ASU Gammage as great as Broadway

While George M. Cohan’s famous song “Give My Regards to Broadway” tipped his metaphorical hat to New York theaters, it might be time to give some regards to ASU Gammage.

Many people might think that the only place to see quality theater shows is at a Broadway theater in New York City, but that isn’t the case at all. Arizonans are lucky to have top-notch productions touring in their very own backyard, and ASU students are especially fortunate.

ASU Gammage Executive Director Colleen Jennings-Roggensack said the theater remains one of the top performing touring markets for Broadway on the road, attracting both producers and stars.

Tony Award-winning stars such as Norbert Leo Butz (“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”), Cherry Jones (“Doubt”) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (creator and star of “In the Heights”) have all performed at ASU Gammage.

“These performers only play a limited number of cities and one of those cities must be Tempe,” Jennings-Roggensack said.

Powerful players in the performing arts world have also come to the theater to see productions.

Jennings-Roggensack said that Gammage’s reputation has grown so dramatically over the past 20 years that it has attracted the attention of Thomas Schumacher, president of the Disney Theatrical Group, and Joe Mantello, director of “Wicked.”

Think again the next time you decide you want to see a show and you think that it won’t be worth it since you’re not in New York. I had the opportunity to see a number of shows on-and-off Broadway this summer while I was in New York City for an internship. While it was cool actually seeing something “on Broadway,” there was nothing extra special about the shows. Broadway is just a location.

ASU Gammage is even more than a touring production venue. It is the home theater of the Progressive Broadway Across America – Arizona series and the ASU Gammage Beyond series.

The building also has a unique history that makes visiting just to see the architecture worth it. Grady Gammage, the then-ASU President, contacted his friend Frank Lloyd Wright to help him create an auditorium for the university in 1957. Wright already had a design for an opera house in mind that was supposed to be built in Baghdad, Iraq. Once he toured the campus, he found the perfect location for the auditorium.

Wright worked on his sketches for the building during his final two years of life. While both Gammage and Wright died in 1959, construction began on the building in 1962 and was completed in September 1964. The auditorium is the only public building designed by Wright in Arizona, and we should feel honored that its home is one of our campuses.

The first event at ASU Gammage was a concert from the Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Eugene Ormandy on Sept. 18, 1964. Since then, the space has held numerous other concerts, plays, musicals and even one of the three 2004 Presidential Debates.

Furthermore, Colleen Jennings-Roggensack is Arizona’s only Tony Award voter, so she sees all the new shows that play on Broadway and is able to bring only the best titles to ASU Gammage.

The current Broadway season at ASU Gammage includes “West Side Story,” “Green Day’s American Idiot,” “La Cage Aux Folles,” “Wicked” and “Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles.”

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