If you find yourself hankering for a dose of Broadway show tunes, but you can't hitch a ride on anything Broadway-bound, you might want to look a wee bit north ... to Marana.
On three summer Saturday evenings, Marana's Parks and Recreation Department and the Arizona Rose Theatre Company will celebrate the many aspects—and tunes—of Broadway with three original musical revues.
The June show is called Celebrate Broadway Fairytales and features songs from Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid and Cinderella, among other plays. Although all of the shows will be family-friendly, this first one is designed to make the little ones especially happy.
In July's show, Celebrate Broadway Classics, the stage will come alive with songs from favorites like Guys and Dolls, Oklahoma! and The Music Man.
And finally, in August, Celebrate Broadway Cinema will shift the spotlight to illuminate songs which have made transitions from movies to the theater, and from stage to film.
This is Marana Parks and Rec's first flirtation with a theater-under-the stars event. However, this is far from a rookie endeavor for the Arizona Rose Theatre Company. Since 1986, it has been a staple of the Tucson theater scene, albeit with occasional dormant periods. Does this venture in Marana represent the Rose in bloom again?
"We're always looking for opportunities which fit with our belief that musical entertainment and theater should offer something positive for audiences," says Cynthia Howell, the artistic director. She founded the group with her late husband, Terry.
"We've been homeless for a while, although we have done some shows for private audiences," she says. "We would really like to find a home in the northwest. That's where most of us live."
The "most of us" to which Howell refers are her adult children, who grew up around theater and are now committed to creating it. It's tempting hyperbole to say that the Howells are a Tucson version of the great theater families like the Redgraves and the Barrymores—but it would be a serious omission not to call the Arizona Rose a family affair.
In the mid-1980's, Terry and Cynthia Howell moved to Tucson from Los Angeles, where they both had enjoyed successful careers in theater and film.
"The business took a turn," says Cynthia Howell. "There was a major shift in how films were made. The subjects and outcomes of stories were dark. There was exploitation and nudity. This didn't fit us. Our son Brandon was born in L.A., but we wanted a bigger family. Terry had roots in Tucson, so we moved here."
In 1986, they formed the Arizona Rose Theatre Company. Over the next several years, they added Luke, Michael and Erin to their family troupe.
For several years, they occupied a storefront in a strip mall at First Avenue and Fort Lowell Road. Because of a shortage of funds to pay royalties, they decided they would create shows themselves.
"Terry could do everything. If we couldn't find a piece that we could afford to produce or which didn't fit the ideas we wanted to put out there, we would discuss ideas, and he would turn those ideas into scripts."
Since 1986? All original material?
"Well, we did do some standard plays. But, yes, we usually did a four-show season, and two or three of those would be originals. And sometimes, we would bring back a show we had already produced—so, yes, that's a lot of original scripts."
Terry Howell passed away in 2006. But there are still plenty of Howells for the show to go on.
Brandon, 38, is now the managing director of the group, and he's also the resident composer. He studied music at the University of Arizona, but majored in business.
"They do call it show business," he chuckles.
The chief area of interest for Luke, 28, is film, which may offer different options as the group continues to evolve. For now, he is writer-in-chief for the Rose.
Sister Erin Howell Recuparo, 26, is the resident choreographer and writes the lyrics for the songs the group originates. She's also released two CDs.
Finally, 21-year-old Michael is a magician—a skill set not always required for theatrical endeavors. But he does sometimes get incorporated, and he'll be part of the pre-show at the Broadway series in Marana.
One of the more interesting aspects of the Howells' organization is that they have never incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation. Most theaters in Tucson are nonprofits, which makes them eligible for public funds.
"My husband believed that the arts should sustain themselves through their audiences," Cynthia Howell explains. "Besides, we were very protective of what we wanted to do, and as a nonprofit, you have to deal with a board of directors. We wanted to have control."
The family was sustained by royalties and residuals as the children grew. Audiences have fluctuated through the years, and the company has often relied on unpaid actors and technical personnel. Today, all of the Howell kids have full-time jobs in addition to their efforts at theater-making.
"We know how to do theater on a budget," Cynthia laughs.
But audiences shouldn't expect anything less than an enthusiastic and skillful effort for their summer Broadway series.
"There's a place in the world for the kind of theater we do," Cynthia says.
This summer, that place is Marana.