A classic French novel, a Danish children’s tale, the King Arthur legend and a Swedish screenplay provided the inspiration for a quartet of celebrated musicals, three of which will be receiving their premieres during Lyric Theatre’s 2014 summer season. The fourth is a musical theater masterpiece that returns to the Lyric stage following an 18-year absence.
During its 51-year history, Lyric Theatre has presented 234 productions of 108 musicals, ranging from single offerings of rarities such as “Plain and Fancy” and “How Now, Dow Jones” to multiple stagings of classics like “The Sound of Music” and “The Music Man.”
Artistic director Michael Baron will helm Lyric’s season opener, the first locally produced staging of “Les Miserables.” Based on the sprawling novel by Victor Hugo, “Les Miserables” won eight Tony Awards when it premiered on Broadway in 1987.
The popular musical, which will run June 24-28, made a historic return to Broadway this season. Lyric’s cast will feature Chuck Wagner as Jean Valjean, Danny Rothman as Inspector Javert, Russell McCook as Marius, Sarah Quinn as Cosette, Victoria Huston-Elem as Fantine, Adreinne Tang as Eponine, Tommy Cunningham as Thenardier and Julie Johnson as Mme. Thenardier.
Herbert Kretzmer’s stage adaptation follows the journey of Jean Valjean, a French peasant who seeks redemption after spending 19 years in jail. Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil’s soaring score for “Les Miserables” produced numerous hits, including “One Day More” and “I Dreamed a Dream.”
“Lyric is one of the first regional theaters to get the rights to produce ‘Les Mis,’” said Baron, who will be joined by choreographer Ashley Wells and music director Edward G. Robinson for the show.
“This is a musical that lots of people from the theater community wanted to do, so we’re having a cast of 110 which includes a choir of 70. It’s going to be pretty amazing. We’ll have Notre Dame Cathedral in the background and a lot of scaffolding that will hold the choir. It’s almost like we’re recreating the Globe Theatre on the Civic Center stage.”
The 2014 season continues July 8-12 with the local premiere of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.” Inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen story, “The Little Mermaid” became an animated film in 1989. The success of that venture prompted Disney to create a stage version that ran for 685 performances on Broadway.
Lyn Cramer will direct the Lyric premiere. She’ll be joined by choreographer Brian Marcum and music director Michael Lavine. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman won Academy Awards for their charming score. Following Ashman’s death, Menken and Glenn Slater wrote 10 new songs for the stage adaptation.
“This was the first of the new generation of Disney classics,” Baron said. “People have fond memories of the movie, and now they’ll have the opportunity to see it live. Papermill Playhouse recently did a new production, and that’s the version Disney has licensed.
“The set looks a lot like the animation you see in the movie, and the added songs are in keeping with the cartoon. There will be all new costumes that we’re developing with the Kansas City Costume Company.”
The plot focuses on a young mermaid who decides to give up her life in the sea in order to find love with a human prince. Heading the cast are Amanda Lea LaVerne as Princess Ariel, Storm Lineberger as Prince Eric, Monte Riegel Wheeler as King Triton and Emily Skinner as Ursula.
Going zany with ‘Spamalot’
Lyric’s 52nd season continues July 22-26 with “Spamalot.” The Tony Award-winning musical was inspired by “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” a 1975 film that featured the zany antics of television’s Monty Python players.
“This is one of those cult movies that was translated to the stage,” Baron said. “Monty Python has a huge following thanks to the PBS series and the Holy Grail movies. It’s also one of those musicals that appeals equally to men.
“It’s kind of like a big budget version of ‘The Rocky Horror Show.’ You can also tell that Mike Nichols was involved with the stage production because everything is very smartly done. There’s a lot of skill involved in making it look silly.”
Steve Blanchard heads the cast as King Arthur, with Meredith Inglesby as the Lady of the Lake, Wheeler as Sir Lancelot, Matthew Alvin Brown as Sir Robin and Terry Runnels as Sir Bedevere. Ashley Wells directs, Brian Berry choreographs and Zak Sandler will conduct.
‘Night Music’ returns
Lyric’s 2014 summer season draws to a close Aug. 5-9 with “A Little Night Music.” Stephen Sondheim’s 1973 musical was based on Ingmar Bergman’s screenplay titled “Smiles of a Summer Night.” Set in Sweden at the turn of the 20th century, this musical is the bittersweet tale of romantic longing and clandestine liaisons.
Broadway favorites Dee Hoty (“City of Angels,” “The Will Rogers Follies”) and George Dvorsky (“Passion,” “The Scarlet Pimpernel”) will head the cast as Desiree Armfeldt and Fredrik Egerman.
Rounding out the cast are Charlotte Franklin as Mme. Armfeldt, Mat Govich as Count Carl-Magnus, Keslie Ward as Fredrika, Lexi Windsor as Petra, and Skinner as Charlotte. Baron will direct, with Jeremy Benton as choreographer and David Andrews Rogers as music director.
“There is new interest in ‘Night Music’ because of the recent Broadway revival starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury,” Baron said. “I think this is Sondheim’s most accessible musical.
“It’s a very realistic portrayal of relationships and the conundrums people get into. People do cheat on their spouses, they do get divorced, and sometimes they’re unhappy with the choices their children have made. But in the end, everyone pairs up with the right partner.”
Lyric Theatre’s 2014 summer season
•When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays.
•Where: Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N Walker.
•Tickets: Season (four shows), $105 to $237; individual show, $35 to $68.
•Information: 524-9312 or www.lyrictheatreokc.com