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Theater preview: Pioneer Theatre raises curtain on 2014-15 titles in season ‘for everybody’

Published: Friday, April 18 2014 8:00 a.m. MDT

Pioneer Theatre Company’s 2014-15 season promises “something for everybody,” according to Karen Azenberg, Pioneer Theatre’s artistic director.

“I feel strongly that it’s my responsibility to mix it up and offer something for everybody, along with something that the audience doesn’t think it wants, but guess what, you just might have a good time,” Azenberg said.

The 2014-15 shows, which include one world premiere and one state premiere, are:

  • “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” Sept. 12-27
  • “The Rocky Horror Show” concert staging, Oct. 24-25
  • “One Man, Two Guvnors” state premiere, Oct. 31 to Nov. 9
  • “Peter and the Starcatcher,” Dec. 5-20
  • “Alabama Story” world premiere, Jan. 9-24, 2015
  • “The Crucible,” Feb. 13-28, 2015
  • “I Hate Hamlet,” March 30 to April 4, 2015
  • “The Music Man,” May 1-16, 2015
“For our audience that wants what’s not been done in this area before, we have a regional premiere, ‘One Man, Two Guvnors,’ and a world premiere, ‘Alabama Story,’ ” Azenberg said. “For the ‘I want classic; I want traditional’ patron, we have ‘The Crucible’ and ‘The Music Man.’ For patrons who want contemporary and different, we have ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.’ And ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’ is a wonderful show to drop into the holiday slot that families will enjoy.”

The performance rights licensee of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” Music Theatre International, offers two completely authorized versions of the musical: one listed as rated R and a version that has the objectionable content removed from the original Broadway production. Typically, the writers or rights holders for these “clean versions” will rewrite shows, without significantly altering the storyline, to allow theater companies to produce theater following the sensibilities in the area. (Examples include “Next to Normal,” “[title of show]” and “Avenue Q.”)

A rare occurrence and a first for the company, Pioneer Theatre Company will produce both versions of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” With the exception of the performances on Thursday, Sept. 18, and Wednesday, Sept. 24, the productions will be the “clean versions.”

For the second time in Pioneer Theatre's history, a Utahn outside the company will helm a production. The “perfect director” for “One Man, Two Guvnors,” Azenberg said, is David Ivers, artistic co-director of the Tony Award-winning Utah Shakespeare Festival and a veteran of 14 seasons and 30 productions at the Cedar City summer fête champêtre.

“He was absolutely the first person who came to my mind,” she said. “I want to hire the best talent I can for the theater, and I’m thrilled we have that level of talent in the state.”

To determine its lineup of productions, the theater company distributes patron surveys with a list of plays and musicals under consideration for the following season, which Azenberg considers “very informative.”

“We looked at the surveys and saw what people were responding to,” she explained. “The surveys also had room for comments, and what was interesting to me was for every person who said, ‘I want the traditional,’ there was someone who said, ‘I get so excited when you’re doing something I don’t know.’”

A summary of each show follows.

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” winner of two Tony Awards, is a comedy musical following a competition of six quirky adolescents, presided over by equally quirky judges. “This is a musical that makes you laugh and laugh and laugh. That’s what I want to do when I go to the theater," Azenberg said.

Before the midnight movie adaptation, “The Rocky Horror Show” was staged on Broadway, with a 2000 revival following. PTC’s production of the campy musical lampoon of B horror films will be a concert staging, the first in what will be an annual series.

“One Man, Two Guvnors,” nominated for seven Tony Awards, is a madcap celebration of British comedy. “Everyone loves a door-slamming farce. And there are food fights and people falling down stairs. It’s just hilarious theater," Azenberg said.

“Peter and the Starcatcher,” which was awarded five Tonys, provides a rambunctious backstory for J.M. Barrie’s ever-youthful Peter Pan character. “It is theater magic at its best. No technology, just theater magic," Azenberg said.

First presented in this year’s inaugural series called Play-by-Play New Readings, “Alabama Story” is a full staging of the drama by award-winning playwright and Playbill managing editor Kenneth Jones. “Next year is the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, and it’s a stroke of lucky timing that we have this very moving new play that takes that into account," Azenberg said.

“The Crucible,” Arthur Miller’s allegorical retelling of the Salem witch trials, is considered a central work in the canon of American drama. “I love that we’re staging a play that students read in school and that can also be seen live on stage," Azenberg said.

The dramatic comedy “I Hate Hamlet” follows a television actor as he contemplates performing his dream role. “It’s such a great concept: John Barrymore’s ghost comes to teach how to do Shakespeare. How fabulous is that? It’s ghost story, theater story and comedy all rolled into one," Azenberg said.

Seventy-six trombones will take the lead in “The Music Man,” the musical that launched the career of Robert Preston (who, after his stage success, composer Meredith Willson insisted repeat his Professor Harold Hill role in the film adaptation over Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant). “It’s one of the best musicals ever written — ever. It’s the perfect musical," Azenberg said.

Surveying the beginning of her third season as the creative leader of Pioneer Theatre, Azenberg said, “I’m proud of the work. I’m proud of the shows we do. We are exploiting our strengths very well. We’re bringing in great talent. We’re using the great local talent. The productions look wonderful. And I’m proud of the new projects, like the Play-by-Play series and the concert stagings we will begin. I think that’s a lot within two years, to get all this going.”

Content advisory: "The Rocky Horror Show" and the R-rated version of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” contain sexuality and objectionable language. “One Man, Two Guvnors” contains mild objectionable language.

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