At this point, Seattle’s tourism promoters should update the old MetroNatural campaign with a more appropriate MusicalCentral. The tagline truthfully could be “see Broadway musicals before they hit Broadway.”
Maybe Boeing should consider building a special jet that just shuttles shows back to the East Coast after they take their first tentative tap steps here.
Producers love Seattle for tryouts far from the hypercritical Manhattan crowds. After all, Seattle's theaters, audiences, and press are as far from New York as one can get without taking a boat to Alaska.
The heart of this movement remains the 5th Avenue Theatre, although new musicals also regularly launch at Village Theatre across the lake, and New York companies have used the Paramount downtown (Young Frankenstein) as well as the Intiman (The Light in the Piazza). Look for smaller, edgier musicals to blossom at Balagan in this coming season.
This weekend, another newbie leaves the cradle of the 5th Avenue Theatre. The show that Seattle audiences saw in September will be tweaked and trimmed as the producers digest their experience here. Whether it hits the roads, ala Aladdin or Christmas Story, or flies straight to Broadway like Hairspray or current First Date, the Secondhand Lions seen here most certainly will be a changed beast if it returns again.
Last month, Seattle audiences saw a tart little movie transformed into a big, sparkly musical, as American as apple pie with a large slice of cheese on top.
Some of the additions made a lot of sense. The hero, a young boy named Walter (winsomely played Johnny Rabe), spends most of his time in the movie talking to four-footed creatures. The pets were replaced by a girl of his age, the spunky Jane (Sophie Anne Caruso), and Jane’s songs will provide continuing employment to any number of ex-Annie stars for years.
Turning a princess (Jenny Powers) into a sword-swinging, singing heroine determined to forge her own destiny also nicely brought that character up-to-speed with the current view of what a princess should or shouldn’t do.
With a powerhouse actress like Kendra Kassebaum to play Walter's wandering Mama, the director wisely gave her lots of room to va-voom as well as tug the heartstrings.
The heart of the story still revolves around Walter’s growing relationship with his two wacky old uncles (Gregg Edelman and Mark Jacoby, both perfectly cast) and the stories of their younger heroic selves (Jared Michael Brown and Kevin Earley, just as good as the old versions).
Still, the creative team decided to ramp up the adventures and add a lot of glitz and sand to the tale. At times, that side of the story threatens to swamp everything else, possibly because they had such a wonderful wicked Sultan as portrayed by Jason Danieley. As much as it hurts to cut the villain’s lines (and songs), if the show is going to be about Walter, then some of the Sultan will probably go.
Secondhand Lions closes Oct. 6. Next up at the 5th will be the Cole Porter classic, Anything Goes. But Seattle’s place as the launching place for Broadway-bound seems secure. Expect plenty more in the coming seasons to say “If we can make it here, we can make it there.”