Hooray! After a particularly middling Broadway Across America season — however lusty its May, we’re still in a coma from Camelot — the good folks at Arts Center Enterprises have lined up a season that not only resists bottom-drawer offerings, but actually lands some of the most tempting tours in the nation. Though many stage-o-philes are already cackling (with glee) over next summer’s sit-down of Wicked, the big surprise is the first national tour of Peter Morgan’s award-winning Frost/Nixon, a real coup for serious theater mavens. The rest of the subscription season is filled out with new productions of interesting musicals, with nary a clunker in the bunch.
The season starts September 9 with The Color Purple, a musicalization of Alice Walker’s novel of African-American life in the ’30s. The production eked out a respectable two-year run on Broadway even though its raw subject matter — including rural poverty, rape, and prejudice — isn’t exactly Cats. (Which, by the way, returns in December. Egads.) Although The Color Purple received mixed reviews on the Great White Way, Oprah’s imprimatur — and some clever Manhattan casting — has helped drum up support for this tour. Color us socially aware.
October’s Avenue Q — the witty updating of Sesame Street for the 20-something set — contends that, dammit, puppets are people, too. Thus, it boldly goes where PBS fears to tread, including gay puppets, fetishistic puppets, slutty puppets, and racist puppets, all set to a bouncy, infectious score. One of the show’s catchiest numbers — “The Internet is for Porn” — boasts a truism as profound as anything in Heidegger. Please take the kiddies.
As the holidays roll around, we usually witness one of the saddest pilgrimages in Texas, as entire families turn out to see the same, returning production of A Tuna Christmas — the one first premiering under the previous Bush presidency. Fortunately, Joe Sears and Jaston Williams have spared us déjà vu all over again by concocting the fourth play in the Tuna tetralogy: Tuna Does Vegas. While the script’s not as tightly plotted as the previous three outings, this quick-change play is still zippy fun, and broadly satirical of all things Texan. Best of all, it’s not A Tuna Christmas. Again.
On Broadway, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang earned kudos for its spectacle, but not for much else. We don’t care, however: We want flying cars on stage and we want them now. Adapted from an MGM film which creeps me out to this day — who thought introducing a character named “Child-Catcher” was the way to a tot’s heart? — Chitty Chitty shouldn’t, at least, be boring. (The dance sequences are by Gillian Lynne, who also choreographed Cats. From December to February, it’ll be like San Antonio’s own mini-Lynne fest. Screw Fiesta.)
Next May brings a treat: Morgan’s Olivier- and Tony-winning Frost/Nixon, a dramatization of Nixon’s contentious post-Watergate interviews with the slick (if down-and-out) TV personality David Frost. Though Frank Langella is turning his Broadway performance into a film, on this tour Tricky Dick will be played by none other than Stacy Keach. Yes, that’s right: The same guy who played TV’s “Mike Hammer” — an ill-tempered son of a bitch contemptuous of the law and only liberal with his cussin’ — will play our 37th president, an ill-tempered son-of-a-bitch, etc. Besides this bit of genius-in-casting, the play demonstrates the sort of skillful examination of personality and politics that are this author’s hallmark. (Morgan also penned the Academy Award-nominated script for The Queen. Elizabeth is not, however, an ill-tempered son-of-a-bitch, etc.)
And finally, there’s Wicked, Stephen Schwartz’s blockbuster musical version of Gregory Maguire’s popular novel. Wicked is The Wizard of Oz told from a young witch’s point of view as she undergoes the tribulations of growing up green in a world of pretty blonde things. As such, it’s a plot with obvious appeal for ’tweener girls and gay men; its effect on nubile lesbians is incalculable. Prepare to fight for tix with every homo in the ’hood.
In the past, I’ve been tough on Broadway Across America for seasons big on nostalgia but low on novelty and merit. But fair’s fair: This season’s selection is not only a new high for San Antonio, but a strong slate for any city. If I had my druthers, I’d boot Chitty for Spring Awakening — a really astonishing alt-rock musical — but even I have to admit that this revolutionary piece is unlikely to play the Majestic any time soon. (Hell, there were even walkouts at the moderately off-color The Wedding Singer this past spring; I can’t imagine San Antonio’s response to a song called “Totally Fucked.”) But I quibble. This is, by any measure, a strong and well-considered subscription season, and so I pen an invitation I never dreamed possible just a brief year ago:
Broadway Across America, please take a bow. •