COMING SOON: Blumenthal looks to Broadway and beyond to curate each sensational season
Tomorrow, tomorrow/I love ya, tomorrow/You’re always a day away.
Like the song from the beloved musical Annie says, the Blumenthal Performing Arts programming staff is always thinking about tomorrow. Actually, they’re thinking well beyond tomorrow to future seasons and which Broadway, off-Broadway and international hits they’ll bring to Charlotte.
That future forecasting starts with current hits on Broadway.
“If a show won a Tony and a lot of acclaim in New York, we look at bringing it to Charlotte,” said Tom Gabbard, Blumenthal’s long-time president and CEO. “We want to make sure there’s a really healthy variety of shows and plenty of creative stimulation.”
And luckily for Charlotte area audiences, Gabbard and team think big and aim high. “We are really ambitious in bringing shows to Charlotte that don’t play in a lot of other cities our size,” he said.
Are there any Broadway hits Gabbard and team think Charlotte audiences just won’t go for?
The short answer: No.
“We bring everything we can, but we keep in mind that not every show is for every person,” he said. “We try to communicate clearly and be transparent about what each show is about and let people decide if it’s for them or not.”
Gabbard and team don’t just wait to see which plays and musicals are the critical and popular darlings; the team actively looks for yet-to-be-produced plays to invest in. They’re playing the long game. They work to mount new Broadway productions – banking on their success and their eventual run in Charlotte. Consequently, the Blumenthal name is known on Broadway.
Blumenthal invested in the recent revival of Death of a Salesman with Wendell Pierce (The Wire, Suits, Waiting to Exhale), which closed in January after a critically acclaimed run at Broadway's historic Hudson Theatre. Pierce is a Black actor, which is one reason Blumenthal is betting on this revival. “In recent years, we have looked for shows that tell African-American stories,” Gabbard said. “Those stories have been too often overlooked. It’s important that the stories we tell and the performers who are onstage look like Charlotte.”
How does the team decide what to invest in?
“We look at the teams involved,” Gabbard explained. “In the early stages, it can be difficult to determine the success of a production. But if really smart, talented, responsible people are in charge, then you have reasonable hope that they’re going to make something out of that. So especially in the early days, the team really matters. And, ultimately, we also decide: Is this something Charlotte audiences will welcome if it does succeed and goes on tour?”
Broadway isn’t the only source of inspiration.
“We’re an above-the-title producer of an off-Broadway show that opened in June called Titanique,” said Gabbard. “It has no aspirations of playing Broadway, but it’s a fun pastiche of the movie Titanic set against the music of Celine Dion. Celine is actually a character in the show. It’s not right for the Belk, but it certainly could play the Booth or Stage Door Theater.”
(Blumenthal is an above-the-title producer of the off-Broadway show Titanique, The Musical. Above, the cast performs at off-Broadway's The Asylum Theatre.)
Another hit Blumenthal invested in early is Back to the Future. “We became a partner in this production all the way back in 2014,” Gabbard said. “It opened in London and starts previews at Broadway's Winter Garden Theatre in June.”
And Charlotte within a year or two after that? That’s the hope.
(Blumenthal invested early in the musical Back to the Future, which is slated for Broadway in 2023. Pictured, Roger Bart as Doc Brown and the cast of Back to the Future – The Musical at London’s Adelphi Theatre.)
Charlotte audiences can consider themselves lucky that Blumenthal is proactive in investigating and investing in shows from under-the-radar off-Broadway works to blockbusters such as Hamilton and Six.
It’s rare for theater companies the size of Blumenthal to get involved in the early stages of professional productions. “We will put money into shows in the very early stages of development – when they’re still doing workshops or out-of-town tryouts,” Gabbard said. “And the sheer number of things we get involved with is far more than most of our peers. Our peers look to us for guidance when planning their seasons. We really set the pace for a lot of people.”
Blumenthal’s insider status means that serendipitous things sometimes happen for Charlotte theater lovers.
“Our reputation is certainly the reason we’re able to get things that a city our size might not otherwise get,” Gabbard said. “A good recent example of that is Waitress, which played in the Booth Playhouse. They had a limited number of weeks to do that play with some federal money that was left (from COVID aid), and because we had been part of the Waitress family from the very beginning, it was an easy call to make. The team decided Charlotte should be one of just two cities (Cleveland was the other) lucky enough to host that show.”
(Blumenthal's reputation allowed Charlotte to be one of only two cities to host Waitress last spring. From left, Timothy John Smith, Stephanie Torns, Olivia Lucy Phillip and Kendal Ito.)
New York may be the biggest, but it isn’t the only theatrical proving ground. The team spends time in London’s West End, for instance, looking for productions Charlotteans might embrace. The internationally known Edinburgh Festival is another venue Blumenthal looks to for the next big thing.
“We do a lot of traveling,” said Gabbard by phone from New York. He was flying to London the next morning to scout out new theater. Then, he was heading to Spain and France to visit major immersive digital art centers.
As always, he was looking for something with relevance to Charlotte. Something like First Date, a play he said “had Charlotte written all over it.” In that play, a couple meets at a bar for a blind date. Some audience members, who bought tickets to sit on stage, play the bar patrons who witness that first date unfolding in real time.
Gabbard said, “When I first saw it, I thought: This is the kind of story that could, and does, happen every weekend in South End. We even took pictures of bar interiors in Charlotte and shared them with the set designer.”
What shows can Charlotte audiences expect to see tomorrow, next season and beyond? Stay tuned!
#DidYouKnow this story was featured in our latest issue of SPARK Magazine?
SPARK Magazine is a publication produced by Blumenthal Performing Arts. Through it, we share stories about how the arts uplift and provide opportunity in our community and beyond.
From students getting their first taste of live arts, to local artists collaborating in new ways, to fresh insights on how Blumenthal engages and innovates within the national arts community, you can read about it all here. To browse the most recent issue visit: https://spark.blumenthalarts.org/winter2023