Broadway to Blumenthal

The courting of big-name theater shows has finally paid off
Courtesy of Legally Blonde
Charlotte has become one of the top-ten touring cities in the country thanks to Blumenthal president Tom Gabbard, who played an integral role in getting Legally Blonde, pictured, to Charlotte.

To steal a line from one of the hit shows they help produce, the folks at the Blumenthal have been working 9 to 5 to make sure Broadway hits come to Charlotte. You can thank the performing-arts organization’s president, Tom Gabbard, for the seamless transition from Broadway to Blumenthal. “In the last five years Charlotte has emerged as one of the top-ten touring markets in the country,” says Meredith Blair, president of a New York-based group that organizes show tours. “It’s no longer a city that simply gets us from Point A to B—it’s a destination we actively seek.”

The cast of the smash hit Billy Elliot will perform at the Blumenthal this month before it hits Tampa, Dallas, and St. Louis. (Atlanta isn’t even on the show’s touring schedule.) “We’re very blessed to have the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval—people know the quality they’re getting here,” says Gabbard. He adds that that also applies to the people booking and coming to see the shows. “We’ve had a lot of people move from the Northeast to Charlotte and they have a Broadway tradition. That has been a big benefit.”

Gabbard himself is also largely responsible for putting the Blumenthal on the national stage. As one of the founders of the Independent Presenters Network (IPN), he and a handful of other theaters across the country—including companies in Los Angeles and Cleveland—created a business model that’s keeping the lights bright on Broadway during the economic crunch by investing in the shows while also making sure touring shows include stops in cities like Charlotte. Gabbard has raised more than $20 million since 2003 to bring shows like The Color Purple, Legally Blonde, and 9 to 5 to Charlotte.

“It’s all about making sure shows happen [on Broadway] so they can then come to Charlotte,” says Gabbard. “If we didn’t do these things … we wouldn’t see as many shows [here].” Gabbard admits Charlotte’s convenient location along the East Coast also helps attract touring shows but says in this economic climate it takes a lot more than location to pull in a big production. “It certainly helps … but it’s clearly not everything. 9 to 5, for instance, is coming from Atlanta but then moves to Des Moines, Iowa, before coming back to Charlotte. We’re a producer on the show and it literally would not have come to Charlotte if not for our willingness to step forward with some money.”

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