Wednesday, 19 April 2017 09:00

The Wharton Center’s 35th season celebrates both the old and the new

Written by  Dana Casadei
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The Lion King The Lion King COURTESY PHOTO

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

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