Where was the Sondheim? That's just one of the questions Sheldon Epps asked when he reviewed the previously announced upcoming season for Theatre Under the Stars and found that while there were some gems he wanted to retain, there were other musicals on the schedule that seemed a bit tired to him.
Occupying the title — with suddenly manufactured name — of Artistic Advisor, Epps (who will continue as artistic director of the Pasadena Playhouse) reconfigured the Houston season, tossing out Shrek the Musical, Jesus Christ Superstar and Grease in favor of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods and In the Heights from Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton, of course) and the Motown hit Dreamgirls.
In a news conference at the Hobby Center Tuesday, Epps talked of the need for diversity in offerings at TUTS and for theater programming that matched the dynamic nature of Houston. He also talked of reaching younger audiences through programming like In the Heights and Dreamgirls.
At the same time, he also complimented the section of Fun Home describing it as "a different, brave musical," and the "classic" How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
Asked about the continuation of TUTS Underground devised by suddenly departed Artistic Director Bruce Lumpkin who left in early May, Epps said he would have another announcement to make on July 8 about additional TUTS offerings. It looks like at the very least there will be a renaming of the supplementary theater program — Epps referred to "Second Stages" — that was designed to attract younger audiences with its lower ticket prices and smaller theater setting.
Lumpkin and director/dramaturg Marley Wisnoski who left TUTS at the same time as Lumpkin, have since announced their association with Houston's self-declared "first off-Broadway theater" The Kaleidoscope Theater.
Epps, who also directs but would not confirm whether he'll be directing in Houston, said the TUTS Underground concept "some more examination," adding he wasn't sure there should be "a separation from the main stage."
Epps has been in Houston before; he was an actor with the Alley Theatre acting company after studying at the prestigious Carnegie-Mellon in Pittsburgh. In a brief interview after the press conference, he talked about the importance of TUTS reaching out through social media in addition to its regular promotional bases.
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"Subscribers," he told those assembled there Tuesday, "never mind change as long as it's change for the better."
Here's the new lineup from a release from Theatre Under the Stars:
In The Heights - September 13 - 25
In the Heights, the first offering from Lin-Manuel Miranda, the genius behind the game-changing Hamilton: An American Musical, won five Tony Awards® including Best Musical in 2008. In the Heights is a vibrant snapshot of three days in an eclectic Manhattan neighborhood as the residents face the changes and challenges of a world that is on the move. Powered by the sounds of summer and the rhythm of the streets, In the Heights features words and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda and book by Quiara Alegria Hudes.
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying - October 25 - November 6
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is not just the name of a smash musical but also the book (based on a real book by Shepherd Mead) that inspired window-washer J. Pierrepont Finch’s meteoric ascent up the corporate ladder of the World Wide Wicket Company. Known as ‘Ponty’ to his friends, this enterprising young man schemes and charms his way to the top in an office teeming with characters straight out of a 1960’s romp. This Tony Award® winning musical’s snappy tunes and witty repartee were penned by Frank Loesser, with book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert.
Into The Woods - December 6 - 18
Into the Woods - Anything can happen in the woods! Winner of five Tony Awards®, this enchanting tale, created by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine, is a complex, courageous journey through a forest of calamity, cleverness and gorgeous songs. The whole family will be delighted as they follow Cinderella, a Baker and his Wife, Jack (of ‘beanstalk’ fame), Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, a Witch and a couple of Princes and a host of fairy tale companions as they journey into the woods and face wolves, giants, and what really happens when your wishes come true!
An American in Paris - February 21 - March 5
An American in Paris is the new Tony Award®-winning musical about an American soldier, a mysterious French girl and an indomitable European city, each yearning for a new beginning in the aftermath of war. Acclaimed director/choreographer and 2015 Tony Award® winner Christopher Wheeldon brings the magic and romance of Paris into perfect harmony with unforgettable songs from George and Ira Gershwin in the show that earned more awards than any other musical in the 2014-15 season!
Dreamgirls - April 4 - 16
Dreamgirls is a love letter to a time when the music of Motown reigned supreme. Winner of seven Tony Awards® and two Grammys® for Best Cast Album and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, Dreamgirls tells the story of the Dreams first break to their tumultuous climb to top of the charts. Follow this female trio’s journey, both behind the scenes and onstage, through the changing musical and cultural climate of the 1960’s and 70’s; they girls overcome cutthroat business deals and unscrupulous managers only to discover that fame can’t replace family. Full of powerhouse ballads and soulful tunes, Dreamgirls has a book and lyrics by Tom Eyen and music by Harvey Krieger.
Fun Home - May 16 - 28
2015 Tony Award® Winner – Best Musical
Every once in a while a Broadway musical comes along that surprises, moves and excites audiences in ways only a truly landmark musical can. The “groundbreaking,” “life-affirming” and “exquisite” new musical Fun Home was the event of the 2014-15 Broadway season, receiving raves from critics and audiences alike, winning five 2015 Tony Awards including Best Musical, and making history along the way. Based on Alison Bechdel’s best-selling graphic memoir, Fun Home introduces us to Alison at three different ages, as she explores and unravels the many mysteries of her childhood. A refreshingly honest musical about seeing your parents through grown-up eyes, “Fun Home is extraordinary, a rare beauty that pumps fresh air into Broadway.” (New York Times)
For information about tickets visit tuts.com or call 713-558-8887.