If Seattle’s many local theater awards included one for "Most Resembles the Energizer Bunny," Balagan Theatre's new artistic director Louis Hobson would be wearing pink fur right now instead of convict rags.
Hobson currently is singing the lead in the company’s chamber production of Les Miserables for the rest of September – yes, that role “with every single possible note that you can sing,” as Hobson admitted in a recent interview.
At the same time, he’s directing a production of the buckets-of-blood Carrie: The Musical, which will launch Balagan into its new part-time home at Moore Theatre in October.
Along with Balagan’s founder/executive director Jake Groshong, Hobson also has been scooting back and forth between Seattle and New York, intent on using his five years in Manhattan to find and foster new works that may eventually lead to a Balagan-to-Broadway musical.
However, starting out his first season as artistic director with the starring role in Les Mis wasn’t in his original game plan, Hobson said.
“I had no designs on playing this role,” he said about his current turn as Jean Valjean. But Groshong wanted to open the season with the crowd pleasing big musical done new and small in the company’s signature style. “The more we talked about it, I became more comfortable with it. Then I got called back to New York to try out for Valjean (in an upcoming revival). It seemed like the time to start playing this character.”
Seattle musical theater junkies remember Hobson from his early years here, where his big voice and leading man looks landed him starring roles at the 5th Avenue Theatre and Village.
From there, he and a growing young family spent five years in New York as Hobson worked in a variety of musicals and other shows, including the Broadway productions of Next to Normal and Bonnie & Clyde.
But with three small children now, Hobson and his wife were ready to return to Seattle. “Our families are here,” he said. “Even though it was a bit of a culture shock for the kids. My daughter keeps saying ‘Daddy, where are all the people?’ She’s a real New York kid.”
Besides the attraction of bringing up the children nearer to extended family, Hobson also wanted to get more involved with Balagan. “I saw a interview with Jake about Balagan and I called him up the next week -- that’s how it started!”
What excited Hobson was Groshong’s commitment to doing the smaller, edgier shows that wouldn’t fit at 5th Avenue or Village Theatre. Hobson wanted to mix that with new works that he knew were in development in New York, musicals that needed a place to perform in front of a live audience.
“What’s great about what the 5th and Village have done here is that they’ve created a pool of talent and interest in musicals that lets us develop shows for a niche market,” said Hobson. “That’s a luxury.”
Hobson believes that this built-in audience and talent could make Seattle the next cradle for the new American musical.
“I’m blown away by the amount of talent here now,” he said. “People are coming to Seattle as a place where they can build their careers – and we’re building off that. We’re creating a dialogue between New York and Seattle: come here, try out your musical, we can do it better and cheaper than elsewhere.”
Whether working on launching a new musical based on Pump Up the Volume, getting ready to introduce Seattle audiences to the joys of Alice Ripley ripping her way through Carrie, or singing Valjean, Hobson isn’t wasting time worrying about his jam-packed calendar.
“I am having a blast,” he said. Then he had to go. Parts to rehearse, plays to prepare, there’s a lot of work to do for Balagan’s artistic director this season.
Les Miserables continues through Sept. 28 at the Erickson Theatre. Carrie opens Oct. 11. The rest of the Balagan season includes A Very Merry (Unauthorized) Children’s Scientology Pageant, Jerry Springer: The Opera, and Nirvanov (a new musical that combines Chekov with Kurt Cobain).