotten, except those boys from Jersey.  I saw it on Broadway, with the original cast.  I was underwhelmed.  But the hype makes it must-see.  And Baltimore's Hippodrome Theatre put a little hype behind this season announce – and that alone makes it more must-see than ever.

PHOTOS: A Chorus Line (Original Broadway Revival Cast), photo by Paul Kolnick; Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Original Broadway Cast), photo by Joan Marcus; Grease (Original Broadway Revival Cast), photo by Joan Marcus; Chazz Palminteri in A Bronx Tale, photo by Joan Marcus; Spring Awakening – First Photo – (Original Broadway Cast), photo by Joan Marcus; Spring Awakening – Second Photo – (Original Atlantic Theatre Cast), photo by Doug Hamilton.  All other logos property of BroadwayWorld.com.

(The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, not BroadwayWorld.com.)

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