Fort Wayne is lucky to have a remarkable and thriving theater community, one driven by the love and passions of many who volunteer countless hours to rehearsals and performances for the sheer joy of performing. The fact that many of these theaters have been busy for decades speaks to the dedication the community has shown in supporting them. It's that spirit of commitment that has brought the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre to this 2017-18 season in which they celebrate 90 years of history.
But it's not all history, as the Civic still has plenty to look forward to. And based on the schedule they've put together to commemorate this milestone, so does their audience. Having closed their 2016-17 with the very popular The Little Mermaid, this season's opening act - Disney's Beauty and the Beast - is a solid choice.
"We have a process for making the scheduling decisions," says Phillip Colglazier, executive director of Fort Wayne Civic Theatre. "We have a committee with board members, staff members and some past board members as well. When we're looking at the season, we look at the size of the show as well as the placement in the schedule. Our summer show is always something that's family-friendly and can be a larger show with a bigger cast because many of the younger actors are home from college. We thought [The] Little Mermaid would be a success and wanted to build on that success with Beauty and the Beast. We were planning all of this before the new film came out, of course, but there's always an audience for Beauty and the Beast."
Beauty and the Beast, which runs from July 22-August 6, is a popular choice for families particularly, and there are a few ways to add to the family fun. The Sunday, July 30 matinee will be preceded by a special Brunch with Belle which begins at?noon.
The Civic has staged Beauty and the Beast in the past, but the second show of its season is something new for the theater: Jekyll & Hyde, the musical which inspired a cult of fans who called themselves Jekkies. The music and lyrics of Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bicusse, respectively, provide greater intensity to the familiar Robert Louis Stevenson tale of good versus evil. The running dates, September 8-17, also helps us transition to another season.
"We'll be heading into Halloween season by then, so it's good to have a spookier story in that slot," says Colglazier. "We like to have some balance in what we offer, so this is a very different sort of show than Beauty and the Beast. This is something we've never done before, so we like to offer something new to the community."
By early November, Halloween will once again be a memory and thoughts will begin to turn toward Christmas, which makes the next show in their schedule particularly timely.
"White Christmas is a show we've had great success with in the past, and placed right before Thanksgiving like it is, the timing is perfect. Our holiday shows are always popular, and we have a lot of corporations who buy tickets to bring their employees so they can plan their holiday celebrations with that show."
February 17-March 4 will see another Civic debut, La Cage Aux Folles, something Colglazier says has been considered for some time.
"We've gone back and forth on this for some time, but it finally feels like this is the right time. Of course, the story is a classic - the French films and then The Birdcage with Robin Williams and Nathan Lane were all very popular. The storyline has really become very mainstream. Time have changed, and I think we're ready to share this story because the message is really very universal: families supporting one another."
The fifth show of the season, Buyer & Cellar, is a complete change of pace from the previous four - a one-man show staged at the ArtsLab black box theatre at the Auer Center across the street from the Civic's usual home at the Arts United Center. The show, which will star Civic favorite A.J. Lorenzini, is a quirky story which will appeal to anyone with a great love for Barbra Streisand. And isn't that everyone?
"Barbra Streisand famously has a basement filled with all of these treasures, and the story of Buyer & Cellar is about this man who gets a job working in her basement, which is like a mall. He eventually meets her and then begins to ponder fame and his relationship to her. It's really hilarious but also very sentimental."
Rounding out the 90th?anniversary celebration is A Tribute to Rodgers & Hammerstein and Andrew Lloyd Webber, a collaboration with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic staged at the Historic Embassy Theatre. It's a fitting finale for the season.
"We're very excited about this show and really wanted to finish the season with a bang," says Colglazier. "This will be the first time we've collaborated with the Philharmonic in 26 years and, of course, having it at the Embassy is very special. We'll have appearances by Manna Nichols, who was recently in Allegiance, and Christopher Sloan, who was in the cast of Cabaret when it came to the Embassy awhile back. And of course, we're excited to work with Andrew Constantine with the Philharmonic. The first act of the evening will be the music of Rodgers & Hammerstein; then the second act will be the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. When we were planning this 90th anniversary, we wanted to highlight all different realms of what we do, and this collaboration to close the season made perfect sense."
In addition to this schedule, the Civic will also host their annual fundraiser, Celebrities Act Up, a parody (written and directed by Colglazier) which allows local celebrities and business and community leaders to show their sillier sides. Colglazier promises some fun spoof of classic shows like The Golden Girls, All in the Family and The Jeffersons. Celebrities Act Up takes place on?Saturday, October 14.
With the 90th season upon him, Colglazier is even looking ahead to 100.
"We do plan to launch an endowment campaign which we hope will raise $1 million by our 100th anniversary. The Civic's history can be seen on our website, including our first season in 1927-28. We were the first tenant in our home here at the Arts United Center 44 years ago, so we invite people to learn more about our history in this community."