Now onstage: the past 100 years

The Segerstrom Center for the Arts' upcoming season doesn't feature a musical based on the songs of Billy Joel. But if it did, a couple of lines from "Piano Man" might summarize a good deal of the schedule: "Son, can you play me a memory? / I'm not really sure how it goes."

There are memories aplenty on the center's 2013-14 docket, including something for just about anyone born in the last 100 years. For those who were young in the 1930s, there's Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Wizard of Oz." Early days of television? "I Love Lucy Live On Stage." Sixties pop? The Four Seasons musical "Jersey Boys."

Truly making out like bandits, though, will be anyone who regularly went to the movies in the early- to mid-1990s. With "Sister Act," based on the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg comedy, still playing, the center has a slew of other offerings for the coming season that echo the multiplex of two decades ago: "Disney's Beauty and the Beast," "Ghost The Musical," "Priscilla Queen of the Desert" and even Lloyd Webber's newly envisioned "Evita," which originated onstage in the late 1970s but became a 1996 film starring Madonna.

One of the blessings of Broadway is its ability to connect generations and make old material seem new — how many young patrons saw "Jersey Boys" and then ran out to buy a Four Seasons compilation? — and that was evident when the center offered an invitation-only preview of its coming season Monday night. For slightly over an hour, Judy Morr, executive vice president of the Center, and Broadway Across America's Bob Bucci hosted a sampler of upcoming shows with video montages and live performances.

Local Irish band the Humble Hooligans kicked off the festivities with a 30-minute homage to the eight-time Tony recipient "Once." Older patrons clapped and nodded in time with the quintet — two of whom, with their berets and long beards, looked like they'd been plucked from an Irish postcard — while adolescents dawdled on their phones.

Taking the mic, Morr revealed that guests who arrive early for a "Once" performance next August — among the first in its national tour — can order a drink from the onstage bar while enjoying the cast's musical warmup. Her claim that the upcoming season might be Segerstrom's finest yet was corroborated by Bucci, who likened the lineup, which spotlights everything from "Ghost The Musical" and "Mamma Mia!" to "The Book of Mormon," to winning the lottery.

Of the 11 Broadway hits on the playbill — which have together earned more than 30 Tonys — "The Wizard of Oz" was brought to life by Ayrin Mackie, an understudy for the Wicked Witch of the West, who belted out Lloyd Webber's recently composed "Red Shoes Blues."

The Toronto resident, who grew up learning, singing and auditioning with the composer's pieces, said it was "amazing" to be one of the first artists to sing a brand-new Lloyd Webber creation. Julia McLellan, who portrays Mackie's arch nemesis, Dorothy, tipped her hat to the legendary musician's ear for high-quality sound, especially in "Over the Rainbow," which she crooned as the event's finale.

Prior to sound check, McLellan, of Nova Scotia, admitted that it's been easier befriending fellow artists because "it takes one to know one."

"It's incredibly all-consuming because when you're not in a show, most of us go to class, to yoga or to work out," she said. "A lot of people don't understand it. They say, 'It must be so nice to sing and dance all day — you must have so much fun!' And, yes, we do have a lot of fun, but it's an incredible amount of hard work."

The audience was also introduced to imminent programs by Bernadette Peters, the Okee Dokee Brothers, the Hamburg Ballet, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, and more. Daphne Lee, a blur of rippling muscle from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, danced Robert Battle's "Takademe," to the accompaniment of taals or rhythms of Indian Kathak dance. The company has been invited back for the center's dance festival, which boasts the tagline, "Feel the power of dance."

The audience was also treated to video shout-outs by "Chicago" and "Evita" actors, who were absent due to conflicting tour dates. At one point, Bucci even emerged in a candy-and-chocolate-covered cupcake costume, with a matching neon green wig, from "Priscilla Queen of the Desert" and warned attendees that they were unprepared for "this party bus."

To celebrate the Tony-, Laurence Olivier- and Grammy Award-winning "Jersey Boys"' first return to the center since 2007, Bucci chatted with Courter Simmons, who plays Frankie Valli, and Lauren Decierdo, who portrays the legendary singer's girlfriend, Lorraine, and did so in the original Chicago production.

Decierdo, one of three women in the cast who collectively enact 54 roles, remarked that "a village" helps her during 19 costume and 12 wig changes.

"You see people on the street and just overhear them saying, 'Oh, I'm going to watch "Jersey Boys" tonight,'" she said. "That buzz, that joy of bringing such a great piece of work to the country has been really, really exciting."

Before a rendition of the 1967 single "Can't Take My Eyes off of You," Simmons recalled conversations with guests who described being transported to their first experience with Four Seasons music, be it during a wedding, prom or random car ride. The actor, who said he is filling "huge shoes," believes that people identify with the rags-to-riches story because, in many ways, it represents the American Dream.

"Beauty and the Beast," which opened on Broadway in 1994 and has been performed more than 5,000 times, has stopped by Segerstrom twice, most recently in 2010. Hilary Maiberger, who plays Belle, said she had been a Disney fan since childhood and that the show's longevity was a no-brainer.

"It's such a beautiful love story, an unexpected love story, and it has such a great message that was relevant 20 years ago when it came out — and relevant 10 years from now, relevant today," she said. "It's such a privilege to be able to tell such a beautiful story eight times a week."

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