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Published: Saturday, 8/9/2003

It's showtime in Toledo

BY NANCIANN CHERRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

One current show, two traditional shows, and two that are somewhere in between.

For Ward Whiting, executive director of the Stranahan Theater, the Theater League's 2003-2004 Harold Jaffe Jewelers Broadway Season couldn't get much better.

“I'm absolutely ecstatic about the new season,” he said. “I happen to be an ABBA fan, so I'm really looking forward to Mamma Mia!

That show, filled with the songs of ABBA, is the middle of the five musicals to be presented. The others are Miss Saigon, The Music Man, Saturday Night Fever, and Kiss Me, Kate.

In addition to the Harold Jaffe season, Theater League is bringing in two other major shows. Stomp is scheduled March 5-7, and Rent June 22 and 23. Although these are not part of the season-ticket package, season-ticket holders were able to preorder tickets at preferential prices.

Toledoans love theater, Whiting says, and that shows in the fact that season-ticket sales are up.

“Normally, the year after Phantom [of the Opera] comes into the community, season-ticket sales will be down, because lots of people have bought season tickets to get Phantom, then don't renew,” he said. “Not us. We had Phantom last year, and the Toledo theater-going market has actually done better this year with season tickets than it has in years past.”

Reida York, director of advertising and public relations for Theater League, agrees.

“Toledo has been an absolutely wonderful market for us,” she said from her office in Kansas City. “Shows are very well received there.”

Theater League was formed by Mark Edelman in 1975 to bring Broadway shows to smaller cities. Along with Toledo, Theater League serves Long Beach, Pasadena, and Thousand Oaks, Calif.; Witchita, Kans.; Kansas City, Phoenix, and Tucson.

“Because our series represent the Best of Broadway, we try to book both the most recent hits and classics of the American musical theater,” Edelman said.

“Our choices are limited by the touring plans of the New York companies and where we fit into their routes. But because the Stranahan is so highly regarded and Theater League is booking for many other Broadway series at the same time, we usually get our pick of the top shows.”

When Edelman talks about the Stranahan being highly regarded, it's not just in terms of ticket sales.

Because Whiting and his staff met the technical complexities of producing The Phantom of the Opera, “It really opened the eyes of the touring theatrical world to the possibilities the Stranahan represents,” Edelman said. “Mamma Mia! and Miss Saigon are the direct result of the Phantom success. I think the agents wish they had given us two weeks of Mamma Mia! instead of only one - that show is going to sell out fast!”

York is also happy with the season, calling Miss Saigon an awesome show. Like The Phantom of the Opera, it was recently revamped for smaller stages, and Theater League is happy with the results. “It doesn't have the real helicopter in it any more, but what it does have is really incredible,” she said.

Miss Saigon, scheduled Oct. 28-Nov. 2, opens the season. Just as Rent was based on La Boheme, Miss Saigon takes its inspiration from Madame Butterfly. The love story, set amid the Vietnam War, won a Tony Award for its score, which was written by the creators of Les Miserables. This particular show is recommended for mature audiences.

The Music Man is next up. Scheduled Jan. 16-18, 2004, Meredith Willson's classic show about a con man, a librarian, and a small midwestern town features such songs as “Seventy-Six Trombones,” “Gary, Indiana,” and “Lida Rose.” Parents often choose this engaging show to introduce their children to live theater.

Mamma Mia! is due Feb. 3-8. When people hear that it features the songs of ABBA, they think of the movie Muriel's Wedding, York said, but it's not like that at all. It's about a single mother who has been rearing her daughter on a Greek island. The daughter, now 20, yearns to know her father, and she discovers that there are three men who were in the right place at the right time 21 years earlier. She contrives to invite them all to her wedding so she can learn the truth. “It's just incredible the way they incorporated the songs into the story line,” York said. “[The result] is very upbeat, a really fun time.”

Saturday Night Fever takes the stage March 19-21. Think John Travolta in a white disco suit, and you'll know what's coming. Toledo won't get Travolta, but it will get a journey through Bee Gee songs such as “Stayin' Alive,” “More Than a Woman,” and “How Deep is Your Love.”

Kiss Me, Kate ends the season April 16-18. It's a play within a play about a theatrical troupe putting on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. And like Shrew, the troupe's lead actor and actress battle their ways into one another's hearts to the sound of such Cole Porter songs as “Another Openin', Another Show,” “Too Darn Hot,” and “Wunderbar.”

“Toledo has it all,” Edelman said. “A first-class facility, convenient on-site parking, the friendliest box office in the country, and support - from the Stranahan's board and management to the stagehands, ushers, and concession helpers - that is second to none. Add tens of thousands of knowledgeable patrons and you've got a first-class tour stop in Toledo. Theater League is thrilled to be a part of it.”

Performances are scheduled at 8 p.m. weekdays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, and 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Season tickets are still available from the box office, 419-381-8851, and range from $155 to $195. Tickets for the individual shows are also on sale, and the prices vary with the show. The cost of the most expensive production, Mamma Mia!, ranges from $50 to $65. Information: 419-381-8851.



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