Bushnell tries on role as producer

Theater season includes 'Overcoat' preem

NEW HAVEN, CONN. — Hartford’s Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts is putting on new producing duds by trying “The Overcoat” on for size.

In January, the arts center will co-produce the U.S. premiere of this wordless Canadian play set to music as part of its 2004-05 Broadway subscription series. The theater also is wooing others to put it on their 2005-06 season.

The work, based on two Nikolai Gogol short stories and set to the music of Dmitri Shostakovich, has played in various theaters in Canada since 1997, as well as at several arts festivals around the world. The Bushnell is co-producing the work worldwide with Toronto’s Canadian Stage Co. and Glynis Henderson Prods. in London.

The 22-actor production, based on the stories “The Overcoat” and “Diary of a Madman,” will play the Bushnell’s 900-seat Belding Theater Jan. 14-30 before embarking on an East Coast “mini-tour” in order to promote a longer tour later in 2005.

Well traveled

“The Overcoat,” created by Canada’s Morris Panych and Wendy Gorling, was featured at the World Stage Festival in Toronto last fall and London’s Intl. Mime Festival in January. It will play festivals in Australia and Norway later this year.

David Fay, exec director at the Bushnell, said the aim is to get more choice and control for shows, to gain multiweek bookings for the difficult-to-fill Belding and to develop new audiences.

Because it is a part-owner of the production, costs are lower than if the work were produced by others. The Bushnell’s financial investment is around $58,000. It also is contributing its expertise with promotion, marketing and booking among U.S. theaters.

“The Overcoat” marks the first time the arts center has taken a primary role in a production aimed to tour significantly in the U.S. and the world.

The Bushnell previously invested — along with other U.S. presenting theaters — in the Broadway musical “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” It also co-produced in the late ’90s with Delaware’s Playhouse Theater its own productions of “Company,” “Chess,” “Promises, Promises” and “The Who’s Tommy in Concert,” but those shows mostly played the two theaters.

The Bushnell’s 2004-05 Broadway series will include “The Producers,” Aug. 24-Sept. 5 (also playing Oakdale Theater in Wallingford Sept. 7-19); “The King & I” starring Sandy Duncan, Sept. 28-Oct. 3; “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat,” Nov. 23-28; a non-Equity production of “Miss Saigon,” Feb. 8-13; “Peter Pan,” April 12-17; and “Little Shop of Horrors,” May 31-June 5.

“The Overcoat” also will be paired with “The Forbidden Christmas or the Doctor and the Patient,” starring Mikhail Baryshnikov, set for October at the Belding, and perhaps a third or fourth show as part of a new alternative theater series aimed at younger and nontraditional Broadway audiences.

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