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New in town

Profile image for By Nancy Churnin
By Nancy Churnin
Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope perform in the original Broadway production of “An American in Paris.” The cast for the national tour at Dallas Summer Musicals has not yet been announced.Courtesy photo
Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope perform in the original Broadway production of “An American in Paris.” The cast for the national tour at Dallas Summer Musicals has not yet been announced.
Courtesy photo

DALLAS — Dallas Summer Musicals is making a radical change in the way it brings shows to town: It’s outsourcing booking to a New York company and ending its own investments in Broadway productions.

New York-based Broadway Across America will book its shows beginning with the 2017-18 season. DSM officials say the decision will increase the likelihood of top shows landing in Dallas.

The New York company is is the largest presenter of Broadway shows in North America, and the move could up the stakes between Dallas Summer Musicals and its Dallas rival for top shows, AT&T Performing Arts Center.

Case in point: In Houston, Broadway Across America is currently presenting a season of coveted shows that the AT&T center scored this season: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Finding Neverland and Something Rotten!, plus the return of the ever-popular The Book of Mormon.

Broadway Across America, which partnered with Dallas Summer Musicals’ former Broadway Contemporary Series in 1995 under its previous name Pace Theatrical Group, also will help with marketing and outreach.

Pace was a Houston-based company. This marks the first time in its history that the Dallas company has signed a long-term agreement to entrust a leadership role in programming to a company outside of Texas. In effect, DSM now becomes a junior partner in deciding what goes on its stage.

In May, after the 77-year-old nonprofit Dallas institution severed ties with its longtime president and managing director, Michael A. Jenkins, there was much speculation about what direction the company would take. Jenkins had selected the shows since 1994, a job that became increasingly difficult with competition that followed after the opening of the AT&T center in 2009. Some rumors suggested that Dallas Summer Musicals would merge with the AT&T center.

But Ted R. Munselle, chairman of the Dallas Summer Musicals board of directors, said after exploring multiple options, the company signed a 10-year contract with Broadway Across America on Wednesday.

“This model is going to work better for us as we move forward,” said Munselle on the phone from Fair Park Music Hall, noting that merging with AT&T center was never his goal.

“We have a 77-year history of doing Broadway in Dallas and we were not interested in giving up this identity. DSM wanted to remain DSM.”

Dallas will be Broadway Across America’s 41st city in America and Canada. The company’s reach, which includes London, Japan, Broadway and off-Broadway and regional partners in the U.S., including companies in Houston, San Antonio and Austin, will increase the Dallas company’s leverage in getting Broadway shows, Munselle said.

Jenkins, who now holds the title of managing director emeritus, applauded the change.

“Broadway Across America is the perfect company to help DSM book the shows,” Jenkins said. “It’s run by first-class people and it will give the theatergoers more choices. It was the right thing to do.”

Munselle and Hyslop said they believe there is room for both companies in Dallas. Doug Curtis, president and CEO of AT&T center, concurred.

“Both the AT&T Performing Arts Center and Dallas Summer Musicals are important institutions for the city of Dallas,” Curtis said in an email.

“When both are healthy and thriving, and great shows are coming to town, the big winners are the audiences of North Texas. We certainly wish DSM well.”

AT&T center shows are booked by the San Francisco-based SHN, which controls three venues in the Bay Area. SHN (formerly known as Shorenstein Hays Nederlander and the Best of Broadway) has succeeded in bringing a string of hits to Dallas.

Broadway Across America, the largest Broadway presenter in North America, frequently invests in Broadway shows, including the blockbuster Hamilton, which gives it additional influence when those shows become available for touring.

Dallas Summer Musicals will save money by no longer investing in shows, said David Hyslop, the interim managing director. Over the years, the company has invested in a variety of hits — the current revival of The Color Purple and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella — and misses, such as Brooklyn the Musical and The Bridges of Madison County.

Traditionally, that gave Dallas Summer Musicals a leg up on booking hot shows, such as An American in Paris, which will appear in the upcoming 2016-17 season. But in recent years, even hits it invested in, such as Matilda, ended up playing at the AT&T center.

Dallas Summer Musicals’ signature, locally run programs, including DSM High School Musical Theatre Awards and Dallas Summer Musicals Academy of Performing Arts, will continue and possibly expand with additional marketing support from Broadway Across America, Hyslop said.

In addition, Dallas Summer Musicals plans to continue collaborating with Performing Arts Fort Worth, which presents shows at Bass Hall.

While it had been reported Jenkins picked the next two seasons in addition to the current one, Munselle said there would be room for some changes in the 2017-18 season and an opportunity to create a new one for 2018-19.

Broadway Across America was founded as Pace Theatricals, renamed SFX Theatrical Group and became the theater unit of Clear Channel/Live Nation before being spun off and bought in 2008 by John Gore, owner and CEO of the U.K.-based The John Gore Organization, which also owns Broadway.com, The Broadway Channel, BroadwayBox.com and Group Sales Box Office.

Since becoming Broadway Across America, the company has won the 2008 Tony Award for Boeing-Boeing (a show that also brought Dallas Summer Musicals a Tony as a separate investor), the 2009 Drama Desk Award for Passing Strange, the 2009 Olivier Award for Spring Awakening, the 2009 Tony Award for Hair and 2010 Tony Awards for La Cage Aux Folles and Memphis.

Lauren Reid, the CEO of Broadway Across America, said it feels like a “coming home” because the company was originally founded in Texas. She is from Houston and a University of Texas at Austin graduate.

“We have great respect for Dallas Summer Musicals,” she said on the phone from New York.

“Our vision is to see DSM carry its vision forward for the next 75 years by bringing it the best of Broadway to Dallas, developing new audiences for Broadway shows and supporting the DSM High School Musical Theatre Awards.”