Secondhand Lions

13 Ways Seattle Has Changed Broadway...

You read that correctly.

By definition—in the Stephen Sondheim dictionary—a “Broadway Baby” is waiting for that one big chance to be in a show, to be on some marquee in twinkling lights. That’s great and all, but in this town we like to make our own luck. 

Despite the 3,000 miles between Seattle and New York, the Emerald City has become something of an Off-Off-Broadway staging ground for new musicals. The crossover goes back a decade to director Bartlett Sher at Intiman Theatre, who shepherded The Light in the Piazza from Mercer Street to the Great White Way. Village Theatre’s Festival of New Musicals turns out Tony winners (most recently, Next to Normal and Million Dollar Quartet), and since the year 2000 alone 5th Avenue Theatre has had eight productions travel from its stage to Broadway. Some were hits (Hairspray, Memphis), some misses (Scandalous, the aptly titled Kathie Lee Gifford creation). But the common refrain among Seattle directors interviewed this summer showed fervent commitment to new material. 

In 2012, 5th Avenue Theatre’s partnership with ACT—A Contemporary Theatre resulted in First Date, a charming romantic comedy about a blind date in the age of Google that opened in New York City in August. Though TV stars Zachary Levi (Chuck) and Krysta Rodriguez (Smash) got top billing, Seattle’s own Eric Ankrim—who originated the role—made his Broadway debut subbing for Levi. “You can’t pick the show that’s going to go to Broadway,” said David Armstrong, artistic director of 5th Avenue. “We’ve been very, very lucky. Our criteria is: Get involved with really talented people and support them, collaborate, advise them. Hopefully they’ll come up with a show that is really, really successful.” It also goes unsaid: Hopefully they’ll keep coming back. 

First Date composers Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner return to 5th Avenue this fall with the world premiere of Secondhand Lions (Sept 7–Oct 6), a musical comedy-drama based on the 2003 movie of the same name. The film starred Michael Caine and Robert Duvall as a pair of crotchety Texas ranch hands and brothers who take in their teenage nephew Walter (Haley Joel Osment) and placate him with old war stories. Roughly no one saw the movie—which means the family-friendly story is ripe for adaptation. Zachary and Weiner have a score planned that’s part bluegrass and Johnny Cash, part 1920s spectacle, cancan included. They consider 5th Avenue their safe place to experiment, free of crippling judgment, and Seattle a unique testing ground.

“Demographically, it feels like you get the best of a big city and also a small town,” Zachary said. “You feel like it’s representative of places like Los Angeles and New York, but you also get the feel of the Midwest. You feel like you actually have a great microcosm of the U.S., to get a sense of what people will respond to.” 

Local theatergoers have long been willing cohorts in experimentation, and this fall Balagan Theatre will bank on its niche audience—ages 35 and under—to try out a smaller, stripped-down version of Les Misérables (Sept 6–28) and Carrie the Musical (Oct 11–26), inspired by the Stephen King bloodbath. Balagan’s newly hired artistic director, Louis Hobson—himself a Seattle-bred Broadway baby—hopes to create a bridge “artistically and commercially” between here and New York City, workshopping edgier musicals and enticing “old friends,” such as Tony winner Alice Ripley, to come West
for work.

“It’s a moment for Balagan. It’s a moment for Seattle theater,” Hobson said. “My agent was just talking to a casting director who knew, ‘Oh, that’s the Carrie with Alice Ripley, isn’t it?’ People know what we’re doing out in Seattle.” —Laura Dannen

 

Les Misérables 
Sept 6–28, Erickson Theatre, balagantheatre.org 

Secondhand Lions 
Sept 7–Oct 6, 5th Avenue Theatre, 5thavenue.org

Carrie the Musical 
Oct 11–26, Moore Theatre, balagantheatre.org

 

 

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