Broadway bound for Detroit

Fisher Theatre’s Broadway in Detroit series marks its 50th anniversary

By: K. Michelle Moran | C&G Newspapers | Published August 24, 2011

  “A Christmas Story: The Musical” is part of the 50th anniversary season for Broadway in Detroit. Based on the popular holiday movie, the show will open Nov. 15 at the Fisher Theatre.

“A Christmas Story: The Musical” is part of the 50th anniversary season for Broadway in Detroit. Based on the popular holiday movie, the show will open Nov. 15 at the Fisher Theatre.

Photo courtesy of Don Ipock and Kansas City Rep

DETROIT — There’s nothing quite like the thrill of seeing a show on Broadway in New York, but for the last five decades, the Fisher Theatre has come awfully close to replicating that experience.

The Fisher is the principal home of the Broadway in Detroit series, which is marking its 50th anniversary this year. The season kicks off Sept. 13 with the new music and dance production “Come Fly Away,” choreographed by Twla Tharp and featuring the music of Frank Sinatra; followed by “A Christmas Story: The Musical,” based on the beloved holiday movie and opening Nov. 15; “Million Dollar Quartet,” about a jam session among four rock icons and opening Jan. 24, 2012; “Shrek the Musical,” a theatrical version of the animated film series and opening Feb. 28, 2012; “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” opening April 10, 2012; and the first tour of the Blue Man Group, which opens May 1, 2012. In addition to the aforementioned productions — all of which are part of the subscription series — Broadway in Detroit is bringing back the musical “Wicked,” which will open in December at the Detroit Opera House; as well as “Green Day’s American Idiot” in January 2012 and “Rock of Ages” in February 2012, both to be staged at a Detroit venue yet to be announced.

“We have an excellent season coming up,” said Alan Lichtenstein of Grosse Pointe Park, executive director of The Nederlander Company.

In addition, Lichtenstein said they’ll be hosting special events throughout the anniversary season, including concerts by Broadway stars that will be announced soon.

New show “Gazillion Bubbles” will bring impressive laser and bubble effects to the Fisher Theatre Oct. 14-16. Scott Myers of Ferndale, director of corporate sales and marketing for Broadway in Detroit, said the show’s creator, Fan Yang, once put an elephant in a bubble. Myers said the family-friendly production “is going to wow people.”

“It’s going to be really spectacular,” he said. “It’s a theatrical show.”

When it opened on Nov. 11, 1928, the Fisher was a movie and vaudeville house. It owed its Mayan-themed décor to the Chicago-based architectural firm of Graven and Mayger. But declining attendance forced the Fisher to shut its doors on Dec. 31, 1960.

That’s when metro Detroit’s Nederlander family stepped in. The Nederlanders saw the venue’s potential as a legitimate stage theater, and reduced the number of seats from 3,500 to 2,089 to guarantee great views from anywhere in the four-level house. The intimate Fisher — where the last row in the balcony is only 92 feet from the stage — is one of the country’s smallest Broadway touring houses. It was redesigned in 1961 at a cost of $3.5 million, incorporating Italian marble, custom-made chandeliers, East Indian rosewood and walnut paneling, and other distinctive modern decorative details. It reopened later that year with the Schwartz-Dietz musical “The Gay Life” (now called “The High Life”), starring Walter Chiari and Barbara Cook.

“It was quite an exciting season,” Lichtenstein said.

Although many of the shows this season are new, their music and settings span the eras, from the 1940s-1950s for “Come Fly Away” and “A Christmas Story” to the 1980s for “Rock of Ages” to the modern punk rock of “American Idiot” and the contemporary Blue Man Group.

“This season has a good variety of things that I think represent all 50 years of the Fisher,” Myers said. “We span the whole gamut of what’s been at the theater over (its history).”

The anniversary season is also an especially family-friendly one, Lichtenstein said.

“It’s very exciting to take your children to the theater and see their eyes light up,” Lichtenstein said. “They get inspired.”

Before the Nederlanders, Detroit hadn’t necessarily been a stop for big Broadway shows, Myers said.

“They put Detroit on the map as a Broadway show destination,” he said of the family. Lichtensten said the Nederlanders are now the largest presenters and producers of Broadway productions in America, with nine venues in New York City, four in London, three in San Francisco, four in Chicago and several theaters elsewhere, from California to North Carolina.

During its long and storied history, the Fisher has been home to dozens of premieres, including “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Hello Dolly,” “The Wiz,” and, most recently, a musical version of the movie “Big.”

Perhaps because of competition from movies and videogames, shows today are splashier than ever, from the helicopter in “Miss Saigon” to the chandelier in “The Phantom of the Opera.”

“The shows have gotten more spectacular and technically-oriented,” Lichtenstein said. “They try to bring more magic to the stage than they used to.”

He said the talent audiences will see is also stronger than ever, from the stars to those in the ensemble.

In honor of the anniversary, Myers is hoping longtime subscribers and others with special memories of seeing shows at the Fisher will share those. Anyone with an anecdote they’d like to submit can contact him via email at smyers@nederlanderdetroit.com.

“I would love to hear those stories from people,” said Myers, who hopes to compile and share some of these tales with theatergoers.

Subscriptions can be purchased until “Come Fly Away” opens Sept. 13. The new First Night Package allows people to purchase subscription tickets to opening-night productions at $50 per show, a savings of up to $39 per ticket. Individual tickets for certain shows — including “Come Fly Away” and “A Christmas Story” — were already on sale as of press time.

For tickets or more information, call the Fisher Theatre at (313) 872-1000, ext. 0, or visit www.BroadwayInDetroit.com.