TUESDAY, April 12 — The Wharton Center released its 2016-2017 schedule today, which includes a packed slate of encore performances, audience favorites and several Wharton Center debuts.
“We have a whole mess of first timers coming next year,” said Mike Brand, executive director of the Wharton Center.
Among those first timers is Broadway musical “Fun Home.” Based Alison Bechdel’s critically acclaimed graphic novel of the same name, “Fun Home” snagged five Tony awards, including best musical and best original score. The book and lyrics were written by Lansing native Lisa Kron, who also took home a Tony for best book of a musical.
“It’s an amazing work,” said Diane Willcox, Wharton Center director of marketing and communications. “And it’s the first all-female writing team to win the Tony for best original score. It's pretty darn exciting.”
“‘Fun Home’ is a show we talked about a lot,” Brand added. "We were a little afraid. We made a commitment (before the Tony awards). I think our audience is keen enough on new things that we felt pretty safe. It turned out to be a great decision. Now people can't get in on the third year (of the tour), and we're in on the first year."
Other Broadway highlights include “Beautiful,” which is based on the life of Carol King, and the darkly comedic “A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder.”
“It’s one of the funniest shows on Broadway,” Brand said. “It’s very British. You'd swear you're watching Monty Python or Benny Hill.”
The Wharton Center is also bringing in “Rent” which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.
“People say that ‘Rent’ is one of those shows that’s always at the Wharton Center, but it’s been a full decade since we’ve had it on our stages,” Willcox said.
The Wharton Center’s jazz lineup comprises just three shows, but those shows pack a punch. Bassist Dave Holland brings AZIZA, a quartet that includes saxophonist Chris Potter, and saxophone legend Wayne Shorter leads a quartet that features Danilo Perez, John Patitucci and Brian Blade
“It’s a great lineup,” Brand said. “Dave Holland is someone we’ve tried to get here a number of times, but it never worked out until this season. And we finally got Wayne Shorter on our schedule. We've tried to get him six or seven times."
Audience favorite the Hot Sardines rounds out the jazz lineup.
Next season’s classical lineup includes a performance of the complete Brandenburg Concertos by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and an appearance by violinist Sarah Chang with the Prague Philharmonia. Soviet-born pianist Yefim Bronfman opens the season.
“He’s one of the extraordinary musicians of our time,” Brand said of Bronfman.
Wharton Center’s worldview lecture series includes author and journalist Ta-Nahisi Coates — and landing him was no easy task.
“We’re lucky to have him,” said Brand. "We had to present a lot of material to get him to come here."
The courtship of Coates included the Wharton Center sending him a copy of Clifton Wharton Jr.’s book, “Privilege and Prejudice.” Wharton, the performing arts center’s namesake, became the first African American president of a major university when he was elected president of Michigan State University in 1970.
“MSU has always been a leader in diversity,” Brand said. “(Coates) was very impressed.”
The Wharton Center is also debuting a piece this season that it had a part in commissioning. Cleveland's Inlet Dance Theatre will premiere “Among the Darkest Shadows,” a theater piece based on stories of human trafficking.
“The state of Michigan, unfortunately, has a high level of human trafficking,” Willcox said. "It's been in the news a lot this past year."
The piece will use spoken word, music and movement to tell the story of two victims of human trafficking.
“It’s in the style of magical realism,” Willcox added. “This is going to be a striking work.”
Wharton Center's theater lineup includes a fringe festival favorite, Thaddeus Phillips’ “17 Border Crossings.” The one-man-show is based on Phillips’ travels around the world.
“It’s about the experience of literally crossing borders,” Willcox said. “Sometimes it’s simple; sometimes it’s complex.”
And there is a little humor.
“He keeps running into the Swedish pop band Ace of Bass,” Willcox said.
Wharton Center 2016-2017 season
Mamma Mia! — Oct. 14-16
Wicked — Nov. 9-27
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder — Dec. 13-18
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical — Jan. 10-15
Cabaret — Feb. 21-26
Rent (20th Anniversary Tour) — March 17-19
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time — April 11-16, 2017
Fun Home — June 6-11, 2017
Yefim Bronfman, Piano — Sept. 18
Canadian Brass Holiday — Dec. 2
Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center: Brandenburg Concertos — Dec. 8
Prague Philharmonia with Sarah Chang — Jan. 18
Inlet Dance Theatre: Among the Darkest Shadows — Feb. 16 and 19
Jessica Lang Dance — Feb. 28
Moscow Festival Ballet: Swan Lake — March 14
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater — April 18, 2017
AZIZA, featuring Dave Holland, Chris Potter, Lionel Loueke and Eric Harland — Oct. 20
The Hot Sardines — March 30
Wayne Shorter Quartet, featuring Danilo Perez, John Patitucci and Brian Blade — April 21, 2017
Sutton Foster — Oct. 1
Art of Time Ensemble: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band — Oct. 6
Jarrod Spector & Kelli Barrett present This is Dedicated: Music’s Greatest Marriages — Feb. 14
Black Violin — Feb. 17
STOMP — March 31-April 2
Ernie: The Play — Aug. 24-27
Reduced Shakespeare Company: Election Edition — Sept. 28-29
17 Border Crossings — March 26
WORLD VIEW LECTURE SERIES:
Iqbal Khan — Nov. 14
Sheryl WuDunn — Jan. 23
Ta-Nehisi Coates — April 3
ACT ONE FAMILY SERIES:
The Adventures of Bella & Harry — Oct. 9
A Brown Bear, A Moon, & A Caterpillar — Feb. 5
Pete the Cat — Feb. 25
Laura Ingalls Wilder — March 19