Detroit’s fall/winter theater season includes ‘Dirty Dancing,’ ‘Newsies,’and ‘Grinch’
It appears that the bustle in downtown Detroit has translated into increased box office activity for the city’s dramatic offerings.
Ticket sales for the season’s premeire of “Dirty Dancing,” at the Fisher Theatre have been “huuuuge,” says Al Lichtenstein, executive director of Broadway in Detroit, which books shows at the Fisher and occasionally at the Opera House.
“Dirty Dancing: The Musical,” is based upon the popular 1987 movie set at a mountain resort during a memorable early ’60s summer, when middle-class girl, Baby, meets tough guy dancer, Johnny, and sparks fly.
After “Dirty Dancing,” the Fisher will stage “Mama’s Got a Plan,” a new work by Detroit playwright TJ Hemphill, Nov. 12-15. Lichtenstein describes Hemphill (“Perilous Times” and “All Men are Dogs”) as “Detroit’s Tyler Perry.”
“Mama’s Got a Plan” is about the behind-the-scenes maneuverings in a church between the son of the minister, his “power-hungry” wife, his ex-con brother who challenges him for leadership of the church, and others. The cast includes several Detroiters — Redaric Williams (“The Young and the Restless”), gospel singer Lisa Page-Brooks, Claudia Jordan ( “Real Housewives of Atlanta”) and BET’s Tasha Page Lockhart.
“That’s going to be a fun show,” Lichtenstein said. “I saw it in the spring (at Southfield’s Millennium) and said, ‘it’s terrific, let’s move it to the big house.’ ”
“Jersey Boys” returns to the Fisher on Nov. 17. The musical telling the story of the Four Seasons and how Frankie Valli and his Jersey compadres elude mobsters and record business sharpies to make hit records still draws crowds.
“This is the year of the family show,” Lichtenstein said. Count Disney’s “Newsies: The Musical” as one of those. The show, which runs Dec. 15-27 at the Detroit Opera House, is the story of a group of newspaper delivery boys in the 1930s who struggle to make a living after a publisher raises the price of their papers. They go on strike, and with the help of a sympathetic journalist, their plight comes to the notice of President Theodore Roosevelt.
In the winter season, the Tony Award-winning production of “Rodger & Hammerstein’s Cinderella” will run at the Opera House Feb. 16-18.
In the spring, the Fisher will host “Matilda: The Musical” March 9-20. Based on the Roald Dahl novel of the same name, it is the story of a brainy, feisty girl who finds herself misunderstood by her family and bullied by a headmistress at school. She’s teased for her love of reading, and prevails in the end.
Another spring highlight will be the pairing of “Love Story” co-stars Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal in “Love Letters” at the Fisher. “They’re perfectly cast,” said Lichtenstein. “It’s about two childhood friends, one becomes a senator and the other becomes lost — it kind of fits their personalities.”
Looking to the future, Lichtenstein promises that the Fisher’s 2016-’17 season will be “the hippest season we’ve ever had” and patrons can expect some changes in the theater itself.
“We’ve been talking about making some changes, upgrading the theater and contemporizing it a bit,” Lichtenstein said. “We’ll try to open up the Fisher, make it a fun place to hang out, with stuff happening in the concourse.”
Olympia Entertainment (Fox and City Theatres)
Meanwhile, down Woodward at the Fox, “It’s the biggest, most active season since I’ve been here,” says Tom Wilson, president and CEO of Olympia Entertainment, of the fall-winter lineup at the Fox Theatre and City Theatre. “Not only are people willing to come downtown, they’re anxious to come downtown.”
Many of the Fox’s fall shows are multiple nights of holiday-themed family shows.
Of the dramatic presentations, “Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical treatment of the story from the Bible’s Book of Genesis launches the Fox’s holiday season Oct. 23-24.
Of interest to the juvenile set and parentals, “Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical,” runs Nov. 10-15. Wilson appeared on TV in July with this year’s Grinch, whom he reveals is very intense (Stefan Karl, who hails from Iceland). “This guy is great, and if you have a good Grinch — well, that bodes well.”
Also directed at family audiences is “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical,” running Dec. 5-6.
Olympia is bringing the gross-out musical “Evil Dead,” based upon the cult film (by Detroit’s Sam Raimi) to the City Theatre in October, again, after a record-breaking monthlong run a year ago.
Also showing at the City, “Fancy Nancy: Splendiferous Christmas.” This children’s show is about an over-the-top, especially fancy holiday planned by the youthful heroine of the popular books. New to Detroit, the show will run Nov. 20-22.
Looking past the holidays into the New Year, “Dancing in the Streets,” which will play the Fox is, ironically, the sound of the Motor City coming from a London production, with songs by the Temptations, Supremes, Stevie Wonder and more. There’s no plot, just an emcee and actors performing as the various Motown stars.
Hilberry Theatre and Meadow Brook Theatre
The Hilberry Theatre has an interesting fall/winter season, including Simon Levy’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” which opens Oct. 30, and “Clybourne Park” by Bruce Norris, opening Feb. 26.
The Norris play was written in response to Lorainne Hansberry’s classic “A Raisin in the Sun,” and begins just when that play ends, in the 1950s, when the black Younger family have just bought a house in the all-white Clybourne Park neighborhood. Going forward to the present, Norris explores the issue of gentrification as the black owners of the Clybourne Park house now consider selling their house to a white family.
At the Meadow Brook Theatre in Rochester, the season starts Oct. 7 with “The Explorers’ Club,” an Off-Broadway comedy set in the 19th century, about a woman invading an all-male Victorian adventure club. The comedy was written by “Legally Blonde” scribe Nell Benjamin.
Here is an edited list of shows by local theaters. For a more complete list, go to detroitnews.com.
Fisher Theatre and Opera House
Tickets are available at the Fisher box office, all Ticketmaster locations, by phone at 1-800-982-2787 and online at www.broadwayindetroit.com or www.ticketmaster.com. For “Mama’s Got a Plan,” tickets can also be purchased at God’s World, at 13533 W. Seven Mile, Detroit.
“Dirty Dancing: The Musical,” adapted from the film. Book by Eleanor Bergstein. Oct. 20-Nov. 1. Fisher Theatre
“Mama’s Got A Plan” by TJ Hemphill. Nov. 12 – 15, Fisher Theatre
“Jersey Boys,” book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, music by Bob Gaudio, lyrics by Bob Crewe. Nov. 17–Dec. 6, Fisher Theatre.
Disney’s “Newsies: The Musical,” book by Harvey Fierstein, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman. Dec. 15-27, Detroit Opera House.
“Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella,” music, lyrics and original book by Rodgers & Hammerstein, new book by Douglas Carter Beane. Feb. 16-18, Detroit Opera House.
“Matilda the Musical,” based upon the Roald Dahl novel; book by Dennis Kelly, music and lyrics by Tim Minchin. March 9-20, Fisher Theatre.
Fox and City Theatres
FOX THEATRE, 2211 Woodward, Detroit. Tickets are available the Fox box office, all Ticketmaster locations and Ticketmaster.com. To charge tickets by phone, call (800) 745-3000.
“Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” lyrics by Tim Rice, music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Oct. 23 -24.
“Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical,” book by Timothy Mason; music by Mel Marvin. Nov. 10-15.
“Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical,” Based on the TV special and stage production by Jeff Frank and First Stage. Script adaptation by Robert Penola. Dec. 5-6.
“Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” book by Linda Woolverton, lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Alan Menken. May 20-22.
CITY THEATRE, 2301 Woodward, Detroit. Tickets are available at the box office (inside Hockeytown Cafe) on the day of show, up to one hour prior to the show. Otherwise, tickets can be purchased at the Fox box office, all Ticketmaster locations and Ticketmaster.com. To charge tickets by phone, call (800) 745-3000.
“Evil Dead: The Musical,” based upon the Sam Raimi film, book & lyrics by George Reinblatt. Oct. 1-Oct. 31.
“Defending the Caveman” by Rob Becker. Nov. 12 - Nov. 15
“Fancy Nancy: Splendiferous Christmas,” book by Cara Lustik, music by Randy Klein. Nov. 20–Nov. 22)
“Sister’s Christmas Catechism: Search for the Magi’s Gold” by Maripat Donovan. Dec. 10–Dec. 13.
4743 Cass Ave., Detroit. Tickets: Call (313) 577-2972.
“One Man, Two Guvnors” by Richard Bean. Oct. 2-17.
“F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.” Adapted for the stage by Simon Levy. Oct. 30-Nov. 7 and Jan. 7-Jan. 9.
“Inspecting Carol” By Daniel Sullivan and the Seattle Repertory Theatre. Dec. 4-19.
Meadow Brook Theatre
207 N. Wilson, Rochester. Tickets: Call (248) 377-3300 or go to mbtheatre.org.
“The Explorers Club,” Oct. 7-Nov. 1. By Nell Benjamin.
“A Christmas Carol,” by Charles Dickens. Nov. 13-Dec. 24.