The University of Connecticut is getting a big assist from a Broadway star as it works to establish itself as a summer destination for theater.
Terrence Mann, who originated the role of Rum Tum Tugger in "Cats" and earned Tony Award nominations as "Javert" in the original Broadway production of "Les Miserables" and the Beast in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," is spending his second summer in Storrs to participate in the Connecticut Repertory Theater's Nutmeg Summer Series.
After playing Henry Higgins in last summer's production of "My Fair Lady," Mann agreed to return this season to take the lead role in "Man of La Mancha" and direct the theater's production of "The Pirates of Penzance" in July.
Spending the summer in Connecticut, Mann said, is a way for him to take what amounts to a working vacation from the daily grind in New York.
"To be able to go to a place that is just 2 1/2 hours from the city and get that feeling that you first got when you first got 'the bug,' that's what this does for me," he said. "It takes away all the sort of business aspect of it, and it's just about doing the shows."
Mann's involvement has been good business for the theater. The summer series, which began in 1949, is experiencing a revival. After falling victim to budget cuts in 2002, it was brought back in 2009.
Since then, audiences have been steadily growing. The Nutmeg Series drew about 7,000 people to four shows in 2010, approximately 10,000 to three shows in 2011, and expects to sell about 13,000 tickets for its three shows this year, officials said.
The plays are performed in a 500-seat theater located behind the bigger auditorium in the Jorgenson Center for the Performing arts. Tickets range in price from $40 to $10 for children and students.
"You can't see anything on Broadway for $10," said Vincent Cardinal, the theater's artistic director. "What I've heard over and over again is that it's transformative being able to see people of this caliber doing their art form this close."
Mann said he came to UConn at the urging of Frank Mack, the theater's managing director, a friend since both were teenagers.
"We really were determined to get the most extraordinary artists we could find to come up here and do the work," Mack said. "What we really hope to develop over time is a place where really great Broadway and regional theater artists will want to come and spend some time in the summer."
Mann said he talked his friend Sean Martin Hingston into playing the Pirate King in "The Pirates of Penzance."
The cast of the series' other production, "The Odd Couple," includes Broadway actresses Liz Larsen and Kathleen McNenny.