The Ordway Center for the Arts announced a 2017 musical-theater slate Thursday that sends a clear message: The St. Paul venue generally won’t compete for touring Broadway shows, focusing instead on self-produced musicals.
Only one of the four productions scheduled for next season— the Cyndi Lauper show “Kinky Boots,” coming Aug. 8-13 — originated in New York. The other three will rely on local actors, technicians and crew.
“This is probably the first season in a long time that has more focus on the Ordway as a producer than a presenter, and it says something about us as a theater company and the Twin Cities as a center of the arts,” said the Ordway’s new CEO, Jamie Grant. “We have the talent in this community and the people we hire pay rent and taxes and tuition and all kinds of things here. The season represents a deeper investment in the community, even as we offer audiences top-notch shows.”
As exemplified by its current revival of “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas,” the Ordway has been moving in this direction for several years, tacitly ceding the touring business to the Hennepin Theatre Trust in Minneapolis, which hosted the national tour of “Kinky Boots” last year.
A key factor is the center’s new second stage. The 1,100-seat concert hall that opened in 2015 has given the Ordway opportunities it did not have in the past, such as time for the technical rehearsals that an ambitious homegrown show requires.
“The calendar used to have two dates open, namely Christmas Day and the two weeks that coincide with the State Fair,” said Grant. “Now, between the concert hall and the [1,900-seat] music hall, we have 260 days open.”
The season kicks off July 18-23 with the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Ordway artistic director James Rocco will direct that show.
September will bring a staging of the first Broadway hit by “Hamilton” writer/star Lin-Manuel Miranda: “In the Heights,” a show about the colorful characters in his Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights (Sept. 12-17). Winner of the Tony Award for best musical in 2008, it will be presented in collaboration with Teatro del Pueblo, a Twin Cities-based Latino-focused company.
And in the holiday slot, the Ordway will stage “Annie,” a perennial favorite that had a memorable recent production at Children’s Theatre (Dec. 7-31, 2017).
The Ordway and Hennepin Theatre Trust used to be fierce competitors, sometimes to the detriment of both organizations as producers of touring shows pitted them against one another. Those days are gone, said Grant: “The gang at the Hennepin Theatre Trust are my friends. We are one market and there’s enough opportunity for all of us to do well.”
Season tickets, ranging from $130 to $375.40, are now available at the Ordway box office, 345 Washington St., St. Paul, at Ordway.org or by calling 651-224-4222. Tickets to individual shows will go on sale March 15.