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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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The stage is set for theater season

2009-’10 offers an intriguing mix

Disney’s “The Lion King” returns to INB Performing Arts Center on Nov. 11.Best of Broadway (Photo by Joan Marcus Best of Broadway / The Spokesman-Review)
Disney’s “The Lion King” returns to INB Performing Arts Center on Nov. 11.Best of Broadway (Photo by Joan Marcus Best of Broadway / The Spokesman-Review)

Two kings will reign over Spokane’s fall theater scene: Disney’s “The Lion King,” and the Pirate King from Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance.”

Add on a Pulitzer Prize winner (“Doubt”), several acclaimed new plays (“Underneath the Lintel” and “String of Pearls”) and a holiday serving of “Tuna” (“A Christmas Tuna”) and Spokane will host a surprising variety of live theater.

You’ll be able to choose from 10 major productions this fall, and that doesn’t even count the region’s many worthy college productions, one-off special events, dance shows, musical revues and smaller theatrical offerings.

Here’s a look at what Spokane’s three biggest theatrical institutions will offer:

Spokane Civic Theatre

Theatergoers have plenty to look forward to at Spokane’s longtime community theater institution – including more comfortable seating. The Firth Chew Studio Theatre has new, cushioned seats and refurbished restrooms.

Also, the Civic has moved its evening shows up to 7:30 p.m., because patrons said they preferred getting home earlier.

“The Pirates of Penzance,” Sept. 25-Oct. 25 – The Civic breaks a long Gilbert & Sullivan drought with this classic comic operetta about bumbling swashbucklers.

The Civic is going all out to make this an event: Set designers have built a ship that extends to the rafters, said executive artistic director Yvonne A.K. Johnson.

Michael Muzatko plays the Pirate King, Russell Seaton plays Frederic, Andrea Dawson plays Mabel and Darnell Preston plays Ruth.

Are they the very models of Gilbert & Sullivan vocalists? Well, all four are music teachers.

“String of Pearls,” Oct. 23-Nov. 15 – This R-rated comedy by Michele Lowe in the Studio Theatre follows a pearl necklace on its journey from generation to generation, woman to woman.

“Chess,” Oct. 30-31 – This is the musical the ABBA guys wrote before “Mamma Mia!” about a love triangle at an international chess match. This is the Civic’s annual musical performed in-concert, as a fundraiser for the theater.

“A Tuna Christmas,” Nov. 20-Dec. 19 – The entire cast of rubes from Tuna, Texas, returns to compete for the annual yard display contest. As usual, every role is played by two actors in this quick-change comedy.

“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” Nov. 28-Dec. 20 – The Civic is simultaneously programming a second show for the Christmas season, this one the family-oriented classic about the horrible Herdman children and the true meaning of the holiday.

It will run mostly on Thursday evenings and Saturday afternoons, while “A Tuna Christmas” will fill most of the weekend evening slots.

Interplayers Professional Theatre

Interplayers comes back with a new artistic director, the well-respected Reed McColm, and a slight name change which incorporates “professional” into the title.

McColm said the theater will aim for professional standards in all facets of production, including acting, design, sets and lighting.

“Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune,” Sept. 17-Oct. 3 – Terrence McNally’s R-rated 1986 comedy is about a one-night stand between a waitress and a blue-collar guy. Will it blossom into a long-term relationship?

This version will feature L.A. actors Karen Kalensky and John Henry Whitaker, both Interplayers veterans.

“Doubt: A Parable,” Oct. 22-Nov. 7 – This Pulitzer Prize-winning drama by John Patrick Shanley about alleged priest sexual abuse was already into rehearsals last year at the Actors Repertory Theatre when that theater folded.

“The cast was stranded,” said McColm. “They felt it was unfinished – and I wanted to finish it.”

So he reunited director Roger Welch with most of the cast, including San Francisco actor Aaron Murphy. The result: “Doubt” is finally opening on a Spokane stage.

“Underneath the Lintel” – Nov. 25-Dec. 12 – This wildly inventive one-man comedy by Glen Berger is about an eccentric Dutch librarian who finds a book overdue by 113 years. He goes on a global trek to find the miscreant. McColm will play the librarian.

Best of Broadway

Spokane’s national touring-show lineup is especially top-heavy with crowd-pleasers – starting with “Fiddler on the Roof,” which closes its run today.

No wonder this series has already surpassed its season-ticket goal, according to Jack Lucas of WestCoast Entertainment. Yet the biggest is yet to come:

Disney’s “The Lion King,” Nov. 11-Dec. 6 – This giant national touring production will plant itself in the INB Performing Arts Center for four weeks in November and December.

When the “Lion” prowled Spokane for six weeks in 2005, it set an all-time Spokane theatrical record of 117,000 tickets. The second time around can’t match that, yet Lucas predicts that this shorter run will sell in the 70,000 to 80,000 ticket range. That’s huge for a city of 205,500.

And why not? “The Lion King” is a once-in-a-generation show that combines enormous family appeal with innovative visual and artistic quality.

Expect the INB Performing Arts Center to be jammed with kids who were too little to see the show the first time around, as well as plenty of adults and families more than happy to catch it a second time.

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