Capital City Theatre Paves the Way for Local Talent with New Conservatory and Milestone 2019 Season
By Stephanie Harte
Photo Credit: Capital City Founders Andrew Abrams and Gail Becker with Adam Pascal (center). Photo by Kat Steinnon Photography.
Before Andrew Abrams and Gail Becker launched Capital City Theatre in 2014, the dynamic duo led Find Your Light, a summer musical theater intensive to help bridge the gap between high school, college and a budding performance career.
While this program is still offered today, Abrams and Becker wanted to expand their offerings to include year round courses and workshops that not only focus on singing, acting and dancing, but behind the scenes skills as well. So, they launched the Capital City Theatre Conservatory in 2018.
“We have an amazing amount of talent in Madison, but there’s no looking past the point that we are a city of under a million people, in fact we are way less than that,” Becker explains. “We want to give these students the same tools and professional training that kids are getting in New York City and Chicago.”
Along with teaching some of the courses themselves, Abrams and Becker have brought on highly sought after instructors including Broadway stars Adam Pascal, Kaitlin Hopkins and Andrew Keenan-Bolger, plus Jeff Award winning choreographer Tammy Mader. The conservatory classes are also open to adults ready to jump-start their musical theater careers later in life. Capital City Theatre has had students up to 40 years old enroll in Find Your Light.
Participants from CCT’s Find Your Light performance intensive. Photo via capitalcitytheatre.org.
This dedication to Madison talent is what inspired Abrams and Becker to start Capital City Theatre in the first place. The company opened with a bang with Violet in 2015, employing both Broadway veterans and emerging local performers.
“Over years of working and getting to know Madison and its scene, we were seeing that there was an opening for a professional equity musical theater company,” Becker says. “There are some excellent musical theater companies in town, but not a lot were using equity actors on a regular basis. We knew that was something we wanted to start doing.”
Capital City Theatre’s 2019 season includes Leonard Bernstein’s On the Town, in collaboration with Madison Ballet, May 30 – June 2 and Carrie: The Musical, the first conservatory production, Aug. 9 – 11. Only students who have completed the Find Your Light program can audition for the conservatory production.
Based on Jerome Robbins’ ballet Fancy Free, which Bernstein also composed, On the Town is an energetic wartime musical set in 1944 about three sailors on 24-hour leave in New York City. Capital City Theatre first held auditions for the show in Madison and then traveled to New York City and Chicago.
During the New York City auditions, Abrams and Becker found Michael Hartung, a Madison native now based in the Big Apple. Hartung will play Chip, one of the three sailors. His impressive credits include understudying the role of Barnaby in Hello Dolly!, featuring Bette Midler on Broadway, and portraying a Lost Boy in NBC’s Peter Pan Live.
“We want to have a professional musical theatre company that offers what we do for local people, or people of other regions, and especially people who are from Madison and want to come home,” Becker says.
Capital City Theatre’s debut production “Violet” in 2015. Photo by Chris Giese.
As conservatory instructors, Abrams explains that it is important for him and Becker to continue progressing in their own creative endeavors. Becker will portray Madame Dilly in On the Town while Abrams music directs.
“It’s sort of like when you are a professor at a college,” Abrams says. “They expect you to be professionally developing all the time. ‘What are you studying? What are you learning? Are you out performing?’ Gail and I have to remain relevant in our field.”
One of Abrams artistic adventures, composing But I’m A Cheerleader: The Musical, took him as far as London in February. The production, with book and lyrics by Bill Augustin, was selected for MTFestUK, an inaugural showcase of new musicals.
Based on the 2000 Lionsgate cult film, But I’m a Cheerleader tells the story of high school cheerleader Megan, whose life isn’t as perfect as it seems. When her friends and family suspect she is a lesbian, they send her to a rehabilitation camp to “set her straight.” Carrie Hope Fletcher, who starred as Veronica Sawyer in London’s premiere of Heathers the Musical, led a powerhouse West End cast, selling out But I’m a Cheerleader in minutes.
Carrie Hope Fletcher performing in “But I’m a Cheerleader: The Musical,” which Abrams composed. Photo courtesy of Capital City Theatre.
Similar to But I’m a Cheerleader, Capital City Theatre’s August conservatory show Carrie: The Musical was based off a cult film (first inspired by Stephen King’s novel). Title character Carrie White is bullied relentlessly at school and sheltered at home by her domineering mother, but soon realizes she has telekinesis powers that can change everything.
“Carrie has a really great score that challenges the performers enough, but is still attainable,” Becker says. “I’m excited that the performers are going to get a wonderful, eye opening experience of putting on a show under a contract. They are really going to get their feet wet and I think it will be fun to watch them grow.”
“On the Town,” in collaboration with Madison Ballet, runs May 30 – June 2 at Overture Center’s Capitol Theater. For tickets, visit overture.org or call the box office at (608) 258-4141. “Carrie: The Musical” runs Aug. 9 – 11 at Madison Area Technical College’s Mitby Theater. For tickets for “Carrie” or to learn more about conservatory classes, visit capitalcitytheatre.org.