Ask anyone where the worldwide capital of musical theatre is and they’ll likely say Broadway, with the West End in London coming a close second. Indeed, New York and London are renowned internationally for their massive, multi-million dollar productions, but these cities are not the sole contributors to world-class musical theatre. Inspiration and input comes from all over, and one of the leading cities to recognize this art form is, our very own, Wichita, Kansas.
Music Theatre of Wichita has been operational since the 1970s, and it has not only strived to entertain the Midwest and provide dedicated theatre training to aspiring actors, technicians, and producers, but it also aims to discover and support the next big international star. And it’s succeeding. The theatre’s training, support, and encouragement have led to alumni working on Caribbean cruises, national tours, and Broadway. Alumni of MTW include Kelli O’Hara, Matt Bogart, and Kristin Chenoweth, just to name a few!
Today, it is one of the only remaining venues in the country that continues to develop and solely show in-house productions – a somewhat dying concept in the United States. Each summer, the theatre puts on not one, but five huge scale, quality musicals that rival the likes of those on Broadway in terms of energy, professionalism, and talent. Music Theatre of Wichita takes inspiration from the hottest shows each year, and has performed both classic musicals and contemporary hits, like Annie, Les Misérables, High School Musical, and Legally Blonde.
Music Theatre of Wichita employs 250 performers, technicians and backstage talents to work on its annual productions, many sourced from local universities. Although the theatre primarily represents a kind of educational halfway house between college and big city work, there is also a range of programs on offer for younger students keen to make it in the musical theatre world.
Local teenagers with a love of the arts are encouraged to apply for the apprentice program, which sees students with wide-ranging backstage skills being coached and encouraged by some of the best in the business. Broadway and Hollywood professionals are often on hand to share their experience with the stars of tomorrow. Those with a talent for performing are encouraged to apply for any children’s roles.
Music Theatre of Wichita has also done wonders for the local economy since it was founded, particularly in terms of tourism, bringing in an estimated 65,000 visitors from across Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Colorado, and further afield, each year. Stores, hotels, and restaurants all benefit from this increased summer tourism: 70 percent of the theatre’s annual budget goes back into the local economy. Though Kansas may not be the first place people think of when it comes to big budget musicals, it really is a world leader in terms of dedication to the musical arts.
Ever wonder what it’s like to live and work on a submarine? In Muskogee, Oklahoma at War Memorial Park you can get a glimpse into the life of a sailor with a self guided tour inside the USS Batfish, which was a WWII submarine that began her commission with the US Navy in 1942. Visitors can go inside to see and experience the tight spaces where the crew worked and lived. The USS Batfish is credited for sinking three enemy submarines and eleven other enemy vessels during her tenure. The sub was moved into the park in 1972 with the help of barges and a tug boat.
The USS Batfish is located at 3500 Batfish Rd, Muskogee. Oklahoma, for hours and group rates call 918-682-6294.
Other itinerary inclusions in Muskogee are the Ataloa Lodge on the campus of Bacone College and Honor Heights Park during April when the Azaleas are in bloom and in December for the Christmas lights “Garden on Lights”.
Talimena Skyline Drive which stretches 54 miles from Talihina, Oklahoma to Mena, Arkansas is National Scenic Byway and is a popular drive anytime of the year. But, Fall may be one of the most popular seasons as the colors of autumn transcend across the Ouachita National Forest. Dedicated in 1970 this two lane road has a number of scenic vistas and areas to pull over and enjoy the scenery and take photos. Typically the best time for a fall foliage trip along the Talimena Skyline Drive is from the third week in October to mid November.
Queen Wilhelmina Lodge is a favorite with groups for both overnight lodging and meals. Lodging in the fall is at a premium and it is recommended to get your rooms booked a year in advance. If an overnight does not work into your itinerary then possibly a stop for lunch will fit into your day. The view is breathtaking from Queen Wilhelmina Lodge and they love groups. If overnighting at the lodge ask about the possibility of a ranger meeting your group and getting on the coach for part of your trip across the skyline drive.
NOTE: Queen Wilhelmina is currently closed and undergoing major renovation to reopen summer 2013. Plan ahead and book your dates for fall 2013. For information call 1-800-264-2477.