Live theater is what makes a community distinctive in its entertainment and arts scene. While Americans everywhere share the same movies and television, it is the availability of quality live theater and music that can raise the level of cultural vibrancy for a region. Sacramento has been fortunate to be a growing center for the entertainment arts over the past decade.
And live theater brings the viewer an experience like none other in entertainment. In theater, you can make a personal connection with the actors that is impossible through a screen, and the audience becomes part of the show and shared experience. And in every show, success depends on the individual and ensemble performances each and every time.
Cue the Actors
Sacramento now has many great options for live theater, the leader being California Musical Theatre (CMT), which presents both Broadway Sacramento and the summertime Music Circus. Both series encompass a wide variety of shows each season — Broadway hits like the upcoming The Book of Mormon; family friendly shows like Elf The Musical; classic musicals like last year’s West Side Story; and musician-based shows such as Rain —The Beatles Tribute.
“Live theater is important to any community and as Sacramento’s oldest and largest professional theatre organization, I believe CMT’s contribution is immense,” says Richard Lewis, CMT president and CEO. “Each summer after auditioning literally thousands of professional actors in New York City, Los Angeles and here in Sacramento, we bring some of the best in the business to Music Circus and create a series top quality shows. The experience our patrons have in the intimate Wells Fargo Pavilion is something they can’t get anywhere else. And with our Broadway Sacramento series at Community Center Theater, we also offer some of the most popular touring Broadway shows available. Through those two series, well over 200,000 people attend our musicals annually.”
Music Circus premiered in 1951, presenting shows under a circus style tent. Then in 2003 the Wells Fargo Pavilion opened, continuing their shows in the unique in-the-round style, which brings the audience in close contact with the performers. In 1989 CMT opened the Broadway Sacramento series, bringing national touring productions of current Broadway shows, along with classic revivals, and presented at the larger Sacramento Community Center Theater. This addition brought large scale, world class productions, like Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera, and Rent to the local theater scene for the first time.
This year, the Broadway Sacramento series is presenting The Book of Mormon in March, Disney’s Newsies in April, and Motown The Musical in May to round out the 2015-16 season. This summer Music Circus, which fits six shows into its brief 12 week season, will be presenting Legally Blonde, followed by Hello, Dolly!, Seussical, Caberet, Nice Work If You Can Get It, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
“We’re hoping more people will discover what a truly unique experience we offer at Music Circus,” Lewis adds. “Even though we’re going into our 66th season, there are some who have yet to try it. Once they do, I think they’ll be hooked.”
Take Your Places
But it takes more than big productions to make a thriving theater scene and Sacramento is excelling in smaller, more intimate plays as well.
Sharing the Wells Fargo Pavilion facility with Music Circus is the Sacramento Theatre Company, which uses three smaller venues ranging from 85 to 300 seats. While also producing musicals, they include serious dramatic plays by Shakespeare, Chekov and others, along with comedies and children’s shows. The company also runs a School for the Arts to train and develop young talent. Upcoming shows include Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Broadway classic The Fantasticks, and an adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes story The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Nearby Carmichael is the home of the Chautaqua Playhouse — a 100-seat theater that produces six plays and six Children’s Theater shows each year. They put on a variety of traditional and original shows, and run a School of Performing Arts as well. According to Warren Harrison, he and fellow producer Roger Hoopman select their shows with their audience in mind.
“Our philosophy is to produce generally family oriented plays and musicals that include a mix of newer shows alongside classic ‘crowd pleasers’,” Harrison says. “Although we like to appeal to a wide range of ages, the bulk of our audience members are seniors, so that is taken into consideration. Many times we will get requests to revive a particular show or style (mystery thrillers seem to be a favorite), so we try to include these in our season.”
Harrison explains they like to showcase original scripts from both local and national writers, and that he and Marie Raymond — who runs the Children’s Theater — have also written original shows. The performers for the adult shows are usually from local auditions, with some regulars.
Raise the Curtain
Branching out even further is Celebration Arts — an East Sacramento company that focuses on multi-cultural, multi-discipline performing arts, and strives to provide training and performance opportunities for community residents in dance and music, as well as theater. They produce six plays a year, usually with ethno-centric themes, along with classical, modern and jazz dance, and music though their Celebration Chorale.
Sacramento’s B Street Theatre, which recently received a boost in funding from the city council for a new downtown facility, focuses on contemporary, thought provoking dramas and comedies for both adults and family audiences. But they strive to educate as well.
According to representative Latrice Madkins, “B Street Theatre hosts a school tour program where an acting troupe and road manager travel into approximately 12 surrounding counties to perform a total of 12 shows per week. Each play is a full, 50 minute professional production. Along with each production, a full study guide with pre and post teacher-student activities are made available.” They also reach out to community agencies or institutions for disadvantaged or hospitalized children.
Upcoming shows at the B Street Theatre include Frankenstein and Alice in Wonderland in their family series, and Not Medea, a contemporary adult play.
There are dozens of community theater organizations all over the Sacramento area, along with wonderful youth theater programs, such as the River City Theatre Company and El Dorado Musical Theatre, which present high quality shows featuring teen and even younger performers. Like most performing arts companies, they rely on generous benefactors and sponsors, but mostly on enthusiastic audiences who appreciate the unique experience of a live show and talented performers — something the Sacramento community is happily providing.