Strong Women Lead: WAC Broadway Series offers new shows, new perspectives

Strong Women Lead: WAC Broadway Series offers new shows, new perspectives
MONICA HOOPER
mhooper@nwadg.com

Female leads, female directors, female songwriters. The 2022-23 Broadway season at the Walton Arts Center offers exciting shows with women telling most of the stories.

“After about three shows were booked, this theme started developing. At the end of the game, when the very last show came in, we knew that we had a very strong woman-based theme for the season,” says Jennifer Ross, director of programming for WAC. Five of the shows will be Arkansas premieres: “My Fair Lady,” “Pretty Woman: The Musical,” “Tootsie,” “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” and “Hadestown.”

“There was a newfound, refreshed focus on female characters, female storytellers,” adds Scott Galbraith, vice president of programming. He explains that in looking at what’s on stage in New York, it was apparent that women were at the center of many of those shows. “We’re now seeing the results of that. And the fact that it came together so beautifully in our season was really gratifying.”

‘My Fair Lady’

My Fair Lady opens the 2022-23 Broadway series at the Walton Arts Center. Pictured is Shereen Ahmed as Eliza Doolittle (center), with cast members Sam Simahk as Freddy Eynsford-Hill, Kevin Pariseau as Colonel Pickering, and Leslie Alexander as Mrs. Higgins in The Lincoln Center Theater Production of Lerner & Loewe‚Äôs “My Faiir Lady. (Courtesy Photo/Joan Marcus)

Aug. 9-14

The season will open with “My Fair Lady,” which was supposed to be part of the 2019-20 season that was cut short by covid.

“It definitely is a revival, and it’s actually one of the great things that Lincoln Center Theater has been doing for a number of years now, taking classic American musicals like ‘The King and I’ and ‘South Pacific,’ and staging them — without changing dialogue, without changing characters, without changing intentionality — but finding a way to bring out the more socially relevant themes that have always been there,” Galbraith says.

“The costuming for this particular show is also just absolutely revelatory,” Ross adds. “As a woman, looking at those costumes and thinking about how women in that time period actually had to do their entire life in a corset and a long skirt!” Despite the breathtaking costumes, “[a] metaphor of confinement in the wardrobe is very apparent, I think,” Galbraith concludes.

‘Pretty Woman: The Musical’

Sept. 20-25

Another Arkansas premiere will be “Pretty Woman: The Musical.” “It’s a fun show, based on a very, very popular movie,” Ross enthuses. “For me, it was super fun to see the story on stage, strong character, strong female lead. And, you know, it’s a Cinderella story told in a little different way.”

“We always try and have a variety of time periods, musical styles, physical locations, and shows that take place in different genres,” Galbraith adds. “My Fair Lady” and “Pretty Woman” “have similar underlying themes to them, about not judging people by their appearances and by their habits and their place of birth and life and that sort of thing. And overcoming the trappings of people’s perceptions. … We think the audiences will … walk away from those being able to really look at how things change.”

‘Chicago’

Nov. 8-13

“Chicago” returns to the Walton Arts Center stage on the musical’s 25th anniversary tour, having gone from stage to screen and now back to stage. It’s “the longest running American musical on Broadway,” Galbraith says. So what is it about “Chicago” that keeps audiences coming back? Galbraith says: “For me, the reason we keep coming back is the music is so good. It is so good. And when you pair that with [Bob] Fosse choreography that is so iconic, the entertainment value of this show is so high, that it keeps you coming back. And I think that’s the parallel to the theme of the story is, we’re so taken in by the glitz and the glitter and the music and the dance that we forget we’re forgetting. We’re forgetting that it’s about these people who kill their husbands. So we are going through the process that they’re satirizing.”

‘Tootsie’

Tootsie, a comedic musical based on the film of the same name, goes on stage Jan. 17-22, 2023 at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville. (Courtesy Photo)

Jan. 17-22, 2023

Another movie that was adapted for stage is “Tootsie,” which has been dubbed a “laugh-out loud love letter to theater,” showing a man learn to walk a mile in a woman’s shoes. Galbraith adds that “it is one of the funniest shows in years.”

Despite rave reviews from the likes of Rolling Stone and The Hollywood Reporter, the New York production was criticized for jokes which some say make light of the transgender community.

“When creating the show, the creators did not seek to nearly replicate the story of Tootsie … They were actually looking at the essential questions of the story and trying to answer those from a contemporary viewpoint: How far would you go, when you are being told that one thing that you love in life, that you want to do more than anything else, you’re being told no,” Galbraith muses. “The book writer calls it out, that this character makes some really bad decisions. And that’s what’s on stage. Not everybody who’s on stage is a perfect human being, not everybody in the audience is a perfect human being. We do make mistakes.”

He goes on to say, “I did not see that there was any sort of making fun or making light of transgender or gender fluid people in our community. I don’t believe that’s what they’re trying to do.”

Ross adds: “I believe also it helps all of us understand that walking in somebody else’s shoes helps us better understand that person. … Because the character makes this bad decision, does, you know, dress up as a woman in order to get a part, to get a job. But in the end, realizes that this is No. 1, this is hard. And No. 2, this was a really bad decision. So I believe as Scott said the character redeems himself because of the realization that he has at the end of the show.”

‘Moulin Rouge: The Musical’

Feb. 9-19, 2023

On film, “Moulin Rouge” is so filled with beautiful and popular music that it’s being adapted into a musical seems natural. When it comes to the stage, “it’s visually spectacular. You know, musically, it’s an extravaganza because it has so many different popular artists’ music that is woven into the show seamlessly. It is all the best parts of the film, and yet it’s right there live in front of you. It is an experience,” Galbraith says. Both Galbraith and Ross were evasive about exactly how the stage would look when “Moulin Rouge” comes to the Walton Arts Center, but the theme of “truth, beauty, freedom and — above all — love” will have a run of 14 days.

‘Hadestown’

May 23-28, 2023

“The story of ‘Hadestown’ is really the intertwining of two different myths. It’s the dreamers Orpheus and Eurydice who fall in love. And it’s the story of Hades and Persephone,” Ross explains. “I can tell you, I have never sobbed like I did at ‘Hadestown,’ just because the story is so strong.”

“In addition to all that, the other part that we love about this is how it really fit into the celebration of women that is the season. I think it’s the fourth time in Broadway history — it hasn’t happened in a decade — that a musical has been written solely by a woman. So book, music, lyrics — all by one person — Anais Mitchell … the director is also female (Rachel Chavkin). So you’re really getting a a woman’s perspective of these myths, which again, is helping to illuminate stories that have been around in this case for centuries. But to make sure that we are seeing them in a new and fresh way and, oh my gosh, it is moving, it is uplifting, it is stunning visually.”

‘To Kill A Mockingbird’

2023-24 season

Finally, Broadway subscribers will be guaranteed first access for the 2023-24 Northwest Arkansas debut of Academy Award-winner Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird.”

“The 21st century lens on it is undeniable. And I think people will see not only these characters, but the subject matter in a very, very contemporary way. And I think it just speaks to the timelessness of Harper Lee’s writing. It’s exciting,” Galbraith says. “The fact that it starts and ends with the same words — and the dramatic difference, they hit you one way when you first hear them, and they hit you a completely different way at the end of the show … you have changed in between those words, and it’s amazing.”

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FYI

Broadway Tickets

Six-show Broadway subscription packages range from $312 to $463 for Tuesday and Wednesday evenings and Thursday matinees, and $367 to $542 for Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings and Saturday and Sunday matinees. Package prices vary depending on performance selected and include all fees.

Subscriptions are available now for a limited time and can be renewed or purchased online at waltonartscenter.org, by calling the subscriber concierge at 571-2785 or in person at the Walton Arts Center Box Office weekdays 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

Single tickets to all Broadway and other shows in the 2022-23 season will be available later this summer.

Categories: Cover Story