This week’s opening of “Six” is a reminder that, not long ago, a trip to Broadway went straight through the Twin Cities.
“Six” is the much-ballyhooed, concert-style musical that features the wives of Henry VIII making like Rihanna and Adele as they belt poppy show tunes about divorce, dying in childbirth and being beheaded.
After a number of pre-New York engagements, it arrives at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in great shape (similar to “The Scottsboro Boys,” which stopped at the Guthrie Theater before a 2010 Broadway run).
Many New York-based shows have chosen the Twin Cities as a place to work out kinks, far from New York critics and audiences but in front of savvy theatergoers who could help producers figure out what worked and what didn’t. Some shows also originated here creatively, including a 2003 Theatre de la Jeune Lune “Hamlet” that scored raves off-Broadway and earned looks from some producers but didn’t make it to the promised land. Neither did a “Little House on the Prairie” that premiered at the Guthrie in 2008.
Following sold-out runs in Chicago and Cambridge, Mass., “Six” is in St. Paul through Dec. 22 before beginning performances on Broadway on Feb. 13. Its Broadway run is a sure thing, with tickets already selling briskly. But a trip to New York is not always assured, as these shows that appeared here before planned runs there discovered:
“A Year With Frog and Toad”
What is it? A gentle musical about mismatched buddies, based on children’s books by Arnold Lobel.
When was it here? Fall 2002 (it has been back several times) at Children’s Theatre Company.
What we said: “Call up family members and colleagues and tell them to see ‘A Year With Frog and Toad,’ ” wrote Rohan Preston, who lauded its “finger-snappy, jazzy style.”
How did it fare on Broadway? Damned with faint praise by reviewers, the show ran just 73 performances but was nominated for three Tony Awards, including best musical. The Broadway luster helped make it a popular show in regional productions and contributed to CTC winning a regional Tony that year.
“The Lion King”
What is it? Disney’s “Hamlet”-on-the-African-savannah animated movie became a bigger-than-life puppet extravaganza under the auspices of theatrical wizard Julie Taymor.
When was it here? Summer 1997, Orpheum Theatre.
What we said: Mike Steele called it “an evening of almost pure delight.”
How did it fare on Broadway? Pretty well, with 9,200 performances and counting, it’s the biggest-grossing show in Broadway history and the third longest running. It won six Tonys, including best musical.
What is it? A revival of the Bob Fosse musical, starring TV veteran Christina Applegate.
When was it here? Winter 2005, Orpheum.
What we said: “At this stage, ‘Sweet Charity’ mostly splashes in the shadows,” wrote Preston, noting that the show would be revised in a couple of stops before New York.
How did it fare on Broadway? It ran for eight months but reviews were not great. To add injury to insult, the star broke her foot in Chicago, the stop after Minneapolis, although she recovered in time for the May 4 New York opening.
What is it? A musical adaptation of the movie comedy, which also starred Julie Andrews and was written and directed by her husband, Blake Edwards. It featured the “Mary Poppins” legend as a cabaret performer who can’t get a break until a friend persuades her to masquerade as a man, impersonating a woman.
When was it here? June 1995, Orpheum.
What we said: Admiring the cast and Edwards’ verve, Steele wrote, “It won’t make you forget the movie, but at its best moments, it will remind you how entertaining theater can be.” His would be the first of many “V/V” reviews that simultaneously seemed to love and hate the show.
How did it fare on Broadway? It played 734 performances but didn’t earn back its $8.5 million investment during that 1995-97 run, in part because the show relied so much on Andrews’ star power. Her voice was damaged by the rigors of her enormous role (eventually, she would sue after an operation robbed her of her singing voice) and, to further prove there was more drama offstage than on, Andrews was so incensed when she received the show’s sole Tony nomination that she withdrew her name from the list of contenders.
“Babes in Arms”
What is it? A fresh take on the hey-gang-let’s-put-on-a-show musical by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, the movie version of which starred Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney.
When was it here? Winter 1996, Guthrie Theater.
What we said: “It veers from moments of charm and exuberance to tedious stretches of spectacle, abundance turned into empty excess,” commented Steele, who praised then-unknown supporting actor Kristin Chenoweth, who was a year away from her Broadway debut (in “Steel Pier,” not “Babes”) and stardom.
What happened? Star Tribune reporter Peter Vaughan wrote that hotshot producer Jack Viertel liked the show although he thought it was too long, but nothing ever came of talk about birthing “Babes” on Broadway. The $2.4 million show lost more than $1 million.
What is it? A world premiere adaptation of Dodie Smith’s book and the Disney animated movie. It starred Minneapolis regular Rachel York, who played Cruella De Vil and had played moll Norma in “Victor/Victoria.”
When was it here? Summer 1995, Orpheum.
What we said: Preston praised the “snappy” design but warned, “Given the thin material, the musical feels overlong at two hours, 35 minutes.”
What happened? Although posters proclaimed it to be the “world premiere of a Broadway musical comedy,” the show never reached Broadway. It did embark on an abbreviated, six-month tour.
What is it? The Guthrie hosted the American premiere of a new musical based on a French movie about a tragic love (it also was adapted into the Richard Gere/Jodie Foster misfire “Sommersby”). It sounded like a sure thing, since it was Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil’s follow-up to blockbusters “Les Misérables” and “Miss Saigon.”
When was it here? Fall 1999, Guthrie.
What we said: Although he noted that it was an unsubtle show that “engages the intellect lightly,” Preston wrote that “because of its well-rounded company of New York actors, ‘Guerre’ is on its way to being a winner.”
What happened? The show toured to several other cities on its way to a Broadway opening planned for April 2000, but it never got there. That meant actor Erin Dilly, who also had been in “Babes in Arms,” missed on two consecutive Broadway hopefuls that originated at the Guthrie, where “Guerre” was a big hit.
“Diary of a Wimpy Kid”
What is it? A musical adaptation of Jeff Kinney’s illustrated novels about a middle-schooler, his family and friends.
When was it here? Spring 2016, Children’s Theatre.
What we said:“ ‘Wimpy’ is spectacular, with electricity, charm and heart to spare,” wrote Preston.
What happened? The development process always was planned for the long haul and something may yet happen with the show, the rights to which are held by Fox Productions and super-producer Kevin McCollum (a former president and CEO of the Ordway whose shows include the soon-to-be-on-Broadway “Six” and the Tony Award-winning “Rent”). But no further productions have been announced.
Chris Hewitt • 612-673-4367