There are two key themes to note when considering the lineup of Broadway tours just announced for Blumenthal Performing Arts 2023-2024 season. The first is exclusivity: Blumenthal president Tom Gabbard says six of the 17 shows set to be staged in Charlotte between this October and October of 2024 won’t be seen by audiences anywhere else in our region (which he is defining as the Carolinas and Tennessee) until 2025 at the earliest.
On top of that, two of the tours announced by the Blumenthal on Tuesday morning haven’t even opened on Broadway yet. “I’m proud,” Gabbard says, “that we’re able to aspire to do things like that, that are very unique, that are absolutely wonderful, and are only being seen in a handful of cities.”
The second theme, meanwhile, relies heavily on Hollywood. Which is to say: Get ready to see a surprising number of musicals inspired by beloved movies. Gabbard says the trend of reimagining films as Broadway spectacles started with “The Lion King” in 1997 and has been growing ever since, but thinks theatergoers are more prone than ever before to gravitating toward stories that offer familiar comforts — stories that they view as sure things.
“The risk that some people were ready to take (on unknown quantities) pre-pandemic is maybe a little bit less right now,” he says. “Hopefully, we get back to a time when people are just more curious about these things. But I think right now, people want to be together, but they want some certainty that it’s gonna be a great experience.” Hence the growing demand for and popularity of Broadway-musicals-based-on-movies like “Moulin Rouge!,” Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Back to the Future,” “Beetlejuice,” “The Lion King” and “Mean Girls” — all of which are coming soon to a theater near you. Here’s Blumenthal’s full schedule for next season, along with some additional thoughts from Gabbard on the most notable shows.
PNC Broadway Lights Series
What it is: Generally, it’s where shows that are having their first engagement in Charlotte will be found.
“Funny Girl,” Oct. 17-22 at Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St.: The revival of the musical inspired by the unlikely success story of Fanny Brice — a comedienne who became a Broadway legend — has been enjoying a successful NYC run, with “Glee” star Lea Michele in the role made famous by Barbra Streisand almost 60 years ago. Who’ll play Fanny in Charlotte? “We don’t know,” Gabbard says. “For the most part, with shows that go on tours, star casting has a limited role to play. But it’ll be really top-quality. … I mean, people have been waiting so long to have a first-class production of ‘Funny Girl’ on Broadway, and it’s been over 25 years since we’ve had a first-class tour of it. So a lot of prayers have been answered with this.”
“The Wiz,” Nov. 7–12 at Belk Theater: Much will be familiar to fans of the original 1975 production; it remains a reinterpretation of “The Wizard of Oz” that features an all-Black cast. But much will be updated for this revival, including the choreography — which is being overseen by N.C.-born JaQuel Knight, director of the dancing in Beyoncé videos “Single Ladies” and “Formation,” among others. And some aspects may yet change. Its national tour will come before its limited engagement in NYC, set for spring 2024, and as in all the planned pre-Broadway cities: “There will be people in Charlotte listening more carefully than ever to people’s reactions, because they want to know what’s working,” Gabbard says, “and what’s not working.” This, by the way, is one of those regional exclusives.
“Company,” Nov. 21-26, at Belk Theater: Another regional exclusive, and yet another revival, this time of a Steven Sondheim musical-comedy about the prospect of finding a mate, settling down and starting a family. The twist with this one? “They did a brilliant job of taking the Bobby character, which was written as a man, and making it into a woman,” says Gabbard. “And I think in many respects, the role actually works even better. In the original, Bobby’s clock is ticking. He’s getting older and so he needs to get married. Put that in the context of a woman and her biological clock is ticking … that is a whole different beat, and even more compelling.”
“Moulin Rouge! The Musical,” March 19-31, 2024, at Belk Theater: The 2001 film — which starred Ewan McGregor as the poet who falls in love with a cabaret actress played by Nicole Kidman — wasn’t merely licensed to the makers of the musical and sent off with well wishes. In fact, the movie’s famous director, Baz Luhrmann, was intensely involved in the creative process. So, it’s still “very true to the film,” Gabbard says, but “they wanted the playlist to really be much more current, and they’ve done a beautiful job of weaving in a lot of new songs.”
“Message in a Bottle,” April 2–7, 2024, at Knight Theater, 430 S. Tryon St.: This dance-theater show is inspired by and set to songs by Sting — the famed frontman for The Police who penned “Every Breath You Take,” “Roxanne,” “Walking On the Moon” and scores of other hits. It centers around a family that has to flee their home country after war breaks out and go searching for a safe knew place to live. Says Gabbard: “When I was at the debut in London in February of ’20, I knew that that kind of story resonated with Europeans because they’ve had such a big problem with immigration from war-torn countries. But I wondered, Will U.S. audiences get it? Well, now, with Ukraine, of course U.S. audiences realize there have been millions of people displaced because of war.” This, too, is a regional exclusive. It’s also positioned as an “add-on” show for the Broadway Lights Series, meaning theatergoers can choose to include or exclude this particular show from their ticket package
“Mrs. Doubtfire,” April 30-May 5, 2024, at Belk Theater: It is, of course, based on the hit 1993 tear-jerking dramedy that starred the late Robin Williams in perhaps his most iconic film role (that’s what cross-dressing and pretending to be a Scottish nanny will do for a comedic actor). Says Gabbard: “To see a father that loves his children so much that he’s willing to do whatever he has to do, that’s what is the heart of this story. Yeah, he dresses up as a woman. But this is all about a man who is just so dedicated to his kids. How can you not feel good about that kind of character?”
“Back to the Future: The Musical,” July 9-21, 2024, at Belk Theater: Of all the movie-inspired musicals in the lineup, this may be the most hotly anticipated because of the deep affection so many Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers have for Marty McFly (made famous by Michael J. Fox) and flying DeLoreans. This is another regional exclusive, of a show that doesn’t open on Broadway till this summer — and that has a unique appeal. “Men really are excited about it. Let’s be honest, sometimes it’s the woman in the household that makes the purchase decision” when it comes to the theater, Gabbard says. “But this is one of those shows where men in the household are saying, ‘We have to go see Back to the Future’!”
To Be Announced, Oct. 22-27, 2024: Right now all the Blumenthal is saying about this one is officially, “Trust us, you’re going to love it!” But lest you think they don’t have a plan yet and are just plying its customers with lip service, trust us: We know what it is, and you are going to love it.
Equitable Bravo Series
What it is: A “secondary” series, named “Bravo” because these are all shows that have already been to Charlotte at least once, sometimes multiple times.
“Beetlejuice,” Dec. 26-31, at Belk Theater: The stage version of the cult-classic Tim Burton movie adds a slew of songs to the macabre, madcap story — about an eccentric teen girl, a dead couple and a spirit with a thing for stripes. It’ll be its second run here in 2023; it actually is opening Tuesday for a five-day run at the Belk as part of the current season’s Broadway Lights Series.
“Peter Pan,” March 5-10, 2024, at Belk: Return to Neverland with the boy who can fly, his fairy sidekick Tinker Bell, and one of the most well-known children’s stories ever.
“Hadestown,” May 7-12, 2024, at Belk: A hell of a good reimagining of two Greek-mythical love stories — that of Hades, king of the underworld, and his wife Persephone, and that of young lovers/dreamers Orpheus and Eurydice.
“Mamma Mia!,” June 18-23, 2024, at Belk: This was a movie, too, with Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried. But it’s easy to forget it was a musical first. What’s not so easy to forget are the show’s ABBA songs, which will stay stuck in your head long after you leave the theater.
“Disney’s The Lion King,” Aug. 8-Sept. 1, 2024, at Belk: Return to the African savanna with the lion cub named Simba, his sidekicks Pumbaa and Timon, and another one of the most well-known children’s stories of all-time.
“Clue,” Oct. 8-13, 2024, at Knight: This musical-comedy is also based on a movie, from 1985, but the movie itself was of course inspired by the board game that challenges players to figure out whodunit. That’s also the hook in the show — the audience, at each performance, will actually play a key role in figuring out who killed Mr. Boddy. (It’s another regional exclusive.)
What it is: The third tier of shows coming to Charlotte.
“Jesus Christ Superstar,” Oct. 13-15, Belk: See the final weeks in the life of Jesus Christ through the eyes of Judas, and hear them through award-winning music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice.
“Cookin’,” Nov. 3-5, Knight: This is what you get when you combine martial arts, a type of Korean drumming known as salmunori, and — yes — cooking. (Also a regional exclusive.)
“Mean Girls,” Feb. 13-18, 2024, Belk: Writer Tina Fey’s teen comedy started as a movie, became this Broadway musical, and now is in the process of being turned into a movie based on the musical.
How the series subscription works
Season subscriptions are on sale now, with details about sales for tickets to individual shows to be announced at a later date. Broadway Lights Series packages range from $220 to $951, and come in seven-show and eight-show flavors (depending on whether you want to include “Message in a Bottle” or not). There is an option for a 12-month payment plan. Bravo Series packages range from $185 to $692, with an option to pay over six months.
Subscribers to the Broadway Lights Series and Bravo Series may swap some of their season tickets for Broadway Extras, or for non-Broadway shows. Broadway Lights season ticket holders can swap out up to four shows; Bravo season ticket holders can swap out up to two. For more information or to purchase season tickets, visit BlumenthalArts.org/Broadway or call 704-335-1010.
This article appears courtesy of our media partner The Charlotte Observer.