Theatre Baton Rouge’s 78th season presents shows you know and love—or will soon

Grease. Rent. Misery. Steel Magnolias. Pippin. If the list stopped there, local theater fans would be plenty satisfied. But Theatre Baton Rouge’s upcoming season keeps going.

One appealing play after the next builds out a list of 11 productions that kick off this month and run through next June. The season includes soaring musicals, holiday shows and moving dramas about social issues.

Artistic director Jenny Ballard says the TBR play selection committee began meeting last July to hammer out the 78th season, more than a year in advance. The committee’s 20 diverse members brought different suggestions, she says, then voted on a master list of options that included both classics and contemporary material. A big objective was to end up with several recognizable titles the theater hadn’t yet staged.

“To appeal to younger demographics, we wanted to do a season of classics that are being reintroduced,” Ballard says

TBR’s audiences have indeed been trending younger, according to Ballard. Over the last decade, she estimates young adult patrons have shifted from about 30% of overall ticket buyers to about 50% to 60%.

Grease, the 1972 musical that recently celebrated the 45th anniversary of its Broadway debut, is expected to be a big draw.

“That’s one I’ve been wanting to do for 10 years, and I’m so glad we’re finally getting to do it,” says Ballard, who has been artistic director since 2013.

The shows’ actors are exclusively volunteers known for delivering professional caliber-performances. They prepare two to three months for each show, often rehearsing up to three hours a day, five days a week. The vast majority are in school or work full time, Ballard says.

Some of the cast and crew of upcoming Theatre Baton Rouge shows: Courtney Murphy of ‘Steel Magnolias’; Mary Bayle of ‘Grease’; Brandy Johnson of ‘Alice in Wonderland’; Clay Donaldson of ‘Rent’; Jenny Ballard of ‘The Laramie Project’ and ‘Cinderella’; and Samantha Chrest of ‘Alice in Wonderland’

“I’ve been saying for a really long time that (the quality of) community theater should not be less than professional,” she says.

Families have plenty of options this year with season opener Alice in Wonderland starting Aug. 11, one of two performances put on by TBR’s robust Young Actors Program. The other, taking place next February, is The Lightning Thief, an adaptation of the acclaimed YA novel of the same name.

A Christmas Carol returns in December, one of two annual holiday shows. The other takes place every Halloween.

The committee decided to replace the usual Halloween season performance, The Rocky Horror Show, with Misery this year.

“We love The Rocky Horror Show, but we’ve been talking for a long time about trying to rotate shows within that season,” Ballard says. “We thought Misery, which is a great script, would fit really well. The popularity of the movie—and Stephen King in general—is going to help with that show.”

Within each TBR season, musical comedies are assigned to the troupe’s Capital Series and shows that take chances or introduce tough topics are part of its City Series. This year’s City Series includes Broadway blockbuster Rent on the Main Stage, and two plays staged in the 90-seat Studio Theatre: The Laramie Project, based on interviews collected in Laramie, Wyoming, after the murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard; and The Humans, winner of the 2016 Tony Award for Best Play. Both ask audiences to confront the human condition and all its warts, Ballard says.

“I think these shows teach us how to grow as people and start the difficult conversations that need to be started within our community,” she says. “I’ve always said that theater is a safe space to do dangerous things.”

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What’s showing this season

Dates vary. Check theatrebr.org for tickets and info.

August: Alice in Wonderland

September: Grease

October: Misery

November: Rent

December: A Christmas Carol

February: The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical; The Laramie Project

March: Pippin

April: Steel Magnolias

May: The Humans

June: Cinderella (Enchanted)

This article was originally published in the August 2023 issue of 225 magazine.