SALT LAKE CITY — Change is afoot at Pioneer Theatre Company — big change.
As longtime artistic director Charles Morey bids farewell to the theater he carefully ran for more than two decades, new artistic director Karen Azenberg steps in to make her mark.
"I wanted to create an exciting season that I think says a little about me and who I am and the kind of theater I find exciting," she said in a phone interview from her home in New York City. "But I also wanted to show that I have some understanding of Salt Lake and what I know of the people and I hope that I'm creating some things that they will find exciting."
She must know SLC pretty well. She's bringing back "Les Miserables," the sweeping French musical, and a favorite among Utahns.
PTC's 2007 production of "Les Mis," directed by Morey and choreographed by Azenberg, sold out for 10 weeks: "Chuck (Morey) and I worked on it together when it was here the first time so I knew exactly how excited the audience was," she said.
Azenberg will have Morey return to direct the Tony Award winning musical, and she'll again choreograph. "It was a no-brainer."
The company will recast the musical and will hold local auditions in December or January.
Pioneer Theatre Company's 2012-13 Season
"In The Heights," Sept. 14-29
This energy-infused musical won the 2008 Tony Award for Best Musical and Best Score and the '09 Pulitzer for Drama.
With a tip of the hat to salsa, pop, even some rap, Lin-Manuel Miranda's "Heights" is non-stop energy.
"It's fresh; it's exciting," said Azenberg. "People often associate new and fresh with controversial or difficult. And at the heart of this is a story about family and community. And I thought, 'Wow, how wonderful for the Salt Lake audience.'"
"Of Mice and Men," Oct. 19-Nov. 3
"Part of the mission of PTC is about the breadth of human experience," Azenberg said. "And I started thinking about John Steinbeck and I just think he depicts such a terrific view of human experience. Not necessarily the happiest but certainly thoughtful."
Though PTC has traditionally produced a Shakespeare play in this slot, Azenberg is excited for the chance to try something different.
"Shakespeare isn't going anywhere; he'll be back," she said. "I'm excited to put this out there and let people think of 'classic theater' in this sense."
"A Christmas Carol: The Musical," Alan Menken, Nov. 30-Dec. 15
"I was shocked to see that PTC had never done this show before," Azenberg said. PTC will be mounting the version that ran in Madison Square Garden for several years.
"It will be great for the entire family," she said. "The purists and non-purists alike will have plenty they recognize."
"The Philadelphia Story," Jan. 11-Jan. 26
"Again, I was shocked to see the theater hadn't done this before. I jumped up, reread the script and was completely entertained and enchanted," she said.
A classic romantic comedy about a young woman about to be married, "it's such a great genre and doesn't feel dated. You'll recognize yourself in this story."
"Clybourne Park," Feb. 15-March 2
"We went directly to the author about doing the piece," she said. "There are a couple of theaters he is allowing to do it and we're one of them. It's opening on Broadway right now."
A companion piece to "A Raisin in the Sun," "Clybourne Park" is set in the same house as the "Raisin" family.
"The first act is 1959 and the second act is 50 years later," she said. "It's not for the family, but I saw it a few nights ago and was really struck by some of the really important issues it talks about."
"The Odd Couple," March 22-April 6
"I knew I wanted to do a Neil Simon play," Azenberg said. "I have a real affinity for his work. I had the opportunity of working on a couple of his shows when they were on Broadway."
This piece will be the first directed by Azenberg as the new AD: "The theater hasn't done this piece before so it seemed like the perfect fit," she said.
"Les Miserables," May 3-May 18, extra weeks May 20-June 1
PTC will close the season with the return of the popular musical: "I'm so grateful to bring the show back again," she said.
No stranger to Salt Lake City, Azenberg has been a guest director and choreographer at PTC numerous times.
"I can't wait to get there. It's really an exciting future for me and my family," she said. "It's so beautiful there and everybody is so nice. I'm really looking forward to the whole thing. Watch out SLC, I'm on my way."