You don’t have to travel to New York to see some of the finest musical theater on Broadway stages. Celebrity Attractions, an Oklahoma-born company, is booking the best into the Civic Center Music Hall in Oklahoma City and the Tulsa Performing Arts Center.
If you believe there actually is no business like show business, if your soul is nourished by songs like Circle of Life and your body is more at home in a theater seat than anywhere else, then you can find Broadway bliss in both Tulsa and Oklahoma City, and for a lot less time, effort and money than you'd invest in a trip to New York.
Each season, Celebrity Attractions Broadway Series brings productions such as Little House on the Prairie, The Wizard of Oz, Rain, The Lion King, Phantom of the Opera, Cirque Dreams, Wicked and Legally Blonde: The Musical.
“There may be performances of The Lion King and The Phantom of the Opera that are as good in New York, but they won’t be better than the ones in Oklahoma,” says John Scott, director of the Tulsa Performing Arts Center. Here – as is true at the Civic Center Music Hall in Oklahoma City– each season’s Broadway Series allows thousands to see and hear Tony-winning musicals with Grammy-winning scores. “The size of the state’s subscriber base attests to the quality of the programming.”
Larry Payton, president of Tulsa-based Celebrity Attractions, the company that books the shows that fill the halls, speaks with pride of the 12,000 people who buy a whole season of entertainment each year and account for 60 percent of seats sold.
“My business plan when I started the company was to enhance the quality of life in all the markets I was in,” he says. “It’s important to me to watch people enjoy what they’re doing. Our subscribers save a bit of money, see all these great shows, have access to early sales and bonus productions, and can switch nights if they need to. We hire only full-time people for customer service, so both our subscribers and those who want to buy just individual tickets have the best experience with us possible.”
Payton has an excellent relationship with the two venues. He provides the shows; they do the rest. Jim Brown, general manager of the Civic Center Music Hall, says a renovation so extensive he calls it a “reconstruction” has made doing his part a lot easier since its re-opening in 2001.
“We built this for any major show on the road,” he says. “We went to New York, found out the biggest piece anyone would ever put on a semi for a production and built 5 feet taller than that. For The Lion King, they’ve had to do fewer renovations than at any other hall they’ve played. When we elevated the theater experience and Larry took the quality of shows even higher, we created a great partnership with big dividends for theater lovers.”
Brown says The Lion King is a 26-truck show, and Phantom took even more vehicles to get its acts in gear. No problem. Both the civic center and the performing arts center say “Bring it on” to whatever amazing stagecraft Broadway can send their way.
Payton travels to New York frequently to check out that stagecraft firsthand, talk to producers and secure the best touring productions possible.
“There just aren’t enough opportunities in New York for all that talent,” he says. “We get top notch performers whether they are stars on Broadway or not.”
Some of the shows Payton brings to Oklahoma's two largest cities are obvious box office boffo, others not so much.
“The Color Purple was different from Mamma Mia!” Brown says. “Everyone knew Mamma Mia!, so they bought in advance. Not so with The Color Purple, but after opening night – when word got out about how great it was – we sold out the rest of the performances.”
You can get a season of the best seats in the house for about half what you’d pay for not-so-hot tickets in New York. They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway, and they’re right. The lights on East Second Street in Tulsa and North Walker Avenue in Oklahoma City are fewer in number, but they illuminate talent and entertainment that take a back seat to nowhere else.