Former Austinite Harvey Schmidt of ‘Fantasticks’ fame has died

We just read that Harvey Schmidt, co-creator of “The Fantasticks,” the longest running musical in history, has died at age 88.

The 2010 cast of ‘The Fantasticks” at the University of Texas. Contributed by Lauren Tarbel

The last time we chatted with Schmidt, a former Austinite who attended the University of Texas, he was in town in 2010 with his lyricist, Tom Jones, to toast the 50th anniversary of his hit, which ran for nearly 42 years at the 153-seat Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village — 17,162 performances! — before closing in 2002. It returned in 2006 at the Theater Center and ran until its New York total since 1960 reached 21,552.

Word Baker, who directed the show, also attended UT.

In Austin during the 1950s, Schmidt and Jones were part of the Curtain Club, the extracurricular drama group started by critic and scholar Stark Young in 1907. Both “The Fantasticks” and their much less successful “Celebration” relied heavily on their theater historical training at UT.

Harvey Schmidt. Contributed by Photofest

Two more of their best remembered Broadway shows were “I Do! I Do!,” a two-actor musical about love and marriage that was mostly a showcase for Mary Martin and Robert Preston, and “110 in the Shade,” based on “The Rainmaker.” Their major musicals have been revived here periodically. More evidence hometown loyalty: The Paramount Theatre was one of the few in the country that ever exhibited the ill-fated 1995 movie adaptation of “The Fantasticks.”

Here’s a snip from something I wrote back in 2010 before the UT event: So just how did “The Fantasticks” get its start in Austin? The composing pair closely studied the source material, Edmund Rostand‘s “Les Romanesques,” with (UT professor and director) B. Iden Payne and witnessed multiple student versions of the story about parents who bring their children together by pretending to keep them apart. They collaborated on deliriously popular student revues at UT and creative projects in New York before “The Fantasticks” took off, boosting the careers of Jerry Orbach, Robert Goulet, Glenn Close, Rita Gardner, Richard Chamberlain, George Chakiris, John Davidson and others. (The book to read is “The Amazing Story of The Fantasticks: America’s Longest Running Play” by Donald C. Farber and Robert Viagas.)

This is what I wrote afterwards: We witnessed history. Oct. 15, on the first night of the University Texas’ celebration of the 50th Anniversary of “The Fantasticks,” a perky set of undergraduates performed a sharply contoured revue of songs by Texas exes Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt. The portfolio included fewer than two dozen from the composing team’s 1,000+ songs, written over the course of 60 years. Yet it polished up rare gems, like alternative versions of the “I Do! I Do!” title song and the duo’s work as UT students and cabaret composers during the 1950s.

At the end of the show, Schmidt and Jones, now in their eighties, met at the piano. They sang four short songs, but — oh! — it was well worth witnessing the composers of America’s longest running play jazzing it up for the crowd. Two instant hits were “Mr. Off-Broadway,” their self-descriptive salute to the movement they helped popularize, and “Freshman Song,” the first they ever wrote together, 60 years ago for a wildly popular UT student review. How many can say they have witnessed the crowning of such a career at one’s alma mater?

The song’s shy, hopeful lyrics set loose the waterworks for the assembled guests, mostly alumni who packed the weekend of performances, panels and parties. The subsequent reception outside the Brockett Theatre was like old home week for seven decades of theater and dance students.

The eldest member of the Curtain Club d — which predated the drama department — spoke of joining in the early 1940s. She was the picture of grace and eloquence.

The next morning, UT playwright Steven Dietz delivered a philosophical keynote speech about theater preparing us “to be.” Texas Performing Arts director Kathy Panoff, with help from music director Lyn Koenning, interviewed Schmidt and Jones for a delightful hour of anecdotes and reminiscences. Both Texans retain a ready wit and literate array of references.

Playwright Kirk Lynn and arts editor Robert Faires then led a discussion of how new work changes theater, dance and training. The panel linked choreographer Kitty McNamee, playwrights Robert Schenkkan, Kim Peter Kovac and Carson Kreitzer. They made a convincing case for the act of making something from nothing.

Costume designer Susan Mickey helped me corral a raucous crew of talents: Bruce McGill (“Animal House,” “The Legend of Bagger Vance”); Todd Lowe (“Gilmore Girls,” “True Blood”); and Brian Danner (Los Angeles fight director). We discussed whether a university arts education was worth nothing – or everything. Other talks and demonstrations honeycombed the Winship Building before a performance of “The Fantasticks.”

 

New Austin subscribers must wait for ‘Hamilton’ season tickets

Broadway in Austin has paused its acceptance of new subscribers for the 2018-2019 season that includes the smash musical “Hamilton.” Current subscribers to the 2017-2018 season can still renew their seats through March 27.

New subscribers to the Texas Performing Arts series can sign up for the waiting list to be notified if additional season tickets become available.

Michael Luwoye and Isaiah Johnson in the ‘Hamilton’ national tour. Contributed by Joan Marcus

This pause is quite unusual, perhaps unprecedented in the history of touring shows at the University of Texas’ Bass Concert Hall. Demand must be incredibly high.

Get your ‘Hamilton’ tickets for Austin right now

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At last you have permission to order those “Hamilton” tickets for the once-in-a-generation musical that will stop in Austin at Bass Concert Hall for three weeks in 2019.

Michael Luwoye and Isaiah Johnson in the ‘Hamilton’ national tour. Contributed by Joan Marcus

The happy catch? To secure those tickets beginning at 11 a.m. Feb. 20 when the Broadway in Austin call center opens, you must subscribe to the whole 2018-2019 season, presented by Texas Performing Arts at Bass Concert Hall. That means six other shows, including one comedy, three relatively new musicals and two long-running Broadway standards. Single tickets to “Hamilton” and the other shows will go on sale at a later date.

Yet let’s start with “Hamilton,” which plays May 28-June 16, 2019, at the very end of the coming season.

RELATED: Broadway smash ‘Hamilton’ coming to Austin in 2018-2019 season

“We have been building up to this season since ‘Hamilton’ opened on Broadway,” says Kathy Panoff, Texas Performing Arts director and associate dean of the University of Texas School of Fine Arts. “We’re thrilled it’s finally coming to Austin.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda reinvented the musical theater form with this ferociously smart show about Alexander Hamilton, inspired by Ron Chernow’s best-selling biography. Using a range of musical styles in a sung- and rapped-through score — as well as mostly nonwhite actors, who give every old idea new meaning — the show opened on Broadway in 2015. It has been sold out ever since, and individual tickets can go for hundreds of dollars.

Yet season ticket prices for all seven Broadway in Austin selections, including “Hamilton,” start as low as $224.

While you are holding your breath for the Great Arrival, six other shows wait in the Bass Concert Hall queue.

Alex Mandell and Amelia McClain in the ‘The Play That Goes Wrong,’ the only nonmusical in the Broadway in Austin season. Contributed by Jeremy Daniel.

The one comedy — a rare nonmusical for Broadway in Austin — is “The Play That Goes Wrong,” a British product that has been compared to the backstage farce “Noises Off.” In this show, things go disastrously wrong during the opening night of a play called “The Murder at Havensham Manor,” proving that theatrical life is often the theater’s most effective subject. It lands Oct. 23-28, 2018.

Among the new musicals, “Love Never Dies” is an Andrew Lloyd Webber tuner billed as a sequel to his mega-hit, “The Phantom of the Opera.” Lloyd Webber, however, once said: “I don’t regard this as a sequel — it’s a stand-alone piece.” He later clarified his remarks, saying that of course it is a sequel, but you need not have seen “Phantom” to understand it. Fair enough. It stumbled during its original London run but was embraced in Australia. “Love” tarries Nov. 27-Dec. 2, 2018.

‘Waitress’ is based on a charming indie movie. The musical has run on Broadway for two years. Contributed

Another new musical, “Waitress,” was inspired by the charming 2007 independent movie by the same name and features an admired score by singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles, who currently stars in the New York cast. The musical version of “Waitress” opened on Broadway in 2016 and is still running, which is a feat for a relatively quiet, personal show. It tells of a cafe server stuck in an unhappy marriage who is pregnant and having an affair and who seeks redemption through a pie contest. It takes your orders Jan. 22-27, 2019.

Before becoming a Broadway musical, ‘Anastasia’ was a book, play, film and animated movie. Contributed

“Anastasia,” the third new musical, shares an Austin connection. Local arts backers Marc and Carolyn Seriff are among the credited producers. The 2017 musical is based on the 1997 animated film — itself inspired by plays and novels about the recovery of a possibly lost Russian princess — and many of its fans remain loyal from that experience. It received lukewarm notices in New York, but, based on its built-in appeal, the producers immediately announced a worldwide tour. It appears Feb. 12-17, 2019.

The older musicals need no introductions. “Fiddler on the Roof,” the 1964 Bock and Harnick classic based on shtetl life, brings back Jewish traditions and indelible songs April 2-7, 2019. The musical focuses on Tevye, a dairyman with five daughters who must deal with changing cultural norms as well as the expulsion of the Jews by the Czar’s forces.

The record-breaking show comes to Austin by way of a fresh production from director Bartlett Sher.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s indestructible “Cats,” which debuted on Broadway in 1982 and then ran 18 years, shows up on our collective doorsteps again May 7-12, 2019. You either hate or love this show based on T.S. Eliot poems about feline life and afterlife. There’s no denying that tunes such as “Memory” are hard to pry from your mind. Whether you cotton to the furry costumes, circus makeup and undulating choreography is a matter of personal preference.

How to land tickets to ‘Hamilton’ and more

The seven-show Lexus Broadway in Austin 2018-19 season subscriptions go on sale starting at 11 a.m. Feb. 20. Prices start as low as $224. Visit broadwayinaustin.com or call Broadway in Austin at 800-731-7469 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The deadline for current season subscribers to renew their seats is March 27. Groups of 10 or more may request reservations by calling 877-275-3804 or via email at Austin.Groups@BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com. Individual show ticket sales will be announced at a later date.

Ice cancels ‘Finding Neverland’ opener; how to get refund or exchange ticket

The show will not go on Tuesday night at Bass: The opening night of “Finding Neverland” has been canceled because of winter weather and the closing of the University of Texas at Austin campus. More weather coverage on statesman.com.

Billy Harrigan Tighe and John Davidson in “Finding Neverland.” Contributed by Jeremy Daniel

Texas Performing Arts issued this statement about ticket refunds or exchanges:

Tickets purchased through Texas Performing Arts at the Bass Concert Hall or Frank Erwin Center Ticket Offices, online at texasperformingarts.org or by phone at 512-477-6060, may be exchanged for a future performance of “Finding Neverland.” To request a refund or exchange, please call the Bass Concert Hall Ticket Office at 512-471-1444 or email tickets@texasperformingarts.org. Exchanges must be processed at least four hours in advance of the new performance.

Subscribers should call the Subscriber Hotline at 800-731-7469 (Mon – Fri, 9AM to 5PM) to complete refund or exchange requests.

ALL single ticket purchase and subscriber requests for exchanges or refunds must be completed by Friday, January 19 at 5PM. Seat locations and ticket prices vary by performance.

RELATED: Our preview of ‘Finding Neverland’

 

‘The Nutcracker’ and “Drowsy Chaperone’ holiday tidbits

Ballet Austin’s “The Nutcracker” and the University of Texas’ “The Drowsy Chaperone” will be well worth your entertainment time this coming week. Here’s a taste of two articles about the shows.

 

The corps de ballet dance through a snowy “Nutcracker” scene in 2016, with Constance Doyle up front. Contributed

READ FULL “NUTCRACKER” STORY.

They come and go so quickly.

Oh, sure, some lucky ballet dancers manage to extend their careers for decades. Others happily switch to congruent creative roles at a convenient age. But just when you think you’ve identified all the major players in Ballet Austin — which opens its holiday treat, “The Nutcracker,” on Dec. 8 — myriad new faces joins the familiar ones onstage.

Already this season, veteran ballet watchers have noted a spate of younger talent on the Long Center stage. Now you can catch all of them through Dec. 23 because, for “The Nutcracker,” it’s all feet on deck.

PHOTOS: Ballet Austin’s ‘The Nutcracker’ through the years

Often a major role will be played by multiple dancers over the course of a long run. Watch for the relative newcomers during the Christmas party scene in Act 1, or dancing through snowflake magic as part of the corps de ballet later in the same act, or playing featured roles during the divertissements — the always diverting specialty dances — in Act 2. And elsewhere.

Some of these dancers are newly minted members of the main company; others serve in Ballet Austin II, the group’s farm team, as it were.

Now, we are not talking about the darling tots who hide under Mother Ginger’s huge skirt or play with gifts while teasing each other during the party sequence. These are professional dancers who have more recently come into the spotlight. Let’s introduce a few …

Natasha Davison (choreographer, center) and Nick Mayo (director, right) during rehearsals for “The Drowsy Chaperone” at the University of Texas. Contributed by Lawrence Peart

READ FULL “DROWSY CHAPERONE” STORY.

A show within a show, “The Drowsy Chaperone” tests the limits of the musical genre. On one level, it is a celebration of the giddy often mindless musicals of the 1920s. On another, it is a sharp critique of the stereotypes and cultural shorthand of the day.

As such, it makes an ideal candidate for a college musical theater program like the one at the University of Texas that, despite some high points, did not work out and will suspend operations — while Texas State University ramps up its efforts — with this carefully chosen material, while continuing to probe the history of theater for all its shifting meanings.

We asked director Nick Mayo about the musical that plays Dec. 6-10 at the Payne Theatre. Getting into the 1920s spirit of the show, he sent us some telegraphic notes.

Warning: The plot is ridiculously complicated. You see, a musical theater fan called Man in Chair introduces a show within a show called “The Drowsy Chaperone” about a mixed-up wedding that includes gangsters, mistaken identities and exotic locales, all of which infiltrate the Man in Chair’s apartment …

Here’s how you can get a great deal to see ‘Rent’ in Austin

Broadway hit “Rent” is coming to Bass Concert Hall for a short run Oct. 13-15, and you can score a great ticket for not a lot of dough. Seats in the first two rows of the orchestra section of every performance will be available for $25.

Contributed by Carol Rosegg, 2016

Now, you do have to work a bit to get that deal: Tickets can only be purchased in-person on the day of performance, two hours before each show, at the Bass  ticket office, 2350 Robert Dedman Drive. These sales are cash only, and there’s a limit of two tickets per person. Performances are 8 p.m. Oct. 13-14, 2 p.m. Oct. 14 and 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Oct. 15.

According to Broadway in Austin: “The tradition of $25 tickets began in 1996 in New York when the show moved to Broadway after a sold-out run in a small downtown theater. The producers of the show are committed to continuing the tradition of offering orchestra seats for $25 in each city the show will play.”

Freelance arts critic Andrew Friedenthal talked with national tour director Evan Ensign about the show for Austin360; here’s a little peek:

Long before people were lining up around the block in hopes of getting a ticket to “Hamilton,” a very different kind of show was praised for reinvigorating Broadway with its appeal to younger, more diverse audiences — Jonathan Larson’s “Rent.”

Loosely based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera “La Bohème,” “Rent” tells the story of a group of 20-something New Yorkers living in Manhattan’s Alphabet City neighborhood while dealing with the hassles of adult responsibilities and the deadly specter of the then-rampant AIDS disease. The show was a massive critical and commercial success in its original run, winning multiple Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize (issued posthumously to writer and composer Larson, who died the night before the show’s off-Broadway premiere), and it became one of the first Broadway shows to feature an affordable lottery system for sold-out performances.

With such a distinguished pedigree, you would think that Evan Ensign, the director of the show’s new national tour, might feel some pressure to live up to audience expectations. Ensign, though, is confident in the strength of the material. “I don’t feel that much pressure because I think the show stands up for itself,” he says.

You can read the full interview at mystatesman.com.

RELATED
How to get “Hamilton” tickets in Austin
Your guide to the fall arts season in Austin

All singin’, all dancin’ for Zach Theatre’s ‘Singin’ in the Rain’

For our money, there’s never too much singing and dancing in a stage musical. So we rejoiced at the chance to interview dance maker Dominique Kelley (“Sophisticated Ladies,” “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”) and Austin newcomer Luke Hawkins, who plays Don Lockwood in Zach Theatre’s staging of “Singin’ in the Rain.”

READ FULL STORY HERE

Sasha Hutchings and Luke Hawkins star in “Singin’ in the Rain” at Zach Theatre. Contributed by Kirk Tuck

Here’s some catnip:

“Tap dancing will always be with us. It’s a quintessential American dance form.

And Austin, with its nationally respected Tapestry Dance Company, is a tap hub of sorts.

Yet tap dancing doesn’t play a huge role in the contemporary Broadway theater. Especially given the numerous jukebox musicals derived from postwar pop or rock music, or equal number of hits based on animated movies, which might include a smattering of rhythm dancing, but nothing on the scale of, say, “Singin’ in the Rain,” which can be seen at Zach Theatre starting Sept. 27.

“There certainly are tap elements in current shows,” says Dominique Kelley, who made the dances for this “Singin’ in the Rain.” “A friend of mine always includes it. He doesn’t always use tap shoes, or it’s in the way back, but there’s always tap. Some say that tap is dying, but you can find people who can do it, like you can find krumping, flamenco or break dancing. I can find good people to do it, but do they fit the type? Can they actually sing and act, too? When you whittle it away, you don’t necessarily get the best tappers.”

Combing through Zach auditions held in Los Angeles, New York and Austin, Kelley and director Abe Reybold came up blank for a leading man who could do all these things as Don Lockwood in this stage show based on the revered 1952 Gene Kelly movie.

“Then someone said: Do you know Luke Hawkins?” Kelley remembers. “Just hire him.”

Hawkins, who grew up in his mother’s dance studio outside Sacramento, Calif., has been a go-to guy for a type of tap dancing that requires more than mere rhythm.

“In my 20s, my agent sent me out for a lot of tap shows,” he says with a heart-melting smile. “But it was for the ensemble. I am a soloist tap dancer. Because I’ve devoted so much time and practice to falling in love with tapping, where it’s been and where it’s heading, being an ensemble member was too easy in shows I didn’t love. I didn’t feel challenged.”

Suffice it to day that “Singin’ in the Rain,” which costars Sasha Hutchings as Kathy Seldon, presents a challenge even for Hawkins.

“This pretty much utilizes everything,” he says. “Singing, acting, ballet-ish dance, tap dance. Because of Dom, I’m allowed to improvise, too, and that’s so rare. Most other choreographers don’t allow it.”

Making ‘A Chorus Line’ come alive at Texas State

The Broadway mega-hit “A Chorus Line” opens at the Texas State University Performing Arts Center in San Marcos on Sept. 26.

SEE FULL STORY HERE.

Liliana Rose, Jacob Burns, Emma Hearn and Ben Toomer play characters auditioning for a Broadway show in “A Chorus Line.” Contributed

We visited a run-through rehearsal and interview director/choreographer Cassie Abate to prep you for the show. Here’s a peek:

“What would you encounter if you dropped by a run-through rehearsal of “A Chorus Line” 2 1/2 weeks before it opened at Texas State University?

Actually, something very close to a fully consummated version of the hit 1975 show about performers auditioning to appear on a Broadway chorus line, meanwhile revealing their personal histories.

White light illuminates a few pieces of scenery. Young performers line up in studio togs. The late Marvin Hamlisch’s genius score, though rehearsed this night without orchestra or microphones, shines through.

Because these performers are part of the San Marcos school’s nationally ranked musical theater program, not only is the singing and dancing already top-notch, the original anecdotes that grew out of a singular play development process — it somewhat resembled group therapy for working chorus members — are deeply felt and communicated.”

Hurricane Harvey inspires a Broadway response in Houston

Just returned from Houston. My large family’s experience with Hurricane Harvey mirrored the wide range felt by other Houstonians. Some weathered heavy damage; others helped out those in need.

Contributed by UPI

You probably have already seen this video, but at least two of my siblings’ neighborhoods looked a lot like this. Or worse. But how clever of someone to see piles of debris and think of the barricades in “Les Miserables.” This sync is rough, touching, big-hearted and a little fun.

Singer Gabrielle Stravelli jazzes up Austin Cabaret Theatre

This is totally last minute, but singer Gabrielle Stravelli stops by the Sterling Center to perform for Austin Cabaret Theatre on Thursday.

I’ve been listening to Stravelli’s CD “Dream Ago” obsessively for the past couple of days. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard a jazz or cabaret voice as distinctive as hers. The special beauty of this album is that it shows off her wide range of modes through mostly original music for which she contributed the lyrics.

Yet her treatment of standards such as “It Might As Well Be Spring” is fresh, fun and musically sophisticated.

While we are on the subject, we’re delighted to learn that Austin Cabaret Theatre is still a thing. In fact Stuart Moulton‘s long-distance project — he if firmly based in New York these days — has announced an Austin season on Facebook that includes Jesse Luttrell, Barb Jungr, Crystal Stark, Sam Harris, Ann Hampton Calloway, Amanda McBroom and Michele Brourman.

Add that to the Texas Performing Arts line-up that features Storm Large & Le BonheurSeth Rudetsky, Ute Lemper and more, and you’ve got a full plate of imported cabaret this season. Ah, for the days when Austin produced its own cabaret stars!