June 15, 2012 | last updated June 15, 2012 11:25 am

'Cats' Mann helping UConn build theater program

The University of Connecticut is getting a big assist from a Broadway star as it works to establish itself as a summer destination for high-quality theater, The Associated Press reports.

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 the small campus town in northeastern Connecticut to participate in the Connecticut Repertory Theater's Nutmeg Summer Series.

After playing Henry Higgins in last summer's production of "My Fair Lady" at UConn, Mann agreed to return this season to take the lead role in "Man of La Mancha," which wraps up Saturday, 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 and pressure of "showbiz 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, in large part because of the buzz surrounding Mann, theater officials said.

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 1,500-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.

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