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Shea's season kicks off with debut of Broadway's 'Finding Neverland'

The shows coming to Shea’s Performing Arts Center for the 2016-17 season are expected to bring audiences to their feet, as usual.

But something that happened out of the spotlight and behind the scenes is winning applause as well – and is expected to give a boost to the local economy in the process.

“Finding Neverland” will open the Broadway subscription series on Oct. 11. The opening in Buffalo will launch the first national tour of the show in what is likely to become a yearly wave of pre-production rehearsal periods for national Broadway tours in upstate New York theaters.

[See the full schedule for the 2016-17 season]

Following “Neverland” will be “An American in Paris,” “A Christmas Story: The Musical,” “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder,” “The Sound of Music” and “Cabaret.” The theater will also host special engagements of “Stomp,” “42nd Street,” “Wicked” and “The Little Mermaid.”

The spate of New York-fostered national tours is the result of the 25 percent Empire State Music and Theatrical Production Tax Credit to companies that mount technical rehearsals of new national tours in upstate New York theaters. Its passage came a decade after New York adopted its popular 40 percent film tax credit, which funnels more than $400 million into the pockets of film and TV producers who shoot in the state every year.

Thanks to a state tax credit for theater production passed in 2014, Shea’s will become a hive of activity in September. And producers are likely to spend at least $1 million in the process, giving a boost to Western New York’s economy.

Other fresh-from-Broadway shows will be rehearsing and opening this fall in Rochester, Syracuse, Schenectady, Elmira and Utica, according to longtime Shea’s series producer Albert Nocciolino.

The credit, capped at $4 million a year in total, will put New York theaters in direct competition with venues in states that previously passed theatrical tax credits and had been luring New York City-based producers for years with their own breaks. Three other states with similar theater tax credits are Rhode Island (25 percent); Louisiana (7.2 to 18 percent, depending on budget); and Illinois (20 percent).

Laura Michelle Kelly and Aiden Gemme star in the original Broadway version of “Finding Neverland,” the national tour of which opens in Shea’s Performing Arts Center on Oct. 11.

Laura Michelle Kelly and Aiden Gemme star in the original Broadway version of “Finding Neverland,” the national tour of which opens in Shea’s Performing Arts Center on Oct. 11.

The legislation came after an intense round of lobbying by members of the Broadway League from producers and theater leaders in Albany and across the state, including Nocciolino and outgoing Shea’s president and CEO Anthony Conte. Given the success of the state’s film tax credit, the argument from producers landed on sympathetic ears in Albany.

“Certainly it wasn’t the most difficult lobbying in the world,” Conte said.

“My friends in Providence, in the past few years they’ve opened two or three shows there every fall,” Nocciolino said. “They would do one in August, one in September and one October. And the tours would adjust to that just to get that credit.”

With New York now in the running for fostering major new national tours, competition for venues has tightened considerably. But Shea’s and other New York theaters have a leg up on their competitors, Conte said, noting the affordability and frequency of flights between New York City and Buffalo.

The benefit of the tax credit, Conte said, comes not only in the form of a tax write-off for producers and investors, but in considerable economic impact for the communities that host the tours.

Though final details have not been arranged, the “Finding Neverland” tour will camp out at Shea’s for between three and five weeks prior to its opening in October. During that time, producers are likely to spend between $1 million and $2 million on the production. Nocciolino estimated that the production will bring 40 to 50 people to Buffalo during that time, and that the production will hire another 50 to 70 local laborers.

For Shea’s, it represents an opportunity both to foster a national product and to earn revenue during a time when it would normally be dark.

“It’s revenue that we would not have otherwise. Most of the theaters are pretty much dark in September because there are not a lot of shows that are up in this part of the country at this particular time of the year,” Conte said. “There are enough shows coming out that there’s enough for everybody, and you don’t have to have one theater getting two, three or four shows in a season. You can spread the wealth around.”

New York State Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, who was an early and enthusiastic supporter of the legislation, said that the investment in a key aspect of the state’s culture would pay dividends for Western New York.

“Upstate New York cities boast incredible employment and financial benefits as a result of touring Broadway performances at places like Shea’s,” Kennedy said in a statement. “By encouraging musical and theatrical production companies to launch tours in Upstate New York, we’re incentivizing the process, highlighting the potential of our incredible institutions, and offering upstate residents a first-rate option for live entertainment.”

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Shea's 2016-17 schedule

Theatergoers will travel to Paris, Austria, Nazi Germany and even to Neverland during the performing arts center’s upcoming season.

Laura Michelle Kelly starred in the Broadway version of “Finding Neverland,” a touring version of which opens Shea’s Performing Arts Center’s 2016-17 season on Oct. 11.

Laura Michelle Kelly starred in the Broadway version of “Finding Neverland,” a touring version of which opens Shea’s Performing Arts Center’s 2016-17 season on Oct. 11.

“Finding Neverland”
Oct. 11 to 16

J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan” has been an endless font of inspiration for contemporary playwrights, authors and filmmakers. From Steven Spielberg’s “Hook” to the play “Peter and the Starcatcher,” produced last summer at the Shaw Festival, something about the 1904 piece resonates deeply with modern audiences.

Which is what prompted director Diane Paulus (“Pippin,” “Hair”) to take on the musical version of James Graham’s 2004 book, which tells the story of the author’s life and relationships at the time he wrote his best-known work. The Broadway production of the show now stars Kelsey Grammer.

Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope star in “An American In Paris,” coming to Shea’s Performing Arts Center Nov. 8 to 13.

Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope star in “An American In Paris,” coming to Shea’s Performing Arts Center Nov. 8 to 13.

“An American in Paris”
Nov. 8 to 13

Adapted from the popular 1951 movie musical directed by Vicente Minnelli and featuring music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin, this show is a classic boy-meets-girl story infused with the charm of post-war Paris and suffused with ballet-inspired choreography by Christopher Wheeldon.

It centers on an American G.I. who stays in Paris after the war and falls for a French girl, their rocky love affair manifesting itself in American songbook classics like “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” and “They All Laughed.” Critics swooned over the Broadway production, which is still running.

“A Christmas Story” comes to Shea’s Performing Arts Center from Dec. 13 to 18.

“A Christmas Story” comes to Shea’s Performing Arts Center from Dec. 13 to 18.

“A Christmas Story: The Musical”
Dec. 13 to 18

America’s love affair with “A Christmas Story,” the nostalgia-slathered 1983 movie about a quirky family’s struggle to get through the holidays in 1940s Indiana, is seemingly inexhaustible. This adaptation by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul played for about a month on Broadway in 2012 and has toured during the holidays since 2014.

It takes the film’s beloved vignettes and translates them into song and dance, from a starry-eyed rendition of young Ralphie’s love for his beloved Red Ryder carbine action air rifle to another based on his father’s obsessive fascination with a lamp in the shape of a woman’s leg titled “A Major Award.”

“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” comes to Shea’s Performing Arts Center in February 2017.

“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” comes to Shea’s Performing Arts Center in February 2017.

“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”
Feb. 16 to 22, 2017

A surprise hit that ran on Broadway from 2013 until earlier this year, this show is based on some unlikely source material: Roy Horniman’s 1907 book “Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal.”

Fueled by Steven Lutvak’s score and Peggy Hickey’s choreography, this lightheartedly bloody affair traces the criminal schemes of one Lord Montague D’Ysquith Navarro (Monty, for short) as he connives and, yes, murders his way to the top.

“The Sound of Music” comes to Shea’s Performing Arts Center March 28 to April 2, 2017.

“The Sound of Music” comes to Shea’s Performing Arts Center March 28 to April 2, 2017.

“The Sound of Music”
March 28 to April 2, 2017

This Los Angeles-born tour of one of the more popular musicals of the 20th century is destined to renew Buffalo’s love affair with the von Trapp family – as if it needed renewing.

The classic Rodgers and Hammerstein score is a paragon of the form and of the era in which it was written, from the plaintive “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” to the haunting “Edelweiss.” The show has been much on the minds of musical theater fans following NBC’s live airing of the show in 2013, which kicked off a spate of live TV productions of popular Broadway shows.

“Cabaret” returns to Shea’s Performing Arts Center from April 25 to 30, 2017.

“Cabaret” returns to Shea’s Performing Arts Center from April 25 to 30, 2017.

“Cabaret”
April 25 to 30

A favorite at Shea’s going back decades, Kander and Ebb’s dark look into the burbling fascism of Weimar Germany in the 1930s was revived in 1998 in a renowned production directed by Sam Mendes and choreographed by Rob Marshall, which played until 2004. So strong was the hunger for the show that it returned in 2014 for another run that wrapped up in 2015.

Set in the dingy Kit Kat Klub, and based on Charles Isherwood’s famed book “Goodbye to Berlin,” it chronicles the tragic career of cabaret performer Sally Bowles and her relationship with a wayward American writer.

Special engagements:

Special engagements coming to Shea's Performing Arts Center next season include, clockwise from top left

Special engagements coming to Shea's Performing Arts Center next season include, clockwise from top left, "42nd Street," "The Little Mermaid," "Wicked" and "Stomp."

  • “Stomp,” October
  • “42nd Street,” Jan. 20 to 22, 2017
  • “Wicked,” May 17 to June 4, 2017
  • “The Little Mermaid,” Aug. 15 to 20, 2017

email: cdabkowski@buffnews.com

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