EXCLUSIVE: The Broadway production company behind the upcoming Michael Jackson musical MJ and the stage adaptation of the hit 2000 film Almost Famous has hired The Old Globe Theater’s Travis LeMont Ballenger as producer to help oversee both high-profile projects.
Ballenger, most recently the Associate Artistic Director at the Globe in San Diego, also will work on the development of new shows in his job at Lia Vollack Productions. He brings the company substantial theater experience, particularly with regard to works by Black artists including Lynn Nottage, the two-time Pulitzer Prize winning playwright penning the book for MJ.
“Throughout his career, Travis has already distinguished himself as a true creative force,” Lia Vollack said. “He is a passionate theater maker and an outspoken advocate for artists. I am so thrilled that Travis is joining me and I know my company, our shows, and Broadway will be so much richer for having his voice in the room.”
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“As you can imagine, accepting this position was not a hard decision,” Ballenger said in a statement. “Lia is a forward-thinking, deeply decent human being, with a clear vision for what theater can be. She is passionate about bringing new audiences and artists to Broadway and beyond. Therefore, she has her hands on some of the most exciting material around.”
MJ, a co-production with the Michael Jackson Estate that features music from singer’s catalogue and Nottage’s book, is scheduled to begin preview performances at Broadway’s Neil Simon Theatre on March 8, 2021, with opening night on April 15. Prior to Broadway’s COVID shutdown, the show had been set to begin previews last month.
Production details for the Almost Famous musical have not been announced. The film’s writer-director Cameron Crowe announced the stage adaptation in 2018, with himself set to write the musical’s book.
Both projects have been among Broadway’s most attention-getting upcoming shows, generating considerable anticipation and curiosity. MJ and Almost Famous were the first productions announced by Vollack when she launched her company last November after more than 20 years with Sony Pictures Entertainment, including a three-year run as President of the studio’s theater division Columbia Live Stage.
As an Associate Producer for Market Road Films, co-founded by Nottage, Ballenger field-produced 2017’s This is Reading, a performance installation in Reading, Pennsylvania inspired by Nottage’s research for her Pulitzer-winning 2015 play Sweat.
During a previous stint at Washington D.C.’s Arena Stage, Ballenger line-produced, among other shows, the pre-Broadway run of Lydia R. Diamond’s Stick Fly, which opened in New York in 2011 with a cast that included Dulé Hill, Tracie Thoms, Mekhi Phifer and Condola Rashad. Ballenger has also worked as a producer with Katori Hall, Sarah Treem, Pearl Cleage, Lydia R. Diamond, and Radha Blank.
After Arena, Ballenger became the Associate Producer for the Hip-Hop Theater Festival, producing both Washington D.C. and New York festivals, as well as a co-production with the Classical Theater of Harlem. He has also served as Associate Producer and Casting Director at Dallas Theater Center and Associate Producer of The Drama League of New York, producing both in New York and internationally.
Most recently, Ballenger was Associate Artistic Director at The Old Globe Theater in San Diego. An artist and poet, his poetry has been published in The Journal of African American Literature and Glasschord Magazine.
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