Back in the spotlight

This is definitely a case of "more is better." For the first time in 20 years, Broadway is returning to the Academy of Music stage as the Kimmel Center launches its Broadway at the Academy theater series.

The revered Academy of Music, now managed by the Kimmel Center, is offering national touring productions for the 2003-04 season. These one-week productions will go head-to-head with the touring productions that have been the mainstay at the Merriam Theater in recent years.

The inaugural season of the Kimmel Center already is underway with recent offerings of Elaine Stritch — At Liberty, Grease with Frankie Avalon and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

But don’t feel left out! You can still catch some of the best Broadway musicals and theatrical productions touring the country, including Urinetown (Nov. 18-23), Oliver! (Jan. 6-11) and Les Mis�rables (March 2-21).

Other offerings include Fame — The Musical (Nov. 14-16), Sing Along Santa (Nov. 25-30) and My Cousin’s Wedding (Dec. 17-21) in the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater.

The stage at the Academy of Music can accommodate any touring production because it is wider, deeper and higher than most stages in Philadelphia. And the Academy’s capabilities to host a broad variety of events recently were enhanced with new rigging equipment, changes to the stage and pit areas, enhanced acoustics, backstage improvements and the expansion of dressing rooms.

Here’s a look at some of the shows the venue will feature this season:

Urinetown is like a Chinese box; it’s a joke within a joke, within a joke. If you love musicals, this one spoofs the best of them going back to God-knows-when. And of course, it never stops poking fun at itself.

Example: Officer Lockstock: "You’re too young to understand it right now, Little Sally, but nothing can kill a show like too much exposition." Little Sally: "How about bad subject matter? Or a bad title? That could kill a show pretty good, huh?"

In Urinetown, two kids fall in love in a city in the middle of a water shortage. The show triumphed as Broadway’s unexpected phenomenon. It won the 2002 Tony Awards Triple Crown for Best Direction, Best Book and Best Music and Lyrics. It is a musical comedy tale of greed, corruption, love and revolution in a city where water is worth its weight in gold. Just be careful with this one, you may die laughing!

Dickens’ greatest characters will spring to life on the Academy stage when Cameron Mackintosh’s production of Lionel Bart’s Oliver! comes to town. The classic stage musical captures Oliver’s magical spell with unforgettable songs including Food, Glorious Food, Consider Yourself, Where Is Love?, As Long As He Needs Me, You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two and many more.

The legendary award-winning musical Les Mis�rables closed on Broadway after 16 years, winning 50 major awards internationally and becoming one of the most successful musicals in theater history. Produced by Mackintosh and based on Victor Hugo’s classic novel, Les Mis�rables is an epic saga that sweeps through three turbulent decades of 19th-century France. The production is one of the most costly and elaborate shows ever mounted for touring and replicates the Broadway production in its entirety.

The musical Fame chronicles the four-year odyssey — from auditions to graduation — of a group of talented students at New York City’s High School for the Performing Arts. Tickets: $25-$62.50.

Sing Along Santa will introduce a holiday family theatrical event that celebrates the magic and merriment of the most wonderful time of the year. The festive musical features a hit parade of seasonal songs woven through the story of Santa’s quest for a wardrobe makeover. Tickets: $15-$30.

My Cousin’s Wedding, a two-person romantic comedy from Chicago’s famed Second City, looks at how hilariously stressful a wedding can be — for the guests!

Something to keep in mind: The Academy of Music has an odd seating arrangement. The audience area is shaped like a horseshoe with the orchestra seats in the middle. On the sides of the horseshoe, the audience doesn’t face the stage but the other side of the audience. When I sat on a chair (like your dining-room chair) in the parquet box, I literally sat sideways to see the stage. And those chairs are uncomfortable! The best sight line for an Academy production is the orchestra floor.

Broadway at the Academy
Academy of Music
Broad and Locust streets
Subscription ticket prices, $83-$210 for performances Tuesday-Thursday; $88-$252 for performances Friday-Sunday; single-ticket prices also available.