Arts & Culture

Comedy takes center stage at Washington Center

There's something funny at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts this season.

In fact, a lot of funny business will be happening at the center.

"We are full of comedy," center marketing director Kevin Boyer deadpanned.

The latest news: Lily Tomlin will headline CenterFest, the annual gala fundraiser. The fest, set for May 2, will close the center's season.

Tomlin will be the first comedian to headline the fest, which traditionally spotlights music. It's a fitting change, because the center last spring began a monthly cabaret-style comedy night in its black box theater, featuring performers from Seattle's Comedy Underground. That series will continue this season with performances the second Thursday of most months.

Last season, Boyer said, the comedy brought in new audiences and revealed a different side of those patrons whose tastes might tend toward the serious.

"It was great to watch people just sit and laugh," he said.

"We had uptight patrons come in, and they were like, 'Woo hoo!' " He threw up his hands to demonstrate. "They were having a great time."

Comedy also will be featured on the main stage. While the music of Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano will open the season Sept. 27, comedy is right behind with Sept. 29's Best of the Seattle International Comedy Competition, featuring the past three winners.

The season, dubbed "One World," features an array of musical styles, a magic show, dance performances, films and theater ranging from "Late Nite Catechism" to a hard-hitting adaptation of George Orwell's "1984."

While ticket sales are well above the levels at this time last year, there also are more shows.

"We've sold more tickets, we have more subscribers, but the ticket sales are spread out across more shows," Boyer said. "So the good news for patrons is that there are still tickets available."

The one show that is selling particularly quickly is "Peter Pan," happening Jan. 17. "That is the one that people should buy now," he said.

Besides the announcement of Tomlin's performance, the center already has made another change to its previously-announced-but-not-yet-started season: "Ring of Fire," the Johnny Cash-inspired musical which had been set for Nov. 29, has cancelled the West Coast leg of its tour. Instead, the center will offer "Evita" on Nov. 28. Those with tickets for "Fire" can have the same seats for "Evita" or can exchange or return the tickets.