Summer Lyric Theatre at Tulane University kicks off its 49th season Thursday with a new permanent artistic director, its first in nearly 20 years.
Coming on board with Summer Lyric and the university last August, musical theater veteran Michael McKelvey succeeded interim artistic director C. Leonard Raybon who, in turn, took the helm from B. Michael Howard, director from 1997 to 2014.
For his first season, dubbed “A Season of Adventure,” McKelvey will stage “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” (June 16-19), “Thoroughly Modern Millie” (July 7-10) and “Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (July 28-31).”
“We’re trying to stay true to our loyal audience and do those things that Summer Lyric is all about: full orchestras, big casts, large sets, great singing,” said McKelvey, 50, who comes to New Orleans from Austin, Texas.
“But also realizing that this is a theatrical company in its 49th season, we have to start to foster a younger audience base so the company will perpetuate. That’s why we decided to start with something that had a little more of a youth feel to it, like ‘Joseph.’ ”
“Thoroughly Modern Millie,” McKelvey said, is a show Summer Lyric has never done before.
“I’ve spoken to other theater people locally, and I don’t think too many others have done it either, even though it was a huge Tony Award-winner,” McKelvey said. “But it’s in the same vein as ‘Anything Goes’ and ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ and pieces like that” — humorous and light-hearted. “So I said, ‘We should do this.’ ”
“Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is one of the director’s personal favorites, one he hopes will resonate with Crescent City audiences.
“I think it kind of speaks to the area, especially since a lot of it takes place on the Mississippi River, and New Orleans is mentioned throughout the entire novel and the show,” he said.
“All three pieces seem to have this feeling of adventure to them,” McKelvey said. “So we themed this season ‘A Season of Adventure.’ ”
A Ph.D. and lyric baritone opera singer by training, McKelvey has held the full gamut of functions on and offstage since he decided to devote himself to his “first love,” musical theater. Previously, he performed roles in the French and Italian opera repertoire.
He has written, produced, directed, sung in, composed for and even worked lighting and sound design for more than 80 productions in Austin, Pittsburgh and other locales.
He founded and still heads his own production company in Austin and will visit there in the fall to direct two productions, including “Nevermore,” a musical about Edgar Allan Poe that recently enjoyed a successful off-Broadway run.
Although new to the New Orleans area, McKelvey has familiarized himself with the city’s theatrical history and with Summer Lyric audiences.
“We’re trying to strike a balance,” McKelvey said. “We’re going to look for those newer pieces that we think will be viable 20 years from now but have been written in the past 20 years and allow our audience to experience those. And we’re going to continue presenting pieces from the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s that our audiences really love.”
McKelvey also spoke with pride about Summer Lyric’s musical theater workshops for young people, which he expanded to encompass a wider range of age groups.
Little Lyric, for ages 8-12, has been in existence for 39 years, but McKelvey added Junior Lyric for ages 12-16 and Southern Lyric’s High School Intensive for ages 15-18.
All three workshops have sold out. Students will present showcase performances throughout June and July.