Front & Center: Creativity Backed by Determination

New Orleans theater pros have repeatedly shown a strength of spirit that matches the depth of their talents, continuing to ply their art wherever they can find a place. Their determination enables creative expression to thrive no matter what.

Performances grow continually more impressive on local stages, whether the production is a musical classic or the premier of an original script. And one of the most promising signs for the future is the enthusiasm local pros have for engaging younger generations. Educational opportunities abound in New Orleans for young students to learn the ropes and test their chops.

Find highlights of all the activity in the following pages, which include brief profiles of some of the city’s best-known performing arts organizations.

Magical Misery

Front & Center: Creativity Backed by DeterminationBroadway has become more and more at home in New Orleans, and this season brings one of the biggest-ever productions from the Great White Way. “Les Misérables” became the world’s longest-running musical when it passed the 20-year mark in London, and it later became the third longest-running production on Broadway. Now “Les Mis” takes New Orleans with a six-day run at Mahalia Jackson Theater for Performing Arts.

Based on Victor Hugo’s classic novel, the production is an uplifting story with a powerful score and spectacular scenery. Producer Cameron Mackintosh has called his new iteration of the classic “a magnificent mix of dazzling images and epic staging, driving one of the greatest musical stories ever told.” The production runs Oct. 30-Nov. 4. Check for times and ticket information.

Encore Brush with Greatness

One of the greatest tenors of all time made some of his earliest professional appearances in New Orleans, and this year he returns to perform on the stage that wears his name. A gala concert at the Mahalia Jackson Theater on Oct. 12 will celebrate 50 years of Plácido Domingo’s performances.

The famous tenor will sing with the New Orleans Opera, featuring local favorite Sarah Jane McMahon and some of the world’s leading operatic talent, including Stephanie Blythe, Ana María Martínez and David Lomeli. Robert Lyall conducts the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra and the New Orleans Opera Chorus in an evening hosted by Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Academy Award-nominated actress Patricia Clarkson. See or call the opera box office at 504-529-3000 for tickets.

Trouble Behind the Curtains

It’s unsettling to see pillars of the local drama scene still in flux even as the fall theater season moves into high gear, but Southern Repertory Theatre, at least, has found a way to continue. Left homeless after its Canal Place landlord ended its lease months ago, Southern Rep has temporarily landed at Contemporary Arts Center on Camp Street.

Now billed as “in residence” at the CAC for the 2012 season, Southern Rep tested the waters there last spring with a presentation of “Shirley Valentine,” starring Ricky Graham. As Artistic Director Aimée Hayes continues the search for a permanent theater home, she also found a stage, at Mid-City Theatre, for several original one-act productions, as well as “Debauchery! The Soap Opera” by Pat Bourgeois.

The status of Le Petit Théatre du Vieux Carré is less clear. Dark through the entire 2011-2012 season, the city’s oldest stage appeared to have found salvation in a deal that would give over a portion of its physical address to a new restaurant to be opened by Dickie Brennan. But Le Petit is bypassing the fall 2012 season as well.

A message on its website promises that the theater “will be reborn” and says its “brightest days are ahead.” A facelift is under way, the message says, and Le Petit will open in January 2013. The theater’s board President Cassie Worley did not return a call requesting comment.

Meanwhile, the saga of Jefferson Performing Arts Center, in neighboring Jefferson Parish, continues. A loss of financial support from the state resulted in delays in nailing down the Jefferson Performing Arts Society’s 35th season lineup. And the many talented performers, producers and other behind-the-scenes people who have entertained audiences at the society’s three stage locations have had to deal with ongoing uncertainty.

“We are actively exploring funding options and we are optimistic that we will receive the support necessary to bring you our 35th Season,” Artistic Director Dennis Assaf wrote in a recent message to JPAS patrons. “In light of this, we may be required to make some adjustments to our offerings for 2012-2013. But rest assured, we will be having a substantial season.” •

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