Fall theater mixes Broadway hits, old faves and more

Susan Whitall
The Detroit News

As the temperatures cool down — finally — the boards are heating up at Metro Detroit’s theaters with the fall season kicking into gear this week.

Broadway in Detroit’s season starts with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Love Never Dies,” running at the Fisher Oct. 17-29. The musical is a sequel to “Phantom of the Opera” and takes up the Phantom’s story in 1907, when he is living amidst the freaks and carnival rides of Coney Island, New York. He is an ocean away from the Paris Opera House, but he can’t, of course, forget his inamorata, Christine Daaé.

Michigan’s 2017-2018 theater season includes “A Chorus Line” on Feb. 17 at the Fox Theatre.

Because Detroit is the opening night of the musical’s North American tour, you may spot the familiar figure of Lord Lloyd Webber pacing around the Fisher, personally supervising the production.

“He’ll be here all week, with the orchestra, with the load-in. He’s a very hands-on guy,” said Al Lichtenstein, executive director of Broadway in Detroit. “He wants it done his way.” (Lichtenstein spoke last week just before flying off to London to see the current theatrical obsession, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” in London, which opens in March at New York’s Lyric Theatre).

Next up for Broadway in Detroit will be “An American in Paris,” the Tony Award-winning musical about an American G.I. who falls in love with a French girl in the post-World War II years, which runs at the Detroit Opera House Nov. 28-Dec. 10.

The musical was inspired by the 1951 film featuring Gene Kelly’s muscular dancing. British choreographer Christopher Wheeldon adapted the film for stage, and there are many more Gershwin songs in the musical than were in the film.

Musicals based upon famous films are a bit of a theme this year. Others include “The Bodyguard,” starring R&B singer Deborah Cox, based upon the Whitney Houston-Kevin Costner film; Lloyd Webber’s musical version of “School of Rock”; and “Finding Neverland,” which, like the Academy Award-winning film, depicts the story of “Peter Pan” creator J.M. Barrie. Another song with pop music at its core is “On Your Feet!” the surprisingly dramatic life story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan, which depicts their rise to pop fame from their origins in Cuba.

A new production of “The Color Purple,” which won the Tony Award in 2016 for best musical revival, comes to the Fisher Nov. 7-12. It’s the first time for the musical to play the Fisher, “Instead of some barn somewhere,” Lichtenstein quipped.

As for the eternal favorites such as “Les Miserables,” which returns to the Fisher for two weeks in February-March: “People say ‘You’re not bringing in ‘Les Miz again?’ ” Lichtenstein said with a laugh. “I say, cha-ching.”

And when are we going to get “Hamilton?” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony Award-winning, hip-hop musical will finally make landfall in Detroit in the second part of the 2018-19 season, so figure on winter 2019, or very early spring. Broadway in Detroit season ticketholders will get first crack at the best seats when they subscribe to the 2018-19 season.

Downtown at the Fox, Tom Wilson, president and CEO of Olympia Entertainment, is happy about the increasing bustle he sees on the street around Foxtown as well as this season’s offerings at the Fox, which he describes as the “most robust” in several years.

The strength of the Fox is its size, Wilson believes.

“New York notices that they can run a show here for a week, and it grosses what they usually get for two weeks. So now, the caliber of shows people are running by us are the highest they’ve been.”

And the 1929 theater, a marvel of the Art Deco age, is a magnet in and of itself.

But the stage at the Fox could be bigger, Wilson admits. At some future date, the theater will expand its stage to get the more elaborate shows such as “The Lion King” or “Wicked,” he said.

Meanwhile this year, apart from the somewhat adult-themed musical “Kinky Boots” (which kicks off the season Nov. 3), the Fox is hosting another family-friendly season with “The Wizard of Oz” in late November, “The Sound of Music” in March and a week of “The King and I” in May.

The holiday season will be particularly busy, and Wilson paints a picture of downtown Detroit lit up with twinkling lights, with people crowding the sidewalks as they walk from restaurants to the theater. It may not be the Hudson’s era, but the holiday bustle is increasing.

This year the Fox’s slate of holiday fare will include “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical” in late November, “Cirque Dreams Holidaze” in early December, the Moscow Ballet’s “Great Russian Nutcracker,” “ELF The Musical” and Mannheim Steamroller’s winter show.

Making your way through the holiday bustle downtown to park, find a restaurant and walk to the theater is the kind of festive urban experience Metro Detroiters are learning to enjoy again, as previous generations did.

“It’s one more thing to get you off the couch to come downtown,” Wilson said.

Out in leafy Chelsea, Jeff Daniels’ Purple Rose Theatre has already started its fall season with a Tony-winning play by Yasmina Reza, “God of Carnage,” which premieres Thursday and runs through Dec. 16.

Of special note is the world premiere Jan. 18 of “Flint” by Daniels, directed by Guy Sanville, which as you’d expect, touches on the Flint water crisis.

“It’s a passionate, humorous and heartbreaking look at how we got to where we are in America,” says Sanville, who also is artistic director of the theater. The story concerns two couples — one white, one black — friends who worked at the GM plant and lost their jobs and have been trying to make their way back to the middle class.

Another new play that will premier at the Purple Rose is “Willow Run,” a World War II drama by Jeff Duncan that tells the story of several “Rosie the Riveters,” those women who came to work at the Ypsilanti plant during the war, to help make a B-24 bomber every 55 minutes.

“It’s quite a story. It was at one time the largest factory in the world, under one roof, and the workforce was predominantly women,” Sanville says.

And yet another world premiere is David MacGregor’s “Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Elusive Ear,” opening in late March, which involves super sleuth Holmes and his partner, Dr. Watson, taking on a case involving artist Vincent van Gogh.

Just as the Fox ballyhoos its urban charms, Sanville touts the picturesque charms of Chelsea, with many restaurants within a two-minute walk; and “it’s only a 45 minute drive from Royal Oak or Birmingham, or most places around Detroit,” Sanville says. “That’s the same time it takes you to drive to the Fisher.”

Theatre and Dance at Wayne State University has “The Underpants” by Steve Martin running Sept. 29-Oct. 15 at the Hillberry Theatre. The actor/comedian/novelist/playwright adapted the play from a 1915 German farce, “Die Hose,” by Carl Sternheim, involving a wardrobe malfunction that leads to a bored wife attracting a fleet of suitors. The company also has Shakespeare (“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”) and Tennessee Williams (“A Streetcar Named Desire”) on tap.

Currently on the boards at the Meadow Brook Theatre in Rochester is a Broadway-bound musical, Robert Lorick and Dan Goggin’s “Johnny Manhattan.” Set in a swanky nightclub in 1958 New York, during the heyday of the Copacabana, Latin Quarter and El Morocco, “Johnny Manhattan” had its world premiere in early September at the theater. Other highlights of Meadow Brook’s season include “Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical,” which traces the dramatic life story of the Kentucky-born singer who was top of the pops and movies (“White Christmas” with Bing Crosby) but also a respected jazz singer. In “Burt & Me,” which runs in May, two high school sweethearts are brought together with the help of songwriter Burt Bacharach.

Stratford, Ontario, is more than a 45-minute drive away — more like two hours and 45 minutes — but it’s long been a popular overnight jaunt for Detroit-area theater lovers. Several plays are being held over from spring/summer, but a slate of new ones open this week, including Gilbert & Sullivan’s “HMS Pinafore,” Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s “The School for Scandal,” and of course, the festival’s Shakespeare offerings — “Twelfth Night” and “Romeo and Juliet” premiere this week.

Susan Whitall is an author and longtime contributor to The Detroit News. Contact her at susanwhitall.com.

Fall, winter theater schedule

Broadway in Detroit Subscription Series

Fisher Theatre

3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit

Detroit Opera House

1526 Broadway, Detroit

(313) 872-1000 Prepaid parking in the Fisher Theatre lot and parking structure is included with the purchase of your show ticket.


■“Love Never Dies,” sequel to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom,” Oct. 17-29, Fisher Theatre

■“An American in Paris,” Nov. 28-Dec. 10, Detroit Opera House

■“The Bodyguard,” starring Deborah Cox, Jan. 16-28, Fisher Theatre

■“Finding Neverland,” Feb. 6-18, Fisher Theatre

■“School of Rock,” April 10-22, Fisher Theatre

■“On Your Feet!,” May 1-13, Fisher Theatre

Off-subscription Broadway in Detroit shows

Season ticket subscribers may purchase these extra shows prior to public sale

■“Gobsmacked!” Nov. 3-5, Fisher Theatre

■“The Color Purple,” Nov. 7-12, Fisher Theatre

■“Les Misérables,” Feb.27-March 11, 2018, Fisher Theatre

■“Cinderella,” March 13-18, 2018, Fisher Theatre

■“Wicked,” Aug., Detroit Opera House (Exact dates will be announced with the 2018-19 season)

Fifth Third Bank Fox Theatre Series

Fox Theatre

2211 Woodward, Detroit

(313) 471-3200


■“Kinky Boots,” Nov. 3-5.

■“Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical,” Nov. 17-19

■“The Wizard of Oz,” Nov. 25-26

■The Illusionists present Adam Trent. Nov. 30.

■“Cirque Dreams Holidaze,” Dec. 1-3

■Neil Berg’s “Broadway Holiday,” Dec. 10

■“Mannheim Steamroller Christmas” by Chip Davis, Dec. 16

■“Great Russian Nutcracker” by Moscow Ballet, Dec. 17

■“ELF The Musical,” Dec. 20-24

■“A Chorus Line,” Feb. 17, 2018

■“STOMP,” March 16-17, 2018

■“The Sound of Music,” March 30-31, 2018

■“The Illusionists — Live From Broadway,” April 27-28, 2018

■“RAIN: A Tribute To The Beatles,” April 29, 2018

■“The King and I” by Rodgers & Hammerstein, May 8-13, 2018

Theater and Dance at Wayne State University

Hilberry Theatre

4743 Cass, Detroit

(313) 577-2972


Bonstelle Theatre

3424 Woodward, Detroit

(313) 577-2972

■“The Underpants” by Steve Martin, Sept. 29-Oct. 15, Hillberry Theatre

■“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare, Oct 12-28, Studio Theatre, Hillberry Theatre

■“A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams, Nov. 3-19, Hillberry Theatre

■“A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens,” Dec. 1-17, Bonstelle Theatre

■“Stop Kiss,” Dec 7-16, Studio Theatre, Hillberry Theatre

Matrix Theatre Company

2730 Bagley, Detroit

(313) 967-0599


■“Who Will Sing for Lena?” Nov. 16- Dec. 10

■“Big Red Button” by Michael Perrie, Jr. Feb. 1-25

■“My Name is Rachel Corrie,” April 5-29

■“Church & State” June 7-July 1

Meadow Brook Theatre

207 Wilson Hall, Auburn Hills

(248) 377-3300


■“Shear Madness,” Oct. 4-29

■“A Christmas Carol,” Nov. 10-Dec. 24

■“Nana’s Naughty Knickers,” Jan. 10-Feb. 4

■“Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical,” Feb. 14-March 11

■“The Snow Geese,” March 21-April 15, 2018 .

■“The All Night Strut!” April 25-May 20

■“Burt & Me,” May 30-June 24

Purple Rose Theatre Company

137 Park, Chelsea

(734) 433-7673


■“God of Carnage,” Sept. 28-Dec. 16

■“Flint” Jan. 18-March 10

■“Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Elusive Ear” March 29-May 26

■“Willow Run” June 14-Sept. 1

Stratford Festival

Stratford, Ontario

(800) 567-1600


Stratford’s fall season started Tuesday, with many shows being held over from the previous season.

■“Romeo and Juliet” Sept. 26-Oct. 21

■“HMS Pinafore,” Sept. 26-Oct. 21

■“Guys and Dolls,” Sept. 26-Nov. 5

■“The School for Scandal,” Sept. 26-Oct. 21

■“The Madwoman of Chaillot,” Sept. 26-Oct. 1

■“Tartuffe,” Sept. 27-Oct. 13

■“The Virgin Trial,” Sept. 27-Oct. 8

■“Twelfth Night” Sept. 28-Oct. 21

■“Treasure Island,” Sept. 28-Oct. 22

■“The Breathing Hole,” Sept. 29-Oct. 6