Birthplace of a 100th anniversary season for Shubert Theater

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Birthplace of a 100th anniversary season for Shubert Theater

Posted on: July 20th, 2014 by tommyj

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NEW HAVEN >> The Shubert Theater’s 100th anniversary season will be heavy on family, fantasy, holiday fare and great music, starting in October when it returns from phase one of the famous theater’s renovations.

Subscribers are already keyed in, and single-show tickets to the much-anticipated touring show “Matilda” went on sale Friday, but the rest of the 2014-15 schedule goes on sale July 25 at the Birthplace of the Nation’s Greatest Hits.

John Fisher, executive director of the Shubert Theater, previewed the season that will include the first touring show of the Broadway hit “Matilda,” a renewed tour of “Peter and the Starcatcher,” the return of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” and the older-skewing hit “Million Dollar Quartet.”

“You only have one 100th anniversary, so it’s important for us,” Fisher said. “It’s sort of like celebrating the past, but looking toward the future, too. That’s why we hoped to tie the renovations in for the future … because it’s such an important landmark and community resource.”

The show selection process starts with Shubert owner CAPA, or the Connecticut Association for the Performing Arts, which also has eight theaters in Ohio. So there may be a show available to do in several CAPA theaters.

“Broadway tends to drive part of the schedule,” said Fisher. “The early history of the Shubert was as a pre-Broadway tryout town, and we’ve had 600 pre-Broadway shows and 300 world premieres.”

But as the theater landscape changed, with regional theaters such as Long Wharf entering the mix, the Shubert has moved from Broadway tryout house to “evolving into a performing arts center. … We’ve flipped from a pre-Broadway model to … building the tours when they’re coming out for tour.”

That “post-Broadway” model includes “Matilda” and “Peter,” and it also describes past shows “Jersey Boys” and “A Chorus Line.”

“What it allows us to do is bring in a show that typically we might not see right away because of the size of our theater,” he said. “And we do the tech and production of the show; we mount the tour here.”

The 1,600-seat Shubert — sizable compared to Yale’s Sprague Hall or University Theatre — is still small compared to venues with more than 2,500 seats in bigger cities. So building the tour allows the New Haven landmark to get “Matilda” first.

“It’s a huge economic driver for the city,” Fisher said. “It’ll provide six to seven weeks of hotels … restaurants. The shows will bring up to 100 people (including) production people and designers, the director, the choreographers …”

The tour will also hire out a local crew of production folks, which can involve payroll of $750,000, Fisher said. So the economic impact can be $1.5 million for “Matilda,” which will have about a week of performances May 16-23.

“Peter” has been out on tour before, but “Matilda” hasn’t; Fisher said the orchestra section during the tour-build process “ends up looking like NASA … with probably 100 computers all over the place for all the different designers and technicians … figuring it all out and loading it all in.” Then it all ships out in trucks.

New Haven’s advantage isn’t its low cost of living, of course, but its proximity to New York and its creative talent. There’s also the nearby location of the big “scene shop” Showmotion in Milford.

Fisher said the Shubert’s Broadway show runs have become more flexible – five to eight shows instead of 10 to 14. That makes more room for music concerts, dance and other events (author conversations, The Cake Boss) in the mold of a performing arts center.

He noted the New Haven Symphony is coming in for three shows this coming season, and “we love the partnership with them.” And New Haven Ballet will again bring in “The Nutcracker,” part of a holiday season that will also include “A Christmas Carol” and a stage production of “White Christmas.”

More on the Broadway Series season:

n “‘Peter and the Starcatcher,’ (Jan. 29-Feb. 1) is a great show, a unique … prequel to ‘Peter Pan’ – a really innovative kind-of musical play. It’s a comedy … it really takes you to the Neverland that you never really knew,” said Fisher. “It’s a little more edgy than ‘Peter Pan’ itself; it’s still great for kids, but it’s great for grownups, too.”

n Add-on show “A Christmas Carol” is a perennial from Nebraska Theatre Caravan, Nov. 28-30. “It’s a very cool show,” he said.

n “White Christmas,” (Dec. 30-Jan. 4) will do well, Fisher said. “It’s a stage adaptation of the beloved, classic film.”

n It’s the third visit for “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” (March 5-8). It’s a classic; it’s a wonderful Disney production … based on Disney’s movie but, in its own right, it’s got wonderful sets and costumes. And kids love it. For our 100th, along with ‘Matilda,’ we have nice family fare.”

n The final show of the Broadway Series season, “Million Dollar Quartet,” (June 11-14), which is music-centric with its story of the famed recording session that brought together rock ’n’ roll icons Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. “It was on Broadway about two years ago. The four of them are just great characters … they sort of end up with this jam session,” said Fisher.

Shubert in community

Ticket handling aside, summer still isn’t really down time for Shubert staffers, whose mission extends into the community. They’re helping stage the concerts on the Green for Market New Haven, and they work year-round with College Street neighbor Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School on their arts offerings.

“We supply management services and expertise to manage their rehearsal and performance spaces,” Fisher said. “Their stage is a professional stage; it’s as well-equipped as the Shubert, in a lot of ways.”

The Shubert also has a training program for students, who can go on to work Coop productions or even Shubert rental events. And there’s a summer theater camp for younger kids that employs some of the Coop youth as teaching assistants.

Renovation work

The Shubert’s $11 million renovations, which won’t affect the main theater area much since it was repainted just two years ago, are funded by state, city, private and corporate sources. As part of the centennial plan, ownership was transferred from the city to CAPA, and paved the way for renovations, which hadn’t been done since the theater’s rebirth in December 1983.

Much of it is behind the scenes: heating and air conditioning, dressing rooms and offices moved downstairs from the lobby level.

When renovations are done in the fall of 2015, the theater will be able to function an extra 100-plus nights a year with different events, with an improved lobby, facade and other areas.

Fisher said current work involves adding an event space (“black box” space for smaller performances or meetings) carved out of existing space in the mezzanine lobby and hospitality suite.

“Up to now, the Shubert is a one-venue facility, so by making some of the support spaces … more flexible, we in effect gain venue space,” Fisher said.

The main thing folks will notice in phase one is the addition and renovation of bathrooms on all levels.

It all adds up to a highly anticipated fall season. Not bad for a theater that was in danger of destruction in 1976 and closed for seven years.

“Basically, it’s better than ever in a lot of ways,” Fisher said. “We’ve had a great partnership with the city and our various partners and supporters,” said Fisher.

For more information, visit www.shubert.com. Shubert season tickets are available at the box office at its temporary location, the Info New Haven Visitor Center at 1000 Chapel St., or by calling 203-562-5666 or 888-736-2663, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., or Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

About the Author

Joe has been the TV editor, features writer, columnist, general assignment reporter and copy editor for some 35 years in New Haven, first with the Journal-Courier and then the New Haven Register. Follow Joe on Twitter: @joeammo.

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