For some theaters, celebrating an anniversary like a 35th season could add extra pressure to selecting upcoming performances. Not for the Wharton Center, who tries to outdo itself every year.
“I think we are focusing more on connecting and engaging with new audiences, and I think that’s kind of what has driven us (this season),” said Mike Brand, Wharton Center’s executive director. “We’re representing a lot of different musical tastes and styles.”
The Wharton Center’s Broadway season alone ranges from Disney’s The Lion King (the only repeat musical on the schedule) to much newer musicals like Sara Bareilles’ Waitress and Emilio and Gloria Estefans’ On Your Feet!.
There will also be An American in Paris, highly suggested for anyone that appreciates amazing dancing; The Bodyguard, based off the Whitney Houston film and filled with her power ballads; Finding Neverland, which tells the story of how Peter Pan’s author created the now-classic tale; and the comedic musical Something Rotten!.
Brand said the musicals chosen this season were deliberately selected because their music was so different.
“Being able to bring those here while they’re still going (on Broadway) is a really big opportunity for us to say, ‘Hey, you don’t have to go to New York to see everything. A lot of it is right here in your state,’” Brand said.
There’s also the tour-de-force that is the season’s Performing Arts Series. Kicking it off in October, the Hubbard Street Dance Chicago will return. The dance company is also celebrating a big anniversary, now in its 40th year.
From there, the Performing Art Series will have symphonies, jazz musicians celebrating Ray Charles, guest speakers and comedian David Sedaris. This is only the tip of the iceberg though. So which of these performances is Wharton Center most excited about?
“One of our signature events that we’re really excited about (this season) is Yo-Yo Ma, along with Emanuel Ax and Leonidas Kavakos,” said Ryonn Clute, Wharton Center’s marketing manager.
While the 2017-2018 season has plenty of new (and repeat) faces to entertain audiences, one of the most interesting things Wharton Center is doing has nothing to do with who will be on stage.
“We’re launching what we hope will be an ongoing series of sensory-friendly performances,” said Diane Willcox, Wharton Center’s marketing director, who will be overseeing the performances.
This season will have three sensory-friendly performances — Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat, Clementine and The Lion King. These performances are specifically for those with sensory overload. At each show, not only will everything be turned down slightly — lights, sounds, etc. — but there will be activity rooms ran by volunteers to help who can’t stay in the theater the whole time.
In hopes of everyone feeling comfortable not only in the theater but outside it, Willcox said the center is putting together a system to welcome and support guests when they are at the theater. Wharton will also be providing as much instruction as possible — such as what the lobby looks like with people in it and theater etiquette — so there are little to no surprises.
Willcox said Wharton plans to do at least two sensory-friendly performances per season with hopes to expand to other art forms as well. Dance is first on the list.
“It’s going to require a lot of training, volunteers and financial investment on our part, but I think it’s really well worth it.” Willcox said. “We’re very excited.”
MSU FEDERAL CREDIT UNION BROADWAY AT WHARTON CENTER:
The Bodyguard, October 17-22, 2017
An American in Paris, November 14-19, 2017
Finding Neverland, December 12-17, 2017
Waitress, January 23-28, 2018
On Your Feet!, February 13-18, 2018
Something Rotten!, March 13-18, 2018
Disney’s The Lion King , July 11-29, 2018
Sensory-Friendly Performance, July 21, 2018
CLASSICAL AT WHARTON CENTER:
Moscow State Symphony Orchestra, November 7, 2017
Vienna Boys Choir: Holiday, November 28, 2017
Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax, Leonidas Kavakos, February 26, 2018
DANCE AT WHARTON CENTER:
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago , October 10, 2017
Travis Wall’s Shaping Sound: After the Curtain, November 1, 2017
Moscow Festival Ballet: Cinderella, January 12, 2018
Dance Theatre of Harlem, May 2, 2018
MSU FEDERAL CREDIT UNION JAZZ AT WHARTON CENTER:
Squirrel Nut Zippers and Davina & the Vagabonds, January 18, 2018
The Birdland All-Stars, February 24, 2018
To Ray with Love, April 20, 2018
THE DOCTORS COMPANY VARIETY AT WHARTON CENTER:
David Sedaris, November 3, 2017
Jeff Daniels and the Ben Daniels Band, November 12, 2017
Yamato – The Drummers of Japan, February 6, 2018
Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy: February 8, 2017
THE ILLUMINATE SERIES AT WHARTON CENTER:
Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater, January 17, 2018
Lungs, February 15-18, 2018
WORLD VIEW LECTURE SERIES:
David Ignatius, October 30, 2017
Gina McCarthy, December 4, 2017
Lynn Nottage, April 2, 2018
ACT ONE FAMILY SERIES:
Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat, October 28, 2017
Sensory-Friendly Performance, October 29, 2017
Dragons Love Tacos...and More!, January 27, 2018
Clementine, March 24, 2018
Sensory-Friendly Performance, March 25, 2018
Lightwire Theater: Moon Mouse, A Space Odyssey, April 15, 2018