Wharton Center’s next schedule brings eclectic mix
Oddities such as blue men and puppeteered horses are among just a few attractions to be featured at Wharton Center during its 2012-13 season.
The performing arts center’s schedule for next academic year was announced earlier this week and consists of seven Broadway productions — “Anything Goes,” “War Horse,” “Billy Elliot: The Musical,” “Sister Act,” “Catch Me If You Can,” “Blue Man Group” and “American Idiot” — as well as many performing artists and other events.
“We’re able to get all those great shows that are in New York and London and all over the world right here in East Lansing at a fraction of what you would pay anywhere else,” Wharton Center’s Public Relations Manager Bob Hoffman said.
In addition to offering a top- notch selection of Broadway shows, Wharton Center’s Marketing Director Diane Willcox said the 2012-13 lineup also includes several prominent individual performing artists.
“Sheryl Crow, Lily Tomlin, Sonny Rollins (and) Renée Fleming all in a single season — that’s almost unheard of on a national level,” she said. “That’s really incredible, high-caliber individual artists whom we’re able to feature here.”
Willcox said these featured performers are representative of the types of entertainment Wharton Center aims to offer its patrons.
“That’s probably the bottom line of what we’re looking for: new, upcoming artists who we think will have the longevity, and those who are still the legends who have such an influence,” she said.
Hoffman works with a team to advise Wharton Center’s Executive Director Mike Brand about which shows he should try to book. Hoffman said although it is important to book first-rate acts and feature popular productions, it also is crucial for Wharton Center to reach a wide-ranging audience and cater to MSU students. The goal is to have an eclectic mix of what currently is available, and sometimes securing certain shows or performances takes years of planning and negotiating.
“I think that’s what’s great about our programming is the fact that we are on a college campus and the fact that we do reach out to students and younger audiences,” Hoffman said. “We also give them an opportunity to take advantage of other attractions that they might not know about.”
Set in England in 1914, “War Horse” tells a tragic story of a young boy who is separated from his beloved horse when the horse is sold to the cavalry and shipped to France. The production, which details the boy’s journey to find his pet and bring him back to safety, is based on the 2011 Steven Spielberg movie of the same name.
“This was a motion picture that was really popular,” Hoffman said. “Everyone’s talking about it, so it’s really relevant.”
“War Horse” has not yet toured in the U.S., and Hoffman said Wharton Center will be one of the cast’s first stops.
Willcox said the puppet horses used in the show to portray live animals are so lifelike that viewers can see them breathing and sometimes forget they aren’t real.
“They’re the framework of a horse, and yet the ways that these puppets operate, they’re just really, really realistic and beautiful,” she said. “It’s amazing because you’re watching the play and suddenly you realize, ‘Oh yeah, it’s not a horse,’ because you get so sucked into it being a horse.”
“Billy Elliot: The Musical”
“Billy Elliot: The Musical” is the winner of 10 2009 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
The show, which also is based off of a motion picture, follows the same plotline as the 2000 film “Billy Elliot.”
The production is focused on the story of the main character Billy Elliot as he trades in his boxing gloves for a pair of ballet shoes — a decision that comes as a shock to those who know the young boy.
“At first, of course, folks can’t really understand (Elliot’s desire) to be a dancer,” Willcox said. “It’s very funny, but it’s also really touching.”
The production’s score was written by rock legend Elton John, which should make the show appealing to students who likely are familiar with the artist.
“The Elton John music is rocking, it’s great, it’s terrific,” Willcox said. “It not only has that great Elton John score, but it also has this amazing, beautiful dance as well, so it’s special.”
Based on pop-punk band Green Day’s 2004 album “American Idiot,” the Broadway production of the same name follows three best friends as they are forced to make life-altering decisions.
Because of the band’s popularity among younger audiences, Willcox said she expects “American Idiot” to appeal to a wide range of viewers, including both students and adults.
“I love it, and my middle school son loves it, and my 19-year-old son loves it,” she said. “I think we’re going to see quite a multigenerational audience in that one.”
The show includes songs straight off of the band’s album, such as “21 Guns,” “Wake Me Up When September Ends” and “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.”
Willcox said Billie Joe Armstrong, Green Day’s lead vocalist, was involved heavily with the creation of the show, attending rehearsals and tweaking certain aspects.
“(Band members) actually wrote the album as a story, and they always envisioned in their heads the story going through when Green Day wrote the album,” she said. “Putting it on stage was no hard stretch for them.”
Sonny Rollins and Renée Fleming
Wharton Center’s Marketing Manager Ryonn Clute said this season’s classical lineup is one to be sure not to miss, and it includes more popular artists than previous year’s seasons.
“(Rollins is) one of those people who have really defined the sound of jazz,” Clute said. “(Rollins) has continued to, over the generations, keep honing his craft, and I think for those jazz aficionados, he’s quite an icon.”
Clute said she was excited to hear Fleming — who does not often tour — would be making an appearance in East Lansing.
“She is out of this world, as far as a vocalist, and she only does a handful of recitals throughout each year,” she said. “We’re happy that we’ve been able to do one of those few chosen events.”
Although Fleming is an opera singer, Clute said she doesn’t appeal to just fans of that genre, and she has been working to appeal to a broader audience.
“She kind of has this wide breadth of things and has really gone into the mainstream,” she said.