Editor’s Note: This is the ninth in a series of interviews with creative decision makers and artistic directors at all of Tucson’s theatres as we look forward to the 2019-2020 season.
Entertaining the People with Brandon Howell of Arizona Rose Theatre.
by Leigh Moyer
Give the people what they want and make art while you do it. This seems to be the approach to Arizona Rose Theatre‘s 2019 – 2020 season, based on my recent conversation with managing director, Brandon Howell.
“We wanted to have a fun season this year. We have a group in the theatre, core performers and production team, work with them first, looking for suggestions. Also asked our audience what they wanted to see. Always take audience suggestions into consideration. We want to provide theatre that our audience wants to see,” Howell explained. “It isn’t quite putting shows into a hat and pulling the season out, but it is more looking at the suggestions and filling the slots.”
Arizona Rose Theatre has been bringing theatre to the people of Tucson for over 30 years. For much of that time, the productions they put on were dictated by in part by not having their own stage and having to adjust based on the stage available to use. Now, with a permanent home in the Tucson Mall, they are able to control the season better. They have also changed their model over the last three decades. In the beginning, they did all original works. Now they produce some originals like Sherlock Holmes and the East Wind and big names like Into The Woods.
“No one should miss any of our shows. That has to be my answer,” Howell said when I asked if he had a favorite this season. “We are excited about all of our shows. They all present a challenge. And I enjoy when a show brings a challenge.”
They have given themselves several challenges; big musicals like Into the Woods in a relatively small space, adapting classic murder mysteries into musicals without losing the serious nature of the source material in Sherlock Holmes, and depending on a small cast to carry a lot of show in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged.
“I do think there are different elements considered. Female writers were the backbone of the season last year. Women playwrights was the unspoken theme. We often choose female heavy shows, although this year we haven’t really looked at that as much,” Howell said of this season compared to last.
The last of those three has the potential to have an extra layer of complication. At the time of the interview, casting wasn’t completed but Howell and the director were looking to cast the three man show with two men and a woman. I hope they did. I’d love to see, live on stage, that the gender of the actor doesn’t matter, that women can play roles usually filled by men. That said, there is a section that, quite spectacularly in my memory, makes fun of men playing women (and being so out of touch, the female characters are silly and over the top)– I am curious how Arizona Rose gets around that. I think it is possible and, with a history of writing, choosing plays by female playwrights, and frequently having strong women casts, they should have the skills to pull it off.
“[Arizona Rose Theatre] was founded with the mission, basically, of entertaining and introducing audiences to theatre, especially those who haven’t been to the theatre before or often. Every time we have an audience leave having enjoyed what they saw, we’re completing our mission. We want to improve and do it better every year,” Howell said, and added, “I want to reach out to newer audiences and introduce them to theatre. That is the future of theatre.”
The Musical World of Fairy Tales
August 24 – September 8, 2019
The Arizona Rose Theatre is expanding on a popular show from the last two seasons, the Musical World of Disney. In addition to favorite Disney music, the show will include music from other fairy tale favorites such as Shrek, Wicked, The Wizard of Oz and more… Come and enjoy a show for children of all ages. Watch as each song is brought to life with amazing production values, beautiful singing and fantastic dancing. This show is sure to delight the whole family.
Sherlock Holmes and the East Wind: a new musical
October 12 – 27, 2019
December 23rd, 1915–At the Hotel du Louvre in Paris, guests seek refuge from the war wreaking havoc throughout Europe. Dr. John Watson and his wife are staying there, and plan to meet their nephew, who is on leave from the British army. When a hotel maid is murdered however, they quickly become embroiled in an international conspiracy so complex that only the great Sherlock Holmes could unravel it–if only he were still alive.
Dashing Through the Snow
December 7 – 15, 2019
The play takes place in the Snowflake Inn in Tinsel, Texas where it’s Christmas 365 days a year. It’s four days before Christmas and a parade of eccentric guests arrive at the Snowflake Inn and deck the halls with holiday hilarity. Trina, the harried yet upbeat innkeeper of this B&B, has more than she can handle coping with these nuttier-than-a-fruitcake lodgers. You’ll swear this family-friendly Jones/Hope/Wooten Christmas comedy is more fun than a joyride in a one-horse open sleigh.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)
February 29 – March 15, 2020
All 37 plays in 97 minutes! By three actors! Complete Works is an irreverent, fast-paced romp through the Bard’s canon. It is fast paced, witty and physical; it’s full of laughter for Shakespeare lovers and even those few Shakespeare haters or those who “do not understand” Shakespeare will love this show.
Into the Woods
April 18 – May 3, 2020
Into the Woods is a Tony-winning musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine, about wishes and what can happen when they come true. Based on fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm, it brings together the story of a Baker and his Wife who wish for a child, of Cinderella who wishes to go to the King’s Festival, of Jack who wishes to keep his best friend, of a Witch who wishes to be beautiful again and many more. It all comes together in the woods, where everyone will have to consider if they truly want what they thought they wished for.