LA STAGE Insider: February 24, 2011

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FYI”¦Last week, San Francisco-based Royal Underground Theatre Co., in rehearsals in LA for the re-launching of its Bay area staging of the late Jonathan Larson’s rock tuner Rent at Hollywood’s Hudson Backstage Theatre (Mar. 18), was visited by Gwen Stewart, the original Mrs. Jefferson from the 1996 Broadway cast (she garnered a 2008 Ovation Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her role as Sylvia in All Shook Up). Stewart joined in as the cast launched into “Seasons of Love” and just couldn’t help taking over the tune’s closing coloratura rock obbligato”¦Speaking of coloraturas, Tony- and Emmy-winning diva Kristin Chenoweth will receive the Vanguard Award at the 22nd Annual GLAAD Media Awards, held at downtown LA’s Westin Bonaventure Apr. 10. All of this year’s nominees can be found at Spreading the wealth, additional GLAAD Media A awards ceremonies will take place in New York, Mar. 19 at the Marriott Marquis Times Square, and in San Francisco, May 14 at its Marriott Marquis… Created and hosted by J. Keith Van Straaten, The Fix-Up Show continues Wednesdays at Acme Comedy Theatre in Hollywood, featuring celebrities who strive to help connect real singles looking for love. Upcoming celeb matchmakers include Bruce Vilanch (Mar. 2), Alan Thicke (Mar. 9) and Scott Thompson (Mar. 16). Darn! We just missed Tippi Hedren (Feb. 23) “¦Grupo de Teatro Sinergia offers the irreverent La Historia de Mexico Para un Idiota, created and helmed by artistic director Ruben Amavizca-Murua, performing at Frida Kahlo Theater until Mar. 27. Performances are in English (Fri.) and Spanish (Sat.-Sun.)”¦In the Cahuenga Pass, Vs. Theatre Company is presenting the LA premiere of Neil LaBute’s caustic two-hander The Mercy Seat at [Inside] the Ford, opening Mar. 19. Michelle Clunie and Vs. artistic director Johnny Clark star as illicit Manhattanite lovers who are presented with an intriguing relationship option in the wake of 2001’s 9/11 tragedy”¦Finally, in her second commission for the Geffen Playhouse (the first being 2003’s Looking for Normal), Jane Anderson peruses the shifting social climate of sex in the premiere of The Escort, helmed by Lisa Peterson, featuring Maggie Siff, Polly Draper (Broadway’s Closer), James Eckhouse (CTG’s The Goat) and LA theater newcomer Gabriel Sunday, opening Apr. 6″¦

LOOKING AHEAD”¦That 2000 cheerleader flick, Bring It On, is somersaulting onto the Ahmanson Theatre stage as the new tuner, Bring It On: The Musical, launching a national tour that will probably back flip itself onto Broadway in 2012, given a creative team that has garnered four Tonys and a Pulitzer amongst them. This high-octane high school sojourn features a libretto by Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q), music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights), music by Tom Kitt (Next to Normal) and lyrics by Amanda Green (High Fidelity), helmed and choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler (In the Heights). The production opens the Ahmanson 2011-12 season, Nov. 11″¦ Reprise Theatre Company, housed at UCLA’s Freud Playhouse, will open its 2011-2012 season on Sept. 13 with the 1966 John Kander and Fred Ebb Broadway hit Cabaret, opening Sep. 13. This will be followed by the Joseph Stein/Stephen Schwartz tuner The Baker’s Wife, opening Feb. 14. The third production, opening Apr. 17, is to be announced”¦Not to be outdone, Long Beach-based Musical Theatre West honchos Paul Garman and Steven Glaudini unveil their 2011-2012 season tuner fare at the Carpenter PAC: 2003 Tony winner Hairspray (Oct. 28); the ever-recurring holiday trifle, Winter Wonderettes (Dec. 9); the 1965 Tony winner Man of La Mancha (Feb. 10, 2012); the irreverent Forbidden Broadway, Greatest Hits Vol. 2 (Apr. 13); closing with Spamalot (June 29)”¦

GOING SOLO”¦Scripter/performer Debra Ehrhardt’s well-traveled 2007 autobiographical one-hander, Jamaica Farewell, is having a stopover at Toluca Lake’s Falcon Theatre, opening Mar. 25. It has been optioned by actor/producer Rita Wilson, who struck gold with another one-woman solo, Nia Vardalos’ My Big Fat Greek Wedding (1998) which was marshaled by Wilson and hubby Tom Hanks into a 2002 big screen cash cow. Not so coincidentally, Wedding helmer Joel Zwick is also guiding Ehrhardt’s show”¦ Also making a comeback in LA, scripter/producer Mary-Beth Manning’s 2010 Ovation Recommended one-hander Mother, focusing on “a daughter’s complex but loving relationship with her mother,” is playing at Hudson Guild Theatre”¦That seminal one-woman play, The Human Voice, written in 1930 by Jean Cocteau (La Voix Humane), translated by Anthony Wood, helmed by Dan Bonnell, performed by Korean-born thesp Ho-Jung, will receive its LA premiere (Wood’s translation) at the Elephant Space Theatre in Hollywood, Apr. 1″¦On the masculine side, Studio C Artists is presenting the world premiere of I Get Knocked Down “¦, written and performed by Evan McNamara, “one man’s journey across relationships and heartbreak as told through fragmented parts of his personality,” helmed by John Coppola, opening Mar. 5 at the Studio C Artists Performance Space on Theater Row in Hollywood…And Cologne, written and directed by Tony Abatemarco, starring Harry Hart-Browne, has extended until Mar. 28 at Katselas Theatre Co.’s Skylight Theatre in Hollywood”¦

TALKING TO THE AUDIENCE”¦The Native Voices at the Autry premiere of Carolyn Dunn’s The Frybread Queen (opening Mar. 12) is hosting two “Talk Back” audience discussions: LA Native Women Playwrights Roundtable, moderated by the Public Theater’s Liz Frankie, Mar. 13 & 20″¦Also hosting a pair of free post-show discussions is the South Coast Rep production of Irish playwright Conor McPherson’s 1997 spook-laden The Weir, helmed by Warner Shook, opening Mar. 13 at SCR’s Julianne Argyros Stage. Cast members Richard Doyle, James Lancaster, Daniel Reichert, Tony Ward and Kirsten Potter, as well as SCR’s literary team, invite audience members to stick around to discuss the play on Mar. 22 and 23. No Guinness will be served”¦ However, the staged reading (featuring Lupe Ontiveros, Sal Lopez and Geoffrey Rivas) of the upcoming Cinetico Productions feature film, On the Run ““ An LA Love Story, held last week at LOT 613 in downtown LA, was not only followed by a discussion with audience members, but also by appetizers, an open bar, a cumbia concert and a dance. Now that’s how to interact with an audience”¦

SHAKESPEARE IN OUR TIME”¦Los Angeles Women’s Shakespeare Company (LAWSC) is presenting two benefit perfs of Tina Packer’s Women of Will, starring Packer and Nigel Gore, Mar. 5 and 6 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City. The performances, helmed by Eric Tucker, are a benefit for LAWSC, celebrating its 18th year of producing Shakespeare with an all-female ensemble. The two-hander is the prelude to Packer’s five-part series, Women of Will: The Complete Journey. LAWSC also is prepping Lisa Wolpe’s one-woman show, Shakespeare and the Alchemy of Gender, for dates in Europe and the U.S. In 2012, to celebrate the company’s 19th year in LA, LAWSC will produce an all-female Hamlet“¦Having its own way with the Bard, Hollywood-based Actors Co-op continues its 19th anniversary season with King Lear, set against the backdrop of 1850s California, helmed by Marianne Savell“¦That energetic Shakespeare manipulator John Farmanesh- Bocca (Pericles Redux, Titus Redux) is reworking The Two Gentleman of Verona while serving as guest artist at Cal State, Long Beach. The University Players are premiering Farmanesh-Bocca’s adaptation, Gentlemen Reduced, opening Mar. 4, utilizing “an updated setting, visceral choreography and the music of U2 to put an energetic new spin on the classic play.” And of course, the Bard’s Petruchio will still “come to wife it wealthily in Padua” as Reprise Theatre Company continues its 2010-2011 season with the 1948 Cole Porter tuner, Kiss Me, Kate, May 10, at UCLA’s Freud Playhouse, helmed by Michael Michetti and choreographed by Lee Martino, with music direction by Steve Orich“¦

Caryn & Shashin Desai

THE THING IS”¦ “My MFA is in directing but when I took on the position of general manager for Shashin [Desai], I bolstered my education in arts administration, marketing and fundraising. I now have a full palate of what goes on in the theater. Our season runs from January into the fall. Shashin put the 2011 season together and it is now my responsibility to work out 2012. Our mission has always been to bring in new voices or a new way of looking at the classics. I’m now in the process of reading a lot of plays and listening to CDs for new musicals and talking to a lot of people from all over the world. I’ll also be doing a lot of traveling to theater festivals and venues. I need to see the work that’s out there. As the theater’s main administrator, I am also responsible for maintaining all our partnerships with organizations within the city. It is more than a fulltime job, but I have a great support system in the theater, the community and at home. Shashin has been so thoughtful in giving me space, creatively. I know he has said he would like to take some time away from the theater but he is a great stage director. As artistic director, why wouldn’t I want him to direct? We’ll see.” “¦caryn desai, in her new capacity as artistic director of Long Beach-based International City Theatre, is about to present Kathleen Clark’s December/December romancer Southern Comforts, starring four-time Emmy winner Michael Learned (The Waltons) and veteran thesp Granville Van Dusen, helmed by the always working Jules Aaron, opening Mar. 18.

Dorothy Gish

INSIDE LA STAGE HISTORY”¦By 1958, popular teenage film and live TV ingénue Gigi Perreau had successfully expanded her performance horizons. At age 15, she made her stage debut in the farce, A Night With the President, at the Pasadena Playhouse. Now she was about to open in Mel Dinelli’s suspense thriller The Man opposite renowned character actress Billie Burke (1884-1970) and stage vet Douglas Dick at the Huntington Hartford Theatre in Hollywood. Unfortunately, three days before opening Burke became ill and had to withdraw. The play had originally premiered in 1950 at the Fulton Theatre in New York starring silent film star Dorothy Gish, young character actor Don Hamner and another accomplished film ingénue, Peggy Ann Garner. A call went out to Gish who lived in New York and would only travel by train, which was a three-day trip. Gish and her dog arrived in LA the morning of the day the play was scheduled to open and were immediately whisked to the theatre. Perreau recalls, “Gish came out on stage, looked at the set and was introduced to the rest of the cast. There were four of us. She gathered us around and grandly announced, “˜Now I hope you know I’ll be doing exactly the blocking I did on Broadway. So, whatever you’ve been rehearsing, please just go with it.’ We opened that night, just pacing our way through the play and she was brilliant. I think the three days on the train studying the script helped a lot.” Next week, INSIDER takes a look at the checkered history of the former Huntington Hartford”¦

The Julio Martinez-hosted ARTS IN REVIEW, broadcast Wednesdays (2 to 2:30 pm) on KPFK (90.7FM), spotlights the best in live theater and cabaret in the Greater LA area. Upcoming on Mar. 2, pledge drive programming for Pacifica Radio”¦

Julio Martinez

Julio Martinez

Julio pens the weekly LA STAGE Insider column for @ This Stage Magazine, as well as the monthly LA STAGE History column. He is a recurring contributor to Written By (the monthly publication of the Writer’s Guild of America) and is the TeleVision columnist for Latin Heat Entertainment. On air, he hosts the weekly Arts in Review program for KPFK 90.7 FM. An active journalist for over 30 years, Julio’s articles and reviews have appeared in Los Angeles Times Magazine, Daily Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, L.A. Weekly, Stage Raw, Backstage West, Westways Magazine, and Drama-Logue Magazine, among others.