Fans, no doubt, will immediately recognize Edyta Sliwinska’s image on digital billboards around the city.
Now, if they’re driving a little too fast to read the accompanying words, they basically announce that Sliwinska will be in Baton Rouge on Oct. 30.
She’ll be with her fellow dancers from the television hit Dancing with the Stars. Now, add a group of performers from American Idol, along with some from So You Think You Can Dance, and you have Ballroom With a Twist.
Which is the title of the show Sliwinska will be headlining at the LSU Student Union Theater, and it’s the second show in the 2011-2012 Union Theater Presents season.
“This is going to be a big show for us,” Terry Serio said.
Serio is the Union Theater’s assistant director for event development.
“These shows have so many fans, and they know the performers,” Serio continued. “I have no doubt that this will be one of the most popular shows of the season.”
This says a lot, because the season lineup is filled with a variety of impressive acts, some of them featuring star power names.
Take, for instance, the show that unofficially kicks off the season - Steppin’ Out with Ben Vereen.
Vereen is bigger than a star - he’s a legend. And he’s bringing his one-man show of singing, dancing, storytelling and humor to Baton Rouge.
This is the unofficial beginning of the theater’s season because this show isn’t included on the season ticket list. Tickets must be purchased separately. It’s a special engagement but one well worth mentioning.
Vereen is a Tony award-winning actor, singer and dancer who has appeared in such Broadway hits as Wicked, Fosse, I’m Not Rappaport, Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, Pippin, Jelly’s Last Jam and A Christmas Carol. Vereen worked extensively with the late legendary choreographer Bob Fosse, and his role in Pippin won him the Tony.
“This is an exciting show for us,” Serio said. “My mission is to make sure that the Baton Rouge community knows about what we have here. We have 1,250 seats in a beautiful, newly renovated theater, and we feel it’s the best kept secret in Baton Rouge. And my goal is to get as many people in as possible and let them see what we have here.”
The theater was filled to capacity when the U.S. Marine Band performed last October, meaning lots of people experienced the theater and what it had to offer.
“We also had a sold-out crowd for the author Aron Ralston, who wrote Between a Rock and a Hard Place,” Serio said.
“We offer interesting and varied entertainment, and we hope that the people who attend one of our events will come back for others.”
That includes Vereen’s performance, as well as the season performances to follow.
Serio began booking acts after attending the annual Conference of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters in January in New York. She wanted the schedule to be diverse but also had to consider the size of the theater’s stage in the process.
The stage isn’t big enough to host mega-Broadway productions, but it isn’t a small venue, either.
“We look at smaller shows that don’t require a lot of sets,” Serio said. “That’s what we have with Ain’t Misbehavin’.”
The musical opened on Broadway in 1978 and was an instant hit, yet it’s not expensive to stage. The cast is small, and emphasis is on Fats Waller’s music.
“It was perfect for our venue,” Serio said.
Ain’t Misbehavin’ will be performed at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 20 in the Union Theater. The show will be a Sunday matinee.
“We have to arrange our schedule around LSU football in the fall,” Serio said. “We know we can’t compete with LSU football. No one can. So, we decided to schedule some of our shows on Sunday afternoons.”
Those shows will begin at 2:30 p.m.
“And that’s really a good time, because it’s after Sunday church services have ended, and everyone has plenty of time to eat lunch before the show,” Serio said.
Besides, after attending an always exciting night in Tiger Stadium, audiences may be seeking out something a little quieter to do the next day. Why not head to the Union Theater for a show?
There’s plenty from which to choose.
Vereen’s show will be followed by A 50th Anniversary Rat Pack Tribute, starring three of the country’s most sought-after Rat Pack impersonators on Oct. 14.
Then comes Ballroom With a Twist on Oct. 30, followed by the production of Ain’t Misbehavin’.
The season will continue in 2012 with Vox Lumiere: The Phantom of the Opera on March 3.
Vox Lumiere has been described as the place where “rock concert meets theater and classic silent films.”
“This isn’t the Broadway musical Phantom of the Opera,” Serio said. “This is something totally different and new. They perform new music and use the original silent film as their backdrop.”
Vox Lumiere will be followed by The Ellis Marsalis Quartet on March 17.
“We always try to include a Louisiana performer on the schedule,” Serio said. “Last year, our Louisiana show was Joint’s Jumpin’. This year it’s Ellis Marsalis.”
Marsalis is a member of the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame and is regarded by many as the premier modern jazz pianist in New Orleans. Along with being an elegant pianist, Marsalis is among New Orleans’ most notable educators, having influenced the careers of such jazz names as Terrance Blanchard, Nicholas Payton and Harry Connick Jr.
He also is the father of jazz musicians Wynton, Branford, Delfeayo and Jason Marsalis.
The Union Theater also is in discussions with Ellis Marsalis about the possibly of conducting a music workshop while on campus.
Finally, the theater’s season will conclude April 20 with Rex Reed’s The Man That Got Away: Ira Without George.
Reed also is a Louisiana product and is a member of the Manship School of Journalism’s Hall of Fame. He is an internationally renowned critic, author and lecturer and is this show’s narrator, as well as its author. The show also features a star-studded cast with such names as Tom Wopat and Linda Pearl.
But the eye-catcher for many potential subscribers will be that picture of Edyta Sliwinska on the billboards. There she stands in one of her ballroom poses, ready to dance in Louis van Amstel’s ballroom stage show.
A show that is coming to Baton Rouge.
A show that’s among a string of sure hits that the Union Theater has to offer.