Dream Season Set For 2012-13 Broadway In New Orleans At Mahalia Jackson Theater
January 20, 2012
Andrew Adler, Nola.com
From his vantage point atop the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts’ administrative food chain, general manager David Skinner is tasked with balancing the desires of his eclectic constituents.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in crafting a lineup for East Jefferson General Hospital Broadway in New Orleans, the big-event, big-ticket series that anchors much of the Mahalia Jackson’s regular season. Skinner must satisfy audiences ages 8 to 80, getting butts into the proverbial seats week after week, all without alienating such resident companies as the New Orleans Opera and the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra.
He hopes to do all of that with the 2012-13 Broadway in New Orleans season, which opens with “Les Misérables” (Oct. 30-Nov. 4), continuing with “Mary Poppins” (Dec. 18-23), “Jersey Boys” (Jan 8-27, 2013), “Flashdance” (Feb. 26-March 3, 2013) and “Million Dollar Quartet” (April 16-21, 2013). A nonsubscription special – the immensely popular “Wicked” — closes out the season May 8-June 2, 2013.
“Some years we may be looking at something that’s for baby boomers, like ‘Mama Mia,’” explains Skinner, who helped get the Mahalia Jackson back in business after the ravages of Katrina. “Then you look at more family shows like this year’s ‘Addams Family,’ and maybe throw in a classic along the way.”
“Les Miz” certainly qualifies. The work, which opened in London in the fall of 1985, is the longest-running musical in history, having notched more than 10,000 performances. The version slated for New Orleans is a new production created to mark the show’s 25th anniversary.
“‘Les Miz’ is one of those shows we desperately wanted,” Skinner says. “It’s probably going to be out for just a few years, and then back on the shelf.” And “wherever it goes, it is going to sell out. It comes out just often enough to keep up demand.”
The 25th-anniversary restaging, Skinner added, is substantial — “not just dusting the old one off and putting fresh tires on it.”
Skinner also appreciates the nuances of booking attractions for the Mahalia Jackson. Not every show is a sympathetic fit — sizewise or stylistically — for a hall that seats 2,100 people. Intimate musicals can be lost amid such a space. Far better, he says, to bring megashows like “The Lion King” or “Wicked,” which can connect to the farthest reaches of the balcony.
Practicality drives a lot of Skinner’s decision making. It’s not enough simply to want a particular piece — he has to identify candidates that are touring in reasonable proximity to New Orleans.
“Some years we’d be looking at a show you’d like to have, but it’s playing on the West Coast and won’t be near you,” he explained. “For 2012-13, the stars aligned, because every single show I could have dreamed of getting, we got.”
Looming over everything is the issue of sober economics, especially post-Katrina. “We are a self-sustaining theater; we get no public funding,” Skinner notes. “We took over a theater that was costing the city a million dollars a year, and now we don’t get anything. We have to generate revenue to pay our bills, so we have to find shows that will be successful for us, and fill a majority of those seats.”
Hence shows like “Mary Poppins” and “Flashdance,” which draw fans of their respective film versions who belong to that favored “family” patron category. “Jersey Boys,” which tells the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, extends the imperative to nostalgia-loving baby boomers.
“Jersey Boys,” Skinner says, “is successful wherever it goes, and probably has a pretty good shelf life for a show.”
Like any performing arts center, the Mahalia Jackson takes care not to bunch return shows too close together. But some properties, including “Wicked,” are in so much demand that producers see little risk in bringing them back soon after a previous run.
Additionally, “because we were out of the Broadway circuit for about five years after Katrina, we’ve had a few years to catch up,” Skinner says. That means committing to multiple runs of a show like “Jersey Boys” and looking hard at which productions can sustain strong ticket sales over longer stays in the theater.
“The majority of shows will play in this market for a week,” Skinner says. “We would love to have shows that have the popularity and support to do multiple-week engagements, but that inventory of shows is not there year in and year out.”
Broadway in New Orleans and the Mahalia Jackson have the advantage of relative exclusivity: There aren’t many competing facilities in nearby cities.
“We draw as far north as Jackson, Miss., east to the Florida Panhandle, and west just about to the border of Louisiana,” Skinner said. “The closest real Broadway series to us is in Houston.”
The nearest thing to risk-taking on the 2012-13 season is “Million Dollar Quartet,” which recalls the day in 1956 when Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash jammed at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tenn. “When it comes to some of the shows we might book in here,” Skinner says, “we aren’t Atlanta, where they might have a dozen shows a year because they have the population base to support that. We have to look at getting the best product we can in those five or six shows, and hopefully not take too many chances. You don’t want to make a mistake.”
THE 2012-13 BROADWAY IN NEW ORLEANS SEASON
•Les Misérables — Oct. 30-Nov. 4
•Mary Poppins — Dec. 18-23
•Jersey Boys — Jan. 8-27, 2013
•Flashdance — Feb. 26-March 3, 2013
•Million Dollar Quartet — April 16-21, 2013
•Wicked — May 8-June 2, 2013 (nonsubscription special)
•All shows will be in the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts.
Subscriptions to the 2012-13 East Jefferson General Hospital Broadway in New Orleans Series start at $148. To purchase or for more information, call 800.218.7469, or go to BroadwayInNewOrleans.com. Individual show tickets will go on sale at a date to be announced.