‘Aladdin’ tops Broadway in Fresno’s next season. Does the Saroyan have a shot at ‘SIX’ for the season after?
Broadway in Fresno, which is busy presenting “Fiddler on the Roof” at the Saroyan Theatre, recently announced its 2023-24 season. The big show is “Aladdin,” which will play a seven-performance run on May 1-5, 2024. The other titles:
• “Jesus Christ Superstar”: Jan. 15-16.
• “Pretty Woman: The Musical”: Feb. 12-13.
• “Mean Girls”: March 26-27.
I caught up with Anne Francis, West Coast vice president of Broadway Across America, for an update and to chat about the Fresno market. My takeaways:
It’s harder to program a season for a medium-sized market than you might think.
For one thing, there is the simple question of what product is available. Not all Broadway musicals go on tour. And some of the most enticing to hardcore Broadway fans – a show like “Hadestown” – might only go to a limited number of major cities. There’s also the issue of logistics. Francis has to juggle tour schedules, demand in other cities and basic transportation questions. (Can the trucks carrying sets and costumes get across the country in time?) She keeps an eye on how shows are doing in San Antonio, Jacksonville and Boise, all cities that have a lot in common with Fresno in terms of theatergoing.
Fresno is known as what they call a “front-end split” market in touring lingo. That’s the lowest category.
For decades, the Saroyan Theatre has welcomed a majority of its touring Broadway shows on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. (And occasionally a Thursday.) That allows for a production to move later in the week to a “back-end split” market, which allows for performances on Friday, Saturday and Sunday (with multiple matinees). Obviously, it’s more desirable to be on the back end, but that would mean the Fresno market would need to buy more tickets to justify the additional performances a weekend slot provides.
Not all shows play split weeks, of course.
Some of them can’t because they’re too big and expensive. Shows like “Aladdin” need a minimum of a week run to recoup the investment. (And shows like “Hamilton” like to sit down for at least two weeks for the same reason.) The challenge: Not all shows have the name recognition and audience appeal to fit into this category. If Fresno could ever move up the rungs of the touring ladder to be able to support full-week runs, it could likely nab some of the smaller musicals (and even some straight plays) that go on more limited tours.
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The 2023-24 season isn’t necessarily big on blockbusters, but the four shows offer variety.
Francis is excited about the revival of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” which most certainly does not feature Ted Neeley. (The last time he played Jesus in Fresno he was closer to the age of God.) This production has a youthful, more modern feel, Francis says. “It doesn’t feel dated to me. It’s lovely.” And “Mean Girls” boasts the talents of Tina Fey and her husband, Jeff Richmond, who wrote the music. “To me it feels like the music is really strong,” Francis says. “When I saw the show on Broadway, I could not get certain songs out of my head.” Finally, “Pretty Woman offers a good example of an adapted show that puts the movie on stage, which should make fans of the film happy, she says.
What big shows could we be looking at for the next season?
One is “SIX” on Broadway, which is doing very strong business outside of New York, Francis says. “The other show that I’m really excited about is ‘Moulin Rouge.’ That is also playing really well, and so that’s on my mind.”
Don’t forget there’s one more show in the 2022-23 season.
“Les Miserables” plays July 25-30. Get ready to storm the barricades.