Editor’s note: This column was written before the COVID-19 cancellations. Please check with the venues before attending.
When Broadway singer Thembelihle Cele took centerstage at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center and belted out the opening bars of “Circle of Life” from “The Lion King,” those attending the season announcement press conference were instantly transported to the mighty Serengeti. Music and the magic of theatre have a transformative power.
Tulsa’s purveyor of that power when it comes to touring Broadway is Celebrity Attractions. The company has brought Broadway to Oklahoma since 1983. Its upcoming season, which includes “The Lion King,” is one of Celebrity Attractions’ most ambitious and thrilling yet.
“Tulsa continues to support Broadway in such an incredible way,” says Celebrity Attractions CEO Kristin Dotson. “Our sponsors, the staff at the Tulsa PAC, our team at Celebrity Attractions, and most importantly our subscribers and patrons all come together to put Tulsa on the map as one of the most successful Broadway seasons in the country.”
Season highlights include uproarious comedies, a blockbuster favorite, and two recent Tony Award champions.
Appearing without his lost shaker of salt, but with Dotson on a filmed clip, Jimmy Buffett became part of the Celebrity Attractions announcement proceedings by heralding a production based on his music. Opening the Celebrity season August 18-23, Tulsa PAC audiences will party down with “Jimmy Buffett’s Escape to Margaritaville.” The musical features Buffett classics like “It’s Five O’clock Somewhere,” “Margaritaville,” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” along with original songs (a total of 24 numbers) in a heartwarming story about people finding love.
There is probably no comedienne in America with a sharper wit and laser beam instincts for comedy than Tina Fey. Direct from Broadway comes Fey’s “Mean Girls,” Sept. 15-20. The production team for the show are all-stars: lyricist Nell Benjamin (“Legally Blonde”), and director Casey Nicholaw (“The Book of Mormon”) along with Fey, whose writing talents have won over fans through “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock.” The musical’s composer is Jeff Richmond (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”).
I’ve seen “The Lion King” several times, but its music, grandeur and sheer beauty still bring tears to my eyes. Thank you, Elton John and Tim Rice. The heart of Africa beats through this brilliant creation honed by Tony Award-winning director Julie Taymor. “The Lion King” represents a landmark in musical theatre. A stunning achievement. It roars into Tulsa Nov. 11-29.
“Rolling Stone” magazine said about “Tootsie,” “In these turbulent times, with the world out of balance, we need a place to let the good times roll. ‘Tootsie’ is it.” Coming to the PAC Feb. 9-14, 2021, the show is based on the Oscar-nominated film starring Dustin Hoffman about an out-of-work male actor who dresses as a woman to land a role in a soap opera. The musical features a score by 2018 Tony winner David Yazbek (“The Band’s Visit,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”) and a Tony Award-winning book by Robert Horn. “Forbes” called it “the best comedy on Broadway.”
Writing team Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance are known for their pop songs “Summer of ‘69” and “Heaven,” among them. They joined forces with two-time Tony Award-winner and director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell (“Hairspray,” “Kinky Boots,” “Legally Blonde”) and Garry Marshall, who directed the movie with Julia Roberts, to create Broadway’s romantic runaway hit and Audience Choice Award-winner “Pretty Woman: The Musical.” It features Roy Orbison and Bill Dee’s hit song “Oh, Pretty Woman,” along with music by Adams and Vallance. See it at the PAC Apr. 13-18, 2021.
The musical to beat in the 2019 Tony Award race was “Hadestown.” The unconventional love story captured Broadway’s top prizes, garnering eight Tonys, including Best Musical. “Hadestown” is a love story that intertwines the mythic tales of Orpheus and Eurydice with that of King Hades and his wife Persephone, taking audiences to the underworld and back. Music was written by celebrated singer-songwriters Anais Mitchell and director Rachel Chavkin. It plays Jun. 15-20, 2021.
Between “Hadestown” and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!,” Celebrity has locked down the 2020 Broadway season’s most talked about shows. Without altering the original lyrics, a new version of “Oklahoma!” re-interprets the love triangle between Laurey, the “belle of Claremore,” the cowpoke Curly and the hired-hand Jud. I am engaged and appreciative when creators reach for new expression and meaning through pieces that are well known. This deconstructed and somewhat darker “Oklahoma!,” which won Best Revival of a Musical at the Tonys, reveals more complex characters who struggle with issues that are relevant today. Look for it in Tulsa, Jan. 5-10. 2021.
“We are very grateful for our sponsors and the many season subscribers who continue to support us,” said Celebrity Attractions owner Kay Payton. “The arts are so important to the quality of life and the economy of Tulsa, and we are proud to do our part.”