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Playhouse to break new ground in 2003-04 season


When the Des Moines Playhouse ushers in its 85th season Sept. 5 with “Buddy,” a musical tribute to the life and career of rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Buddy Holly, it plans to break new ground with the hopes of building its audience.

The nation’s second-largest community theater and among the six oldest continuously operating theater in the country, the Playhouse will feature a guest lead performer and will host a show for the first time at the Temple for Performing Arts. The 2003-04 Playhouse season includes five shows each on its mainstage and the Kate Goldman Children’s Theater, as well as three non-season shows.

Lee Ann Bakros, public relations director for the Playhouse, said Billy McGuigan will portray Holly, marking one of the few times in the community theater’s history a guest actor has played a lead role there. She said local actors have embraced McGuigan, who possesses a rare triple threat of talent in theater: the ability to act, sing and play guitar.

“When you see Billy, you’ll know why we went that route,” she said. “The cast says he’s incredibly talented and a delight to work with.”

Also this season, the Playhouse will host “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” March 26 through April 11 at the Temple. Bakros said the Playhouse’s collaboration with the Temple will take place during the construction at the 42nd Street bridge, the exit where the Playhouse is located.

“The Bookeys [Harry Bookey and Pamela Bass-Bookey, owners of the Temple] have been very supportive of arts in the community,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity and we’re looking forward to it.”

Bakros said she hopes to capture a larger audience with these changes. “We want to draw beyond our core,” she said.

Last year, the Playhouse attracted more than 55,000 people to its mainstage and children’s theater productions. This year, officials said, they have allowed room in their budget to extend “Buddy” and “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” should they draw larger-than-anticipated crowds.

“We’re cautious in our budgeting, but our board anticipates some success with those shows,” said Bakros.

Bakros said corporate donations are down again this year, but the theater is maintaining its usual level of activity thanks to private contributions.

“Companies have had to cut back donations because of the economy, but there are some individuals who are filling in the gaps,” she said. “That tells you what kind of support Des Moines has for the arts.”

Though contributions are down, Bakros said sales of individual-performance and season tickets have increased during the past few years. The key to maintaining its season ticket sales is retaining season ticket holders past the second year, she said. About 80 percent of season ticket holders have renewed their seats for this year.

“I’m surprised how strong our renewal rate is compared to other theaters,” she said. “If we can get them past the first two years, we have them for life. We have a very loyal audience.”

Still, Bakros said, the economy doesn’t affect the Playhouse’s ability to take artistic risks. The Playhouse relies on the help of more than 1,000 volunteers who provide more than 40,000 man-hours each season.

“We may be stretched from a financial standpoint, but artistically we’re always striving for something better,” she said.

The 2003-04 Playhouse Mainstage season consists of “Buddy” (Sept. 5-28), “Spinning Into Butter” (Oct. 24-Nov. 9), “My Way” (Jan. 30-Feb. 15), “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” (March 26-April 11) and “The Cemetery Club” (June 11-27). The Kate Goldman Children’s Theater will present “Come Back, Amelia Bedelia” (Oct. 3-19), “Little House Christmas on Plum Creek” (Nov. 14-30), “Rosa Parks” (Jan. 9-25), “The Wizard of Oz” (April 2-25) and “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing” (May 7-23). The three non-season shows are “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” (Dec. 5-21), “Tony N’ Tina’s Wedding” (Feb. 20-March 7) and “The Frog Prince” (presented by the Missoula Children’s Theatre, March 13-20).

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