Long runs of two long-awaited shows - Baltimore's first engagement of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera and the Mid-Atlantic premiere of Disney's The Lion King - will highlight a musical-laden 2004-2005 subscription season at the Hippodrome Theatre. Four other large musicals are also part of the lineup, as well as Say Goodnight Gracie, a one-man show about George Burns, a performer who played the Hippodrome back in its vaudeville days.
The musicals include two Rodgers and Hammerstein chestnuts, The King and I and Oklahoma!, along with the fresh-from-Broadway touring productions of the 2002 Tony Award-winning musical Thoroughly Modern Millie and Little Shop of Horrors.
With the season announcement coming only nine days after the renovated Hippodrome's grand opening, Marks Chowning, executive director of the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center (which includes the Hippodrome), reported that the theater's inaugural presentation of The Producers played to 88 percent capacity in its first week. (Tickets are still available; the run continues through March 14.)
"There's been a demand for first-run, big-show product here. We are finally able to accommodate that and people are responding," Chowning said. Nor is it only the Baltimore metropolitan area that is responding.
"Thirty percent of subscribers are now coming from areas that have been considered Washington suburban areas and have historically brought people to the Kennedy Center or the National to see Broadway product as opposed to coming to Baltimore," he said.
"I think we'll see that number increase because we've got a really strong, well-balanced, family-oriented, for the most part, season here. Young and old, theater lovers or not, you're going to get the eclectic crowd with Little Shop, traditionalists with Oklahoma!, the older set with Goodnight Gracie; Phantom and Lion King are just broadly appealing."
Chowning also believes the next season will see an overall increase in subscribers from the current 12,400 to 15,000-16,000.
Describing theatergoers' initial response to the Hippodrome, Eric P. Grubman, chairman of the Hippodrome Foundation, said, "What has been reflected back to me has been unanimously positive. There were questions about the neighborhood and parking and, 'Is it really ready?' There still are questions, but the first litmus test ... is [exceeding] our hopes."
With the center's restaurant, the Hipp Cafe, scheduled to open tomorrow and a $29.95 pre-show buffet due to start up in the center's M & T Pavilion March 2, the Hippodrome experience appears to be becoming increasingly user friendly, an approach reinforced by the largely mainstream nature of the 2004-2005 offerings.
Here's a closer look: