Wayne Bryan first came to Wichita 25 years ago to take the helm of Music Theatre of Wichita, thinking he’d stay for a year. Ironically, he started on April Fools Day. Little did he know then that the joke was on him.
“There was a steep learning curve,” Bryan recalls of his trial by fire that first summer as the producing artistic director of MTWichita. Despite an extensive theater background in acting and directing, producing was a novel step he hadn’t considered until his predecessor at MTWichita, John Holly, asked him to take the job.
“I got through that first season, directing two shows, being in one and producing the season, learning as I went,” he recalls with a laugh. “And I thought the only thing that saved me was that I never told anyone I could do this. I didn’t apply for this job and proclaim myself competent.”
He didn’t have to. Turns out, he’s pretty good at it. So good, in fact, that in his 25 years at MTWichita, he has seen steady growth in the company, its local support and ability to attract quality talent, all the while garnering the company numerous awards.
As more cities rely solely on touring companies to bring in large, Broadway-style shows, the fact that MTWichita is able to create elaborate, quality theater here in Wichita through its own production company is a notable accomplishment that is, increasingly, a rarity across the country.
The Little Mermaid, photo by Squid Ink Creative
“Wichitans can be proud that we have a local industry like this, where so many cities have abandoned this kind of hand-crafted, unique showmanship,” Bryan remarks.
Over the years, Bryan has thrilled audiences with classics like The Music Man and Oklahoma! and introduced new standards such as Disney’s High School Musical. To bring these productions to life, Bryan recruits Broadway performers for the leads, as well as top directors, designers and choreographers, to work with a core company of young actors. The small group he assembles from thousands of applicants each summer learns a new, full-length musical every two weeks — making MTWichita a proving ground of sorts for young up-and- comers in the industry.
In addition to the tight production timeline, Bryan also strives to keep the performers on their toes and the programs fresh by choosing shows that range in theme, musical style and content; this year is no exception.
“We’re going to see some amazing new faces. We have an extraordinary company,” he says of this year’s talent. “We are going to see two classic shows given really opulent productions: Fiddler and Singin’ in the Rain.”
This year also marks the return of Honk!, a family show based on the The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Anderson that MTWichita helped introduce to the United States 11 years ago. And there are also two new regional premiers: 9 to 5 and Legally Blonde, The Musical.
“(9 to 5 and Legally Blonde) are among the funniest shows we’ve ever done,” Bryan enthuses, commending the company and the Broadway guest stars, many of whom are alums, who will be coming in for the performances. “There is great variety, really good people — your intelligence will never be insulted — and there will be laughter and just the right amount of tears and emotional moments across the summer.”