A long-term plan to bring world-class entertainment to the Lutcher Theater culminates this September when the curtain goes up on a new season that includes two tribute performances, five musicals, a comedic musical, a story ballet, a serious drama, a concert, a high-tech, music comedy and four children’s performances.
Jim Clark has been committed to securing such a lineup of performances for Orange’s 1,450-seat performing arts facility since he took the job as the Lutcher’s managing director 21 years ago.
“To be able to bring big productions like we want to a market of about 20,000 people has not be a short thing,” said Clark. “We’ve been gearing up for a long time; it’s been a 20-year plan.”
Even before the Beatles tribute band sings “Come Together” live on the Lutcher stage Sept. 26 at 7:30 p.m. opening the spectacular 2011-2012 season of performances that runs through March, it appears Clark’s plan has already done just that – coalesced for success.
At this writing, more than 800 season ticket holders had bought tickets for varying nights of performances and some shows like the classic musical “My Fair Lady,” slated for February, had less than 40 seats left downstairs. For the past months, Lutcher has been selling packages of 12, eight and four shows but as of Aug. 29, individual ticket purchases will be available, ranging from $15 to $65.
Working with Lynae Sanford, Lutcher’s marketing director, Clark has spent the last two decades building relationships with directors, production companies and promoters to secure Lutcher’s reputation as a viable facility for big productions as well as coordinate all the variables or the “fit factors” required to ensure success of each and every performance.
“Shows have to fit in the hall; they have to be a financial fit, a fit for the community and they have to fit a given time frame,” said Clark.
The overriding dynamic dictating all of the “fit factors” is market size. Clark and Sanford, both former theatre educators, conducted a study to identify all of the possible theatergoers in a 60-mile radius from Lakes Charles to Beaumont. Their current mailing list is 17,000, certainly significant for a theater the size of the Lutcher but not lending to a multiplicity of performances of any one show. That fact precludes large productions that take days to set up and must stay a week at one venue to offset cost.
“For five nights of a show, we don’t have enough people,” said Clark. “But we don’t have to have prime nights, either. We get better leverage on those performances going to Houston, like Blue Man Group that will perform in Houston, and then come here on a Monday and Tuesday night.”
Only three of the 12 shows in Lutcher’s season will be performed on the weekend – “Shrek,” “South Pacific” and “In the Heights.” All other performances are on weekday nights. In addition only four of the shows will be performed twice – “Shrek,” “South Pacific,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and Blue Man Group. The other shows are one-night events.
Offering producers a flexible booking schedule – non-prime nights – has contributed to Clark and Sanford’s ability to secure Broadway shows. In addition, the Luther Theater’s reputation in the industry, largely attributable to Clark and Sanford and the Nelda C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark Foundation that owns the theater, has also played a significant role in ascertaining quality performances.
“The theater has a long history of programs and has been working with producers more than 30 years,” said Clark. “Producers have a strong allegiance and a comfort in knowing we are an organization that always pays and we do everything right; things are done smoothly.”
Managing and maintaining the Lutcher’s stellar industry reputation is equally as important as selecting shows that are interesting to the community. Even if a show is available and is not too big of a production logistically and financially, it may not appeal to the Southeast Texas patrons.
“You don’t book for one set (of people) in a community, you book for everybody, stretching the community,” said Clark. “We alert people that, ‘Hey, this may not be your cup of tea,’ and you don’t have to come to everything at the Lutcher.”
Clark says he has found Southeast Texans to be conservative and will ask producers of more salty shows, like last season’s Momix, a contemporary dance production that features some top nudity, to perform the “Tulsa version,” a phrase in the theater world meaning the show version with no nudity and limited expletives.
Ultimately Clark says entertainment should teach a lesson and continue to make people think even after the performance is over. He and Sanford have put together a variety of performances they believe will do just that.
Season bookends are tribute performances – Rain honoring the Beatles and The Blues Brothers paying homage to the Belushi boys. Rain, direct from Broadway, will span the Beatles era from Ed Sullivan to Abbey Road. And the Blue Brothers with accompaniment from the Bluettes, will end the season in the spring with favorite and fun tunes.
In between September and March, five musicals command the Lutcher stage including three classics — “South Pacific,” a love story about making tough decisions and change; “Fiddler on the Roof,” the revived and off-Broadway generational favorite; and “My Fair Lady,” one of the best feel-good musicals of all time. Two other musicals complement the mix including “In the Heights,” a new piece appealing to young people of high school and college age. Winner of four Tony awards, the story line spans generations following an immigrant family to modern day and includes rap scores accompanied by a full orchestra. The fifth musical is “Shrek,” based on the movie, loaded with laughs and fun for everyone.
Three other genres are tossed into the theatrical mix – a comedic musical, Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein”; a serious drama, “Doubt,” and a story ballet, “Moulin Rouge.”
At Christmas time on Dec. 29, after the holiday festivities but before New Year’s celebrations, Lutcher will extend a final gift of 2011 to the community – a Manheim Steamroller concert.
Lastly Clark and Sanford are proud to have secured Blue Man Group, a high-octane combination of music, technology and comedy.
“We worked really hard to bring them here,” said Clark. “The performance is unbelievable, euphoric and fun. They do a show that uses color, art, rock ‘n’ roll and things that stimulate the human mind and make you appreciate the great things God has given.”
Lutcher loves little people, too, and this year they prove it by offering four children’s performances from November to March including “Treasured Stories,” “Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters,” “Romeo and Juliet” and “Twinkle Twonkle.” Teachers and/or parents can have access to whole units of curriculum around each production.
Tickets are available for all performances by calling (409) 886-5535 or visiting the Web site at www.lutcher.org.