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Chuck Graham COLUMN

Stage set for lots of musicals


Citizen Drama Critic

The battle lines are drawn and the first shot has been fired in a war for the loyalty of Tucson’s musical theater audience. This should be a hot one.

”We are replacing SALOC in Tucson,” said Michael Arata, referring to his company Victory Productions and last year’s collapse of the Southern Arizona Light Opera Company. His declaration follows by just a few weeks the announcement that the Kansas City-based Theatre League has added Tucson to its circuit of touring musical theater productions.

”The more the merrier,” said Arata cheerfully, answering a question about the pressures of competing with Theatre League.

”That (Theatre League) is a touring company,” said Arata. ”We are southern Arizona’s only resident musical theater company. We want to bring family-oriented musical theater to Tucson, hiring local actors, musicians and stagehands,” he emphasized.

Arata’s optimistically named Victory Productions is a non-profit company that will definitely be seeking every government arts grant for which it can qualify.

”After a year, we will qualify for assistance from the Tucson/Pima Arts Council and the Arizona Commission on the Arts,” said Arata. ”You can be sure we will apply.”

SALOC took pride in never asking for government money. Glenn Cook, SALOC’s director, insisted the company always pay its own way. Some believe this idealism cost SALOC its life – literally.

Victory Productions has lined up enough money in private donations to get started. Corporate donations are being sought as well.

All performances will be in the Music Hall of the Tucson Convention Center. As with the Theatre League, all money received by Victory Productions for season tickets is kept by the city until the production is staged. If for some reason a production is not staged, all ticket revenue for that production will be refunded.

Scheduled for this calendar year are Andrew Lloyd Webber’s lighthearted ”Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” April 9-13 and Leonard Bernstein’s classic ”West Side Story” Sept. 10-14. Dennis Courtney has been signed to direct ”Joseph.” His name is familiar to SALOC regulars. Courtney directed ”Peter Pan,” ”Paint Your Wagon,” ”Singin’In the Rain,” ”Oklahoma” and ”Fiddler on the Roof.” The musical director and orchestra conductor is Richard Crull, assistant director of the Tucson Boys Chorus.

Arata also plans to rent the same quality stage sets and costumes that SALOC always used.

”Joseph” will be cast locally. Some Phoenix performers may be considered for ”West Side Story.” Arata believes it is important the shows be cast locally, so there is community identity with each production.

Tickets are $19 general admission, with $2 discounts for those 60 and older or 12 and younger. For information and reservations, 722-4384.

In 1998 Victory plans to produce three musicals. Under consideration are ”A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” ”George M.,” ”The Sound of Music” and ”Les Miserables.” Arata says he has talked with representatives from the Disney corporation about ”Beauty and the Beast.”

The UApresents series at the University of Arizona includes one musical this spring, ”The Kiss of the Spiderwoman” April 11-13. Featured is Argentine superstar Sandra Guida. A gospel version of the last days of Oedipus, ”The Gospel at Colonus” featuring Roscoe Lee Browne, is also scheduled, Feb. 14-16.

Combined with the Theatre League’s debut production of ”Camelot” May 15-18 (planned as a kind of sneak preview for Tucsonans) that will total four full musicals in the next four months, most with celebrities in the leading roles. For one theater-loving couple to see them all would cost more than $200.

”There’s enough money in the community to support more than one musical theater company,” said Yvette Faucher-Arata, Michael’s wife and the company’s co-founder.

Victory will have a lower priced ticket than the others, which is sure to be of some advantage. If the Victory shows do look as good as SALOC’s shows, which they should, then the only significant difference will be casting.

When you have to decide between a goodlooking local production and a good-looking nationally cast production with a famous name or two, local theater buffs may not want to shop Tucson first.

On the other hand, one of the decisions that led indirectly to SALOC’s demise was signing Broadway star Betty Buckley to star in SALOC’s production of ”Gypsy.” Cook said Buckley didn’t have any impact on ticket sales, though her salary was much higher than the standard singer/actor from Los Angeles that SALOC was hiring.

Stay tuned for further details as both Victory Productions and Theatre League heat up the hype for their debut Tucson productions. Keep your wallet handy, too.

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