Packing five full-scale musicals into a 10-week run is more of a challenge than most theater companies would dare tackle. At the Music Theatre of Wichita, it’s just the annual season.
The theatre, which was established in 1972 to provide summertime entertainment in the then-new Century II complex, has grown to an annual event that has provided many a Broadway star with his or her start, built sets that have toured the globe and created a subscriber base that’s the envy of the performing world, says Wayne Bryan, artistic director.
“Everything we do is done to a full, Broadway scale,” says Bryan, who came to the theatre in 1988 “for one summer” and has never left. “We have up to 30 musicians in the orchestra pit and a full stage. Our scenery and costumes have gone all over; our Beauty and the Beast has been from Florida to Canada.”
The complement of performers, musicians and other professionals who mount the season every summer is culled from an annual stack of resumes that usually numbers 4,000. Bryan culls that down to around 1,000, and then sets up auditions in Wichita, Chicago, Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, New York and Ann Arbor, Mich., during the off season.
“We take students, and we also take Broadway people who are looking to take a break,” Bryan says, “We usually hire a permanent company of around 30, plus the guest stars that will come in and do a particular show.”
The quality of cast, crew and production hasn’t gone unnoticed: Music Theatre of Wichita has about 80 percent of its patrons renewing season tickets annually.
“When our box-office people go to national seminars, there are classes on how to get your renewal rates up to 50 percent,” Bryan says with a laugh. “When they tell everybody what ours are, they’re all astounded. But our patrons believe in what we do, and they know they’re going to see high-quality shows. And when you compare our ticket prices to the same shows when they’re on Broadway, it’s a bargain.”
That value is part of the reason why in 2007, the Music Theatre of Wichita season had an attendance of 81,212, setting a record for the organization and making it the state’s third-largest public event.