by JULIO MARTINEZ
the final weeks of November 1930, when architects S. Charles Lee and S. Tilden Norton were in the announced final stages of constructing the monumentally ambitious, 1,900-seat-plus Los Angeles Theatre at 615 S. Broadway in downtown Los Angeles, it was revealed that Charlie Chaplin would use this magnificent new movie palace to premiere his latest feature, City Lights. When cost overruns threatened to delay completion, Chaplin poured in considerable personal funds to guarantee that City Lights and Los Angeles Theatre had the debuts they both deserved on January 30, 1931.
Now, “Los Angeles Theatre is making a brand new debut,” promises Jack W. Batman, part of the production team guiding La Mirada Theatre’s audience-immersive staging of Carrie The Musical, which enjoyed a successful March/April run. Based on Stephen King’s 1974 novel, the musical by Lawrence D. Cohen (book), Michael Gore (music) and Dean Pitchford (lyrics), directed by Barry Schwind, will open at Los Angeles Theatre on October 8.
In a brief tour of the production-in-progress last week, press members observed the process of converting the theatre’s massive stage into a 500-seat arena seating area that puts the audience right on top of the action. Batman confirmed, “That is the seating configuration we had at La Mirada and it is a perfect fit for this show. The audience members actually are enveloped by the high school ambience from the time they enter the theatre, watching the action taking place in the classrooms and hallways, and, of course, at the prom. This is the first time in its 84-year history that Los Angeles Theatre has hosted a full-scale musical.”
To be fair, this is not the first audience-immersive stage play to be presented at Los Angeles Theatre. In 2002, the whole venue—from its upstairs balcony rooms to the basement ballroom—were used to present Alma, Israeli writer Joshua Sobol’s chronicle of the life of famed 20th-century free spirit, Alma Mahler-Werfel. In the 1940s, during the war years, Los Angeles Theatre played host to large, military-infused audiences that saw variety shows and comedy revues put on by such star acts as Laurel and Hardy, Jack Benny, the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra (featuring Frank Sinatra) and the Xavier Cugat Orchestra (featuring the dance team of Julio and Maria Martinez—my parents).
“Carrie is the next step in the revitalization of downtown LA’s Broadway as a destination home for live theatre,” said Batman, as the press watched Carrie’s talented young ensemble do run-throughs of three production numbers in the theatre’s huge upstairs rehearsal room. Also taking part were Emily Lopez and Misty Cotton, who portray much put-upon Carrie and her psychotic mother, Margaret, respectively.
Carrie the Musical is scheduled to run through November 15 at Los Angeles Theatre. If it is successful, it could continue indefinitely. But it will close down someday. The set will come down, and Los Angeles Theatre will revert back to being a very large house with a lot of seats to fill in order to be successful. It will be interesting to see what the continuing steps will be in downtown LA’s Broadway revitalization.