Arts Council turns from big summer fest to Broadway

No rest for presenter, as 2012-13 series is around corner

This year’s Springfield Arts Council’s Summer Arts Festival was a hit, and even though it’s barely over, the organization is knee-deep in its next challenge, the 2012-13 Broadway and Beyond series.

“This year’s festival was more than we’d hoped for,” said Chris Moore, executive director at the arts council. “We projected that we would reach an audience of 65,000, and our final estimate of attendance was 87,940.”

Tacking stock of the festival

Despite the heat, rain and high winds, the crowds were bigger than ever. On July 7, the Led Zeppelin tribute show drew a crowd estimated at 5,000. “That was one of the hottest nights of the season and one of the biggest crowds,” Moore said. Other large audiences – some estimated at over 10,000 – turned out for Phil Dirt and the Dozers, the Eagles tribute by Hotel California, the Grateful Dead tribute by Dark Star and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.

There were some smaller crowds, particularly when the shows appealed to an older audience. Those folks were less likely to brave the bad weather, Moore said. The shows that suffered most were Tower of Power (which was the Friday night of the first big storm), the Ohio State Alumni Band, the U.S. Army Field Band, the Unites State Air Force Band and the Rosemary Clooney tribute show. All of those events saw crowds of fewer than 1,000.

This year’s musical, “Hairspray,” drew bigger crowds than expected, especially on the final night of the series. “Overall, we had such a great turnout for the musical. I think the strong title attracted people, and we also had fantastic talent in that show,” said Moore, who has directed musicals at Wittenberg University for the past few years. He attributed the greater number of Wittenberg students in the cast to that relationship. Students from Wright State University and many area high schools also participated.

While there was a positive consensus from attendees about the festival as a whole, there was one negative element that was difficult for event organizers to quash – smoking in the audience. “There were so many positive responses from the crowds, but there were some negatives, too, and crowd etiquette was a commonly-expressed concern, Moore said. “We do post signs asking people to smoke outside the barriers, but we can’t afford to enforce that, so we have to depend on people to make the right choice and consider others.”

Next year’s festival

Plans for next year’s festival are already under way. “We couldn’t be happier with this year’s results. We’re worn out, but already looking at acts for next year,” Moore said. There are some contracted acts already, including Phil Dirt and the Dozers. The Dayton Contemporary Dance Company will also return. “We receive an Ohio Arts Council Grant for that show. It helps offset a portion of the cost, but doesn’t cover the entire fee,” Moore said. The SAC had to apply in May for the OAC grant to cover about 30% of the fees. “We will still need area sponsors for programs,” he reminded. Other booked acts are Moscow Nights and Golden Gates, a troupe of 19 to 21 year-old singers and dancers from St. Petersburg, Russia, and The Parrothead Party, a tribute to Jimmy Buffet.

Most of the major acts are not yet signed and the title for the musical has yet to be selected, and it’s not likely Moore will share any of those details anytime soon. After more than three decades at the helm, Executive Director Chris Moore is calling it quits once the 2013 arts festival comes to a close. He joked, suggesting next year’s festival might just be remembered as the “The Chris Moore Extravaganza.” So, if history is an indicator, that will be all good for Springfield. Over the course of his career, he has brought the likes of Dave Brubeck, Rosemary Clooney and Wynton Marsalis to town.

Broadway and Beyond

There was little time for Moore to ponder the future since the SAC is already fully immersed in its next series. While the SAC staff was closing the books on the 2012 arts festival, tickets for the 2012-13 Broadway and Beyond series were already going out the door. The Broadway series kicks off Oct. 20 with Alfie Boe, a British tenor who’s somewhat of an unknown to the area, Moore said. “He is an incredible singer. He’ll perform Broadway hits, jazz standards and some classical opera, but the program is not heavy in any way.” Full-season subscribers can attend a champagne reception with Boe prior to the show; subscriptions will be available through the day of the performance as long as they remain available.

There are performances each month through April, and this year there are some spectacular choices, Moore said. The complete schedule is available at springfieldartscouncil.org. In November, the audience will be transported back to 1960s Las Vegas when “The Rat Pack is Back” takes the stage. Impersonators sing, dance and joke like their famous counterparts – Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Joey Bishop.

Empire Brass, this time featuring Elizabeth von Trapp, has been a performer at the Summer Arts Festival and returns this year to perform “The Sounds of Christmas.” “They are just as good as the Canadian Brass and our audience will be thrilled with their performance,” Moore said. Von Trapp is the granddaughter of the Maria and Baron von Trapp, the family immortalized in “The Sound of Music.”

Spring begins on stage with The Midtown Men in March. The four original stars of “The Jersey Boys” – the Broadway musical retelling the story of The Four Seasons – have re- joined forces, creating a tour that provides audiences with an opportunity to relive the music of the 1960s. The group sings titles from groups including The Beatles, The Beach Boys and The Mamas and the Papas.

As the season winds down, legendary singing star Johnny Mathis performs in April. This should be a big show, according to Moore, because Mathis has such a long-term following.

“Hair” revivial

The season closes with “Hair,” a revival of the musical that was recently on Broadway. “This new production is so much better than the original,” Moore said. “The singing is better, and the staging is much more advanced.”

Then there’s the nudity. The play features a famous scene near the end where a few characters are on stage without clothing. Moore wants audiences to rest assured that the dimly lit scene – lasting an entire 20 seconds – is tastefully presented and is not graphic. “Anyone who shies away from the production should realize the positive messages presented,” he said.

Prices and packages

The 2012-13 Broadway series lineup provides amazing performances at affordable prices, Moore said. A comparable ticket in New York would cost three times as much, or around $145. Moore said performers enjoy the audiences and venues available in Springfield. From the entertainers’ point of view, Springfield is a great stop on their tours. “Our community should be proud of what it has to offer – it (Clark State Performing Arts Center) is a great venue that’s attractive to performers.”

The SAC has created a number of ticket packages to appeal to a varied audience. People can buy the full season, a package of seven pre-selected shows, a package of five buyer-selected shows or single tickets, all on sale now. “The Pick 5 allows you to choose the five shows you’d most like to see,” Moore said.

A new offering this year, FlexTicket coupons, allows individuals to buy between four and 10 coupons that can be redeemed for tickets to most series shows at least 30 days prior to opening night. “We created FlexTickets to accommodate those with busier schedules who can’t commit to a specific evening too far in advance,” he added.

This will be Moore’s last Broadway series, too, and he continues to work with SAC Managing Director David White to transition the organization’s leadership. Moore will retire in December with White becoming executive director. He is confident the SAC will continue to thrive and bring the community the kind of arts offering it has supported for decades. “For a small community, we have such strong support for the arts. What’s uppermost in our minds now is to continue to nurture that community support and make the transition seamless,” he said.

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