Here are some of the characters who will be cavorting in musicals during the 5th Avenue Theatre's 2005-2006 season: A veterinarian who converses...
Here are some of the characters who will be cavorting in musicals during the 5th Avenue Theatre’s 2005-2006 season: A veterinarian who converses freely with his four-legged patients. A resentful British barber whose razor slices more off than beards. A legendary ’50s rocker pining for Peggy Sue.
The 5th Avenue season starts in September with a tour of “The King and I,” featuring TV and stage veteran Stefanie Powers, and continues with Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd,” Leslie Bricusse’s “Doctor Dolittle,” the musical bio “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story;” a new staging of the Leonard Bernstein-scored “Wonderful Town,” and a rare high-profile local take on the ’70s hit “Pippin.”
Absent from the 5th Avenue lineup is a new Broadway-bound tuner — such as this season’s “Princesses” (playing here in a pre-New York run this summer) and the smash hit “Hairspray” (which bounced directly from Seattle to Broadway in 2002).
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“We were right down to the wire negotiating for a new musical, but that didn’t work out,” explains 5th Avenue artistic head David Armstrong. “But I’m delighted we’re presenting a number of shows next season that haven’t been done in Seattle, in major productions.”
“King and I”
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s much-loved musical (which plays Sept. 20-Oct. 9) has had loads of local exposure — including a touring run at the 5th Avenue in the 1990s, in which Hayley Mills played a British governess sent to Siam to teach a brood of royal children.
For information about 2005-2006 season subscriptions to the 5th Avenue, consult www.fifthavenuetheatre.org or call 206-621-PLAY. Single tickets go on sale at a later date.
Mills displayed personal charm but obvious inadequacies as a singer. Not so with Powers, promises Armstrong, who points out that the former star of TV’s “Hart to Hart” has played “the lead in several West End musicals, including ‘King and I,’ and she can sing — no two ways about it.”
A bigger stretch for Armstrong and his audiences is a planned 5th Avenue mounting (Oct. 25-Nov. 13) of composer Sondheim and writer Hugh Wheeler’s macabre, musically daring epic about a barber’s bloody one-man crusade against the injustices of Victorian England.
“The show is so layered and amazing in its writing, themes and score,” says Armstrong, who’ll direct. ” ‘Sweeney Todd’ was on Broadway recently in a chamber version, but we’ll have a full orchestra for this. And big theater voices to handle the songs.”
Though many know the 1967 musical film of the same title, this touring attraction marks the American premiere (Nov. 29-Dec. 18) of the live “Doctor Dolittle” musical, which debuted in London in 1998.
“It was not a big hit there but has been highly revised for this production,” Armstrong explains. “It features all the Bricusse songs from the movie, and additional music.” The animals will be puppets, designed by Michael Curry, who co-designed the animals with Julie Taymor for “The Lion King.”
(Note: Portland designer Curry has big shoes to fill for this job. The Jim Henson Creature Shop, run by Brian Henson, made the puppets for the show’s original London staging.)
“Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story”
Though it’s been circulating for years on the international tour circuit, this “juke box” show about the life and tunes of the Lubbock, Texas, rocker Holly will have its first Northwest production at the 5th Avenue (Jan. 31-Feb. 19, 2006).
Local and imported actors will be in the cast, crooning such Holly oldies as “That’ll Be the Day” and “Peggy Sue.” (A director will be announced later.)
A planned national tour of the recent Broadway revival of this zesty tuner about two single sisters in ’50s Manhattan fell through. So Armstrong decided to muster up his own version of the show (March 21-April 9, 2006).
“It’s one of the great ’40s musicals and was underrated for a long time,” he says, of this urban romantic comedy written by the great Betty Comden and Adolph Green, with music by Bernstein. “People thought it couldn’t be done again without Rosalind Russell, the original lead — but they’ve been proven wrong.”
For the Russell role of the sardonic aspiring writer Ruth, and her naive kid sis Eileen, the 5th Avenue is tapping two Seattle gals: Suzanne Bouchard and Billie Wildrick, respectively. Bill Berry will direct.
This adult-fairy-tale tuner about the princely son of Charlemagne and his quest for personal fulfillment closes the 5th Avenue season (May 9-28, 2006). In its 1972 Broadway premiere, it was a hit that fetched Tony Awards for co-star Ben Vereen and director-choreographer Bob Fosse.
But “Pippin” hasn’t had many big-scale revivals. And Armstrong considers this an apropos time for one. “[‘Pippin’ composer] Stephen Schwartz has the biggest new hit on Broadway currently, with ‘Wicked,’ ” points out Armstrong, who will direct. “And the themes of ‘Pippin,’ which is all about trying to find satisfaction in a difficult world, are very contemporary.
“The original Fosse production might seem hopelessly dated now. But there’s a fantastic musical under there that’s totally open to reinterpretation.”
Misha Berson: email@example.com