As the man in charge of a new-but-growing musical theater company, Andrew Abrams knows the conventional wisdom better than anyone: The third season is the charm. Survive it, and you just might make it in this crazy biz, kid.
If you buy that nugget, then next year is as critical to the future of Capital City Theatre as the April 2017 NFL draft will be to the Green Bay Packers. And Abrams’ company is tackling it by staging three shows, two more than they’ve done in their first two seasons, and one more than Abrams promised after "Gypsy" closed out the second season back in June.
It starts in April, with a one-woman performance of Lanie Robertson’s "Lady Day at the Emerson Bar and Grill" in the Overture Center’s Wisconsin Studio, a space that isn’t often used for theater productions. (“We’re going to turn it into a seedy Philadelphia bar," Abrams promises.)
The second show is an August 4 solo concert by Anthony Rapp, one of the stars of the original Broadway production of "RENT," set for Overture’s Promenade Hall. Abrams plans to piggyback the show with Cap City’s Find Your Light program, allowing aspiring youngsters the chance to sing onstage with Rapp.
The centerpiece and culmination of the season will be a two-weekend run of "The 25th annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," the Tony-award-winning 2015 comedic musical by William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin about a group of prepubescent, would-be spelling champs. The show’s set for Sept. 22-Oct. 1, but the performance space is still a big TBD.
“We wanted to do smaller shows in hopes that we could sell out a season,” Abrams explains, calling from New York at the start of a very busy day of vocal direction. “That’s how we were able to do it. Also, more shows equals more visibility for us.”
That much is certainly true. With a crowded Madison scene featuring other musical-theater companies like Four Seasons Theatre, Middleton Players Theatre and Music Theatre of Madison, staging a single show, as Capital City has done in each of its first two years, meant the company spent much of the year out of the spotlight and public eye.
Abrams picked "Putnam County" in part because he has multiple connections to it, including the fact that he served as the voice director for Dan Fogler, the actor who played William Barfee in the production’s original off-Broadway and Broadway runs. But he’s also partial to the script.
“The first time I saw it, never laughed so hard in my life,” he says. “it’s so freaking funny. Even if you’re not a theater person, it’s still really funny.”
The show also allows Cap City to put together a younger cast (read: twentysomething) than "Violet," their 2014 debut production, or "Gypsy."
“It’s a demographic we haven’t hit yet,” explains Abrams.
For "Lady Day," Abrams plans to bring in an actor from New York who’s done the role before. For "Putnam County," he’ll look first to local talent before broadening his casting net elsewhere.
Last spring, Abrams had suggested that the company’s planned Young Composers competition might end up being the source of the company’s second show. But he ended up reversing course.
“it’s really a showcase for the kids,” says Abrams of the fledgling competition. “We wanted them to have a safe space to create something without that additional pressure.”