When you think about musical theater, “edgy” and “risqué” may not be the first words that pop into your head. Musical theater is West Side Story and Oklahoma; true, there has been a surge of rock-and-roll–based musicals in the past few decades that have touched some nerves—Rent, Spring Awakening, and Next to Normal come to mind—but for the most part musicals remain family-friendly fare. Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS), the longtime mainstay of Houston musical theater, aims to change that with its newest incarnation, TUTS Underground. Slogan? "No revivals. No boundaries. No dead authors."
TUTS Underground has been in the works for years, but was fast tracked by the organization’s new Artistic Director, Bruce Lumpkin. Lumpkin, who came on board last fall, was charged with taking TUTS into the future. TUTS has always been associated with musical theater for the entire family, and has no intention of ditching its core audience. However, it wanted a way to cultivate the next audience of musical theatergoers. TUTS Underground was born.
“TUTS Underground won’t change what people know and love about TUTS,” says Lumpkin. “But it will help us step into the 21st century.”
Lumpkin and the staff and board of TUTS see Underground as a way to show patrons who may not think of themselves as “musical theater people” that the genre is changing; there are many contemporary musicals being produced off-Broadway that aim to shock and awe.
TUTS Underground will open its inaugural season with Lizzie, which is based on the infamous ax murderer Lizzie Borden. The company also has the sexy spoof 50 Shades and hometown highlight Hands on a Hardbody in the hopper. Underground will offer tickets at lower prices in the more intimate setting of Zilkha Hall’s 500-seat theater at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts.
For now, TUTS Underground is focusing on musicals, but Lumpkin says he’s open to all possibilities. He would love to eventually feature primarily local talent, as well as open the season up for readings of work by local playwrights. Nothing is off the table.
“I think the potential of what this can bring to Houston is huge,” says Lumpkin. “We are opening the door of musical theater to a new generation.”
The season will kick off this fall, and—as the organization has been saying about this new venture—it won’t be your grandmother’s musical theater.