SPECIAL PREVIEW: Upstate Stages Set to Explode Next Weekend with Slew of Musical Season Openers

Katie Rockwell in "Aways...Patsy Cline." Photo by Escobar Photograghy.
Katie Rockwell in “Aways…Patsy Cline.” Photo by Escobar Photograghy.

BY SANDY STAGGS
DRAMA CRITIC

The 2016-17 Theatre season officially launches Friday, Sept. 8 with five major musicals opening within a week, as well as several prominent plays.

Just as concurrent productions of “Mary Poppins” by Spartanburg Little Theatre and Abbeville Opera House/Greenwood Community Theatre opened last year on the same night, “Beauty and the Beast” will get similar exposure this season.  SLT and South Carolina Children’s Theatre go toe to toe with two lavish big-budget extravaganza visions of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” with SLT opening Friday at the Chapman Cultural Center and SCCT opening the next day at the Peace Center’s Gunter Theatre, 300 South Main St. in
Greenville. Call (864) 467-3000 or visit http://www.peacecenter.org.

When the Disney show vault opens, one must be ready. Jay Coffman, SLT’s Executive Artistic Director, told the Spartanburg Herald-Journal that he has been waiting ten years to get the rights to “Beauty and the Beast.” The Children’s Theatre last performed the musical in 2007.

SLT’s production stars Anna Elyse Lewis, Garret Gibson and Brandon Alan Gaunt, while Hannah Thompson, Chase Wolfe and Shawn Simmons head SCCT’s revival. And both feature a cavalcade of familiar names, a who’s who in Upstate theatre.

And all of these curtains will likely sell out. Based on the Academy Award-winning animated feature, the classic musical adventure includes all of the wonderful songs written by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman, along with new songs by Mr. Menken and Tim Rice. The original Broadway production ran for over thirteen years and was nominated for nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

The Mill Town Players follow last September’s country music opener “Ring of Fire” with Katie and Larry Rockwell, who kick off the new year for the third season in a row. This time, they present an unprecedented five-week encore run of the company’s debut show back in 2014, “Always … Patsy Cline.” Katie plays the country diva behind crossover hits such as “Crazy,” “I Fall to Pieces” and “Walkin’ After Midnight.” Cindy Mixon plays her fan and friend Louise Seger and Larry Rockwell leads the live band.

Greenville Little Theatre and The Warehouse Theatre cut “Footloose!” and take us to “Urinetown” respectively on Friday Sept. 16. Benjamin Augusta (star of last year’s “All Shook Up” Elvis revue), leads a revolution in his town, while The Warehouse denizens try to relieve themselves in Urinetown and sing and dance a happy score.

“Urinetown” features an all-star cast including Chelsea Ann Atkins, Aaron Brakefield, Thomas Azar, Rick Connor, Benjamin Davis, Kelly Wallace, Taylor Marlatt, Jon Kilpatrick, David Sims, Kaylee Gonzalez, Chris Berry, DeBryant Johnson, Javier Skipper, Ashlyn Uribe, Drew Whitley, and Giulia Marie Dalbec.

Centre Stage bucks the musical opener trend again this year with a popular play: a rare presentation of the Mark Twain farce “Is He Dead?” starring Dave LaPage. Last season they opened with “The Odd Couple.” Centre Stage unveils their first musical of the season “Jekyll and Hyde” on Oct. 20 just in time for Halloween.

In addition, there are two other high-profile productions opening on Friday, Sept. 9. TV and stage actor Harry Anderson returns to the Abbeville Opera House for “The Sunshine Boys” with Michael Genevie. And Christopher Rose is directing a gender-bending “Julius Caesar” at The Market Theatre Company.

Tryon Little Theater launches on Sept. 15 with “Lend Me a Tenor.”

More season information is available at Carolina Curtain Call’s 2016-17 Season Guide!

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