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Originally published February 14, 2011 at 12:04 AM | Page modified February 14, 2011 at 1:48 PM

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'Les Miz,' 'Rent,' Kathie Lee top 5th Ave's next season

The 5th Avenue Theatre unveils a 2011-12 season that includes "Saving Aimee," a new musical written by TV personality Kathie Lee Gifford, along with such familiar shows as "Les Miserables," "Rent" and "Oklahoma!"

Seattle Times theater critic

Get ready for a Broadway-style tent meeting: Seattle's largest stage company, the 5th Avenue Theatre, will soon present "Saving Aimee," a new musical about celebrity evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, written by actress, author and "Today" show TV host Kathie Lee Gifford.

The show, which opens here in September, focuses on the life of McPherson, a renowned evangelist in the 1920s and '30s. This is the debut of a newly revised version.

Gifford penned the book and lyrics, and some additional music for the score by David Pomeranz and David Friedman.

The 5th Avenue's 2011-12 season will also debut another new musical: "First Date." Presented in conjunction with ACT Theatre, the chamber show by Austin Winsberg, Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner imagines the external and internal chatter on a couple's first outing together. (Dates to be announced later.)

The rest of the season focuses on fresh versions of more familiar titles:

"Les Miserables," the blockbuster musical based on Victor Hugo's novel of the French Revolution, in a new 25th anniversary touring edition. Notes 5th Avenue artistic director David Armstrong, "It is an entirely new take on the show, with a completely new visual concept and staging." (Opens August 2011)

"Cinderella," which fills the winter holiday slot with a beloved treatment of the fairy tale initially created by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II for television broadcast. (November 2011)

"Oklahoma!," another Rodgers-Hammerstein classic, in a new mounting by Bill Berry. This show was set for this season but was postponed and replaced by the world premiere of the new Disney musical, "Aladdin," which will be staged in July. (February 2012)

"Damn Yankees!," the great Broadway baseball tuner, in a new coproduction with the Paper Mill Playhouse of New Jersey. (April 2012)

"Rent," the first large-scale, professional local production of Jonathan Larson's famed rock musical set in the early years of the AIDS epidemic. Says Armstrong, "There's a whole new crop of young Seattle talent, and this will be a great showcase for them." Berry will direct. (July 2012)

Since the recession, the 5th Avenue has held steady with about 25,000 subscribers, but "the dollars are down a bit because we've had to discount some tickets and packages," Armstrong said.

The company's 2009-10 season finished with a deficit of $1 million (in an annual budget of about $22 million), which Armstrong said was covered with cash reserves to keep the organization debt-free.

But box-office sales have been a bit more robust for the 2010-11 season, he stressed, with especially strong tallies for recent 5th Avenue runs of "In the Heights" and "A Christmas Story." The company will end its current season with the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical "Next to Normal," and Disney's "Aladdin."

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

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