Outpouring of Optimism: Local venues scheduling shows and opening their doors

Hamilton is on its way.

That's proof that the arts are coming back. Or so we hope.

The highly prized musical, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, is scheduled to play in Tucson from Nov. 17 to Dec. 5, this year, at Centennial Hall.

The hip-hop/jazz/R&B musical about the early years of the American Republic has been a smash hit on Broadway from the day of its debut in January 2015. Last year, though, the pandemic shut down the New York and Chicago shows, as well as all the traveling versions, including the one that was scheduled to come to Tucson in 2020. Stages went dark everywhere , and actors and musicals all over the country packed up and went home.

Broadway in Tucson has more than once postponed Hamilton and other musicals since the terrible spring 2020. But in a joyful—and confident—press release last week, the company announced that Hamilton will arrive in Tucson, just six months from now.

Plus, the group put together a lineup of other coveted musicals that will keep the theatre busy from October clear into summer 2022.

Among the 10 other shows, My Fair Lady and Wicked will hit town next January, Hadestown goes on the boards in April next year, and Come From Away alights in May 2022. For a complete list, see broadwayintucson.com.

Bursting with enthusiasm at putting plays on the stage once again, Broadway in Tucson told patrons that "we have exciting news to share!" They are not the only ones rejoicing. Call it spring fever or vaccination magic, various arts groups around town are cheerfully announcing their reopenings.

Last week, for example, The Loft blasted an exuberant all-caps message in bold letters: "MOVIES RETURN TO THE LOFT CINEMA!"

The theatre opened up its giant indoor movie screen after months of showing only vintage films outdoors. And the indoor movies are brand-new and newly released. loftcinema.org.

Arizona Theatre Company likewise declared last week "We're SO excited to announce our 2021/2022 Season!" The troupe had to decamp from the Temple of Music and Art in March 2020, and the theater has been dark ever since. A plan to reopen in January this year fell through.

Despite those troubles, the company, which also performs in Phoenix, has bravely scheduled a stretched-out season beginning in September 2021 and ending June 2022. Three plays and three musicals are on the menu.

First up is the musical My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend, starting Sept. 25. In April, the play Justice examines the friendship between two female justices of the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Arizona's Sandra Day. The season ends with How to Make an American Son, opening June 4. For the full season, see arizonatheatre.org.

The Rialto, dark for more than a year, perked up this spring with a clever switch to visual arts. Instead of leaving the 101-year-old theater empty while waiting for the musicians to come back, the Rialto mounted a photo exhibition of portraits of rock-and-rollers shot by house photographers, C. Elliott and Mark A. Martinez, along with concert posters by Ryan Trayte. The show will end when the music begins again.

And that should be soon, inshallah. Gritty Dirt Band is scheduled on Aug. 25 and Old Blind Dogs, a Scottish traditional band, is lined up for Sept. 3. Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears are at the satellite venue on 191 Toole on Aug. 20. Rialtotheatre.com.

The rollout of the vaccine is the biggest factor.

Those doses in people's arms are up to 95% effective, meaning that 95% of the people vaccinated will not get the virus if they are exposed to it. And the 5% of vaccinated people who catch the disease mostly get mild cases.

With the comfort of those statistics, plenty of the vaccinated are already out and about, seeing friends, eating on restaurant patios and even braving the indoor dining rooms. Last week, the CDC announced that fully vaccinated people can generally go without masks and the Pima County Board of Supervisors voted to rescind its mask mandate, while still encouraging those who are not yet vaccinated to wear masks until they get their shot.

The art organizations are calculating that art lovers will soon come flocking inside to plays, concerts, museums and art galleries.

Ironically, arts groups usually worry that too many of their patrons are old and too few are young. But now that age issue is a plus: Tucson boomers went out in droves to get the vaccine.

Of course, the downside is that not everyone wants to get vaccinated. As of last Friday, May 14, roughly 357,000 of Pima County's 1 million residents were fully vaccinated, although almost 420,000 had received at least one shot. Pima County Health Director Theresa Cullen estimated last week that 49% of those 18 and over are fully vaccinated.

But after 14 months, most people know the protocols that reduce the chance of infection from the virus. And the arts groups are taking no chances. By planning for maximum safety, they can more readily coax fans back inside.

The Loft has already posted its COVID rules. Indoors, only the large theatre is open; the two smaller rooms are not in service. Only 77 patrons are allowed in, just 21% of the usual numbers. Reserved seating will keep moviegoers apart. Everyone must wear masks, just 21% of the usual numbers. And reserved seating will keep moviegoers apart.

Everyone must wear masks, taking them off only when seated and eating or drinking. Only six people at a time can be in the usually bustling lobby. When the film is over, people will leave through the emergency exit doors, to keep people from crowding the lobby.

Fox Tucson Theatre has been hosting outdoor music singers in April. Dos Sueños plays the last event scheduled, this Friday, May 21, from 3 to 6 p.m., across the street at the intersection of Stone and Congress. But Fox's gorgeous southwest art deco interior may soon shine with music and comedy.

"Hope is on the horizon for the return of live performances," the Fox says. So far there are six groups on that horizon this fall, and a few gigs are already scheduled for 2022.

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, a swinging jazz band, is set to play Sept. 11. Comedian Paula Poundstone is on for Oct. 28. Altan, the Irish trad band that fled back to Ireland to escape the virus just before their planned show at the Fox last March, is rebooked for Nov. 21. Foxtucson.com.

Like The Loft, the Fox has COVID rules already in place. Fans must wear masks, and a pod system in the seats will ensure social distancing; the staff will get their temperatures taken regularly and keep the place sanitized.

Fingers crossed that all this effort will keep the arts going. As the Fox marquee has it, "The Show Will Go On!"

Across the Boards

Here's what you can expect to see from local theater troupes:

The Rogue Theatre stayed open in the 2020-2021 season with elaborate COVID protocols, including making videos of each play for fans who weren't ready to get back in a theatre. Rogue's new 2021-2022 season opens Sept. 9 with The Awakening, an adaptation of Kate Chopin's early feminist novel. Four more plays follow, ending with an adaptation of the Virginia Wolfe novel Mrs. Dalloway, April 18 to May 15. theroguetheatre.org.

Invisible Theatre also stayed afloat all season by following strict pandemic protocols. The company has not yet announced its fall plays, but two works will be on the stage this summer. Tiny Beautiful Things, adapted from Cheryl Strayed's advice column, runs June 9 to 20. A reprise of this spring's hit, Gloria: A Life, about famed feminist Gloria Steinem, runs Aug. 18 to 29. A celebration of the troupe's 50th anniversary will take place from Oct. 29 to 31. Invisibletheatre.com.

Winding Road Theater Ensemble's plays turned virtual in the wake of the coronavirus, and the final performance of the 2020-2021 season is no exception. Some 300 aspiring playwrights from around the country entered 10-minute plays to the company's annual writing contest. Eight 10s in Tucson brings the plays of the eight winners to the digital stage. Tucsonan Madison Peden is the only local winner. Fans can live stream on opening night May 28, or watch a video on demand until June 30. Windingroadtheater.org

Live Theatre Workshop has been using its parking lot this past year to accommodate drive-in outdoor plays. But the three summer shows will move indoors, with a limited number of seats. A Life in the Theatre by David Mamet is on the stage June 10 to July 10; The Standby Lear, a comical work by John W. Lowell, runs Aug. 5 to 28; and Bloomsday, an Irish time-travel romance by Steven Dietz, runs Sept. 2 to Oct. 9. Livetheatreworkshop.org

An LTW kids' drive-in play The Tortoise and the Hare ends this Sunday, May 23. Once Upon This Time, a "princess meets the present" story, runs in the children's theatre July 16 to Aug. 1. The Conundrum at Camp Catalina, on Sundays from Aug.22 to Sept. 6, gets children participating in woodland games.

Gaslight Theatre has been staging concerts outdoors for months, but now the music has gone inside the theatre, with a long roster of shows. The current play, Buccaneers of the Caribbean, has gone outside. Buccaneers is sold out, but Space Wars opens up in June and runs through the summer. thegaslighttheatre.com