The 2005-06 lineup includes some fan favorites, but it reflects the general shortage of new musicals.
2005-06 Broadway in Orlando season
# The King and I, Oct. 25-30.
# The Radio City Christmas Spectacular, Dec. 9-31.
# Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jan. 10-15, 2006.
# Movin' Out, Feb. 21-26, 2006.
# Mamma Mia!, May 23-28, 2006.
When you think theater, do you think the Radio City Rockettes?
If you don't, you'd better adjust your thinking because 22 Rockettes, three sheep, two camels and a donkey will highlight the SunTrust Broadway in Orlando series for 2005-2006.
Four weeks of The Radio City Christmas Spectacular will headline the series, which otherwise will be marked mainly by big-budget musicals that have played in Orlando any number of times.
The reason, the series presenter says, is that Orlando is a couple of years behind more successful markets.
"We're not on the A list," says Ron Legler, executive director of the Florida Theatrical Association, which presents the Broadway series.
While Fort Lauderdale and Tampa will see a tour of the Broadway smash Wicked and this season's new musical Little Women, Orlando's season will feature only one show that is still playing on Broadway, Twyla Tharp and Billy Joel's 2002 dance musical Movin' Out.
The rest of the Orlando season will include The King and I, most recently part of the Broadway series in 1998; Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, last seen at Carr Performing Arts Centre in 1995; and Mamma Mia!, which was here in the spring of 2004.
While most of the season lineup may seem old hat, it reflects a problem that plagues the theater industry as a whole -- the shortage of new musicals both on Broadway and on the road.
By the end of the current season, for instance, about a dozen new musicals will have opened on Broadway. But only two -- Spamalot and the upcoming 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, which is transferring from off-Broadway -- seem likely to be unqualified successes.
Of the new musicals on Broadway last year, only three -- the puppet musical Avenue Q, the Hugh Jackman vehicle The Boy From Oz and Wicked -- were popular enough to be likely touring shows. But Avenue Q is going straight to a permanent home in Las Vegas, and The Boy From Oz, minus Jackman, isn't touring. Only Wicked is available for road presenters to book.
All of which makes it difficult when presenters in Orlando or New Orleans or Cincinnati are trying to put together a season schedule that will draw audiences.
"It's very difficult, especially in a year when Broadway didn't produce a lot," Legler says.
To make matters more difficult, Orlando's Carr Performing Arts Centre, built in the 1920s and renovated in the 1970s, cannot compete with newer, state-of-the-art facilities. Fort Lauderdale's Broward Center for the Performing Arts, built in 1991, opened its doors with the first engagement of the Phantom of the Opera tour, which didn't come to Orlando until 1995. And Fort Lauderdale has enough season-ticket buyers to book two full weeks of every touring show -- a savings for producers that makes them look to the Broward Center first.
In Tampa, the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center presents and even produces shows (rather than just renting out space like the city-owned Carr) so its staff can adjust the schedule to get the most promising tours. The largest performing-arts center complex in the Southeast, the Tampa Bay Center has four stages and "a constant flow of life in it," Legler says. So it's a popular destination for audiences no matter what's going on.
But even though Orlando isn't on the A list, Legler says there are attractions to look forward to among next season's offerings. Movin' Out, which sets Joel's hits to Tharp's choreography, has been a critical and popular hit. Mamma Mia! did so well here in the spring of 2004 -- selling out to subscribers and groups before other individuals had a chance to buy tickets -- that he feels compelled to bring it to town again.
And The Radio City Christmas Spectacular, which sold out its engagement in Tampa, is expected to play to 110,000 people in Orlando and have a $15-million economic impact.
Certainly the names associated with a couple of the upcoming shows -- Patrick Cassidy in Joseph and Stefanie Powers in The King and I -- will draw their fans to Carr. Cassidy recently starred on Broadway in 42nd Street and Aida, and Powers is remembered for her long-running TV hit Hart to Hart.
Legler says he cut the coming season back from six shows to five so that he wouldn't have to book something Orlando audiences might not like. Other cities have scheduled runs of a show called On the Record, a revue of Disney songs through the years. But Legler doesn't think such a show, which has been poorly received elsewhere, would appeal to Orlandoans.
"If our audience wants to hear 'It's a Small World,' they'll go to the theme park," he says.
But the scarcity of new musicals isn't expected to affect Orlando for long. Product may be sparse next season, but the 2006-07 season already looks promising for Legler's box office. Both Wicked and The Lion King are finally headed our way -- only nine years after the latter opened on Broadway.