Hal Landon Jr. takes his final bow as Scrooge in South Coast Repertory’s ‘A Christmas Carol’

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house 507 people stood applauding and cheering an actor whose portrayal of Scrooge had spanned 40 years. After Tuesday evening’s ovation the performance was a ghost of Orange County’s Christmas past.

The heartfelt celebration from a capacity audience was for Hal Landon Jr. in his final performance of “A Christmas Carol.” Since 1980 the actor has starred in South Coast Repertory’s annual production of the Charles Dickens’ holiday class.

  • Actor Hal Landon Jr. receives flowers from a fan after performing the role of Ebenezer Scrooge for the final time Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2019.
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Actor Hal Landon Jr. receives a hat to keep from fellow actor Richard Doyle for performing the role of Ebenezer Scrooge for the final time Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2019. (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

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  • Hal Landon Jr. smiles on stage after his final performance in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge on Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2019. (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Actor Hal Landon Jr. performs the role of Ebenezer Scrooge for the final time Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2019 after 40 years starring in South Coast Repertory’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol.”
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Hal Landon Jr. performs the role of Ebenezer Scrooge for the final time Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2019 after 40 years starring in South Coast Repertory’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol.” (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Actor Hal Landon Jr. receives applause with his fellow actors after performing the role of Ebenezer Scrooge for the final time Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2019 after 40 years starring in South Coast Repertory’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol.”
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Actor Hal Landon Jr. receives a hug from director John-David Keller who is also retiring after they both acted and directed for the final time in South Coast Repertory’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol” on Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2019.
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Hal Landon Jr. offers a toast with “Tiny Tim” Ctatchit as he performs the role of Ebenezer Scrooge for the final time Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2019. Landon has starred as Scrooge for 40 in South Coast Repertory’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol.” (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Actor Hal Landon Jr. tips his hat to the audience after performing the role of Ebenezer Scrooge for the final time Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2019. (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

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Landon, 78, had announced his upcoming retirement from the role earlier this year. The five weeks of shows on the theater’s main Segerstrom Stage sold out and Tuesday’s finale was Orange County’s toughest theater ticket this fall.

Landon’s final performance likely met his audience’s expectations, as he alternately sneered/grimaced/harrumphed his way through mean-Scrooge and then seemed positively exhilarated as redeemed-Scrooge.

Though a touch under 6 feet tall, Landon’s acting in the role has always been extremely physical and if not larger than life, at least larger than his frame. Tuesday, the actor projected a large wingspan with outstretched arms and an at times menacing countenance as other characters visibly shrank away from his miserly malevolence.

Landon is not retiring as an actor, just from this role. He and the play’s director John-David Keller, who joined him on stage after Tuesday night’s show, won’t be involved with this production when it returns for a final season next year.

Ten days ago, philanthropist Julianne Argyros announced a $5 million gift to SCR, part of which will be used to develop a new production of “A Christmas Carol” for 2021.

Earlier Tuesday, SCR had an informal ceremony for Landon and Keller. For their contributions to the performing arts, remarkable careers and 40 years with “A Christmas Carol,” each received recognition from both the California Assembly and the House of Representatives.

Landon’s Scrooge casts a sizable shadow across Orange County’s past. About the only continuous performance outlasting Landon’s is Laguna Beach’s Pageant of the Masters, where folks have been standing stock still on stage since 1933.Landon, meantime, was a bit more active. Beyond famously somersaulting into his hat — he only missed once throughout the years and drilled his patented “hat trick” again Tuesday to a huge ovation — he was vigorously on stage for almost all the show’s two hours.

It is estimated he bah humbugged through around 1,200 performances and in front of more than 600,000 people as one century passed on to the next.

During that time, he has been surrounded on the main stage by SCR acting mainstays with notable tenures. Until 1996, all seven of SCR’s founding-member actors were in the production. This year, in addition to Landon and Keller (who covered the role of Scrooge himself for the only three performances Landon missed in 1997 while finishing out another play on SCR’s other stage), two of those actors, Art Koustik (39 years) and Richard Doyle (36 years) were with Landon again.

After the cast took its final bows, Doyle came forward, thanked the audience for being there and presented Landon with a keepsake from the production: the top hat he had rolled into all those performances.

Following the play, one of Landon’s adult daughters, Kate Coogan, said that while her dad is an emotional guy, he had managed to keep it together through the performance and the audience’s reaction. The gift of the hat, however, moved her father to tears.

Landon’s family has been on-stage with him over time. His daughter Sarah played Martha Cratchit in 1996 while his granddaughter Presley was Tiny Tim last season and this year played Belinda Cratchit.

In the second act, the redeemed Scrooge, having given the Cratchit kids their presents, received a big hug from Belinda. Coogan said she “definitely lost it” to see her daughter run up and give her “Grandpa Lanny” a familiar squeeze, but this time in a show.

Landon’s final monologue on stage was a spoken and sung poem/toast called “Wassail,” and Tuesday he gave a joyous reading of it for the last time, with a broad smile, starting with the lines, “Ring out, wild bells.”

Coogan has that phrase tattooed on her arm, a commemoration every day for the rest of her life of the Christmas-time gift Hal Landon Jr. bestowed on her, and local audiences, for the last 40 years.

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14 theater productions to see this week, Oct. 18-24

LOS ANGELES COUNTY

‘Art is Useless When You’re Being Mauled by a Bear’

A tragicomedy by Alisa Tangredi about a woman and her grief.

When: Runs 8 p.m. Saturday; 7 p.m. Sunday through Nov. 10.

Where: Loft Ensemble, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood.

Tickets: $20

Information: 818-452-3153. www.loftensemble.org/shows.html

‘Between Riverside and Crazy’

The 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy-drama by Stephen Adly Guirgis about the tribulations an ex-cop has with his recently paroled son, the son’s friends, a lawsuit and life in a rent-controlled New York City apartment.

When: Previews 8 p.m. Oct. 16-18. Opens, 8 p.m. Oct. 19. Minimum age: 16. Show runs 8 p.m. Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday; 8 p.m. Monday through Dec. 15. No 2 p.m. performances on Oct. 19 and on Oct. 21.

Where: Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles.

Tickets: $40; $45.

Information: 323-663-1525. www.fountaintheatre.com

‘Buried Child’

A Noise Within company stages Sam Shephard’s powerful Pulitzer Prize-winning play about the disintegration of the American Dream.

When: Preview 8:00 Friday, Oct. 18; opens 8:00 Saturday, Oct. 19, 2:00 Sunday, Oct. 20

Where: 3352 E. Foothill Blvd, Pasadena

Tickets: $25-$59 (see website for pay what you can dates and student rush information)

Information: 626-356-3121. anoisewithin.org

‘Constantinople’

Vista Players presents a play by Aram Kouyoumdjian about the Armenian minority in Constantinople after World War I and two people who try to rescue of people abducted during the Armenian genocide.

When: Runs 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday through Nov. 2.

Where: Secret Rose Theatre, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood.

Tickets: $20-$40.

Information: www.itsmyseat.com/constantinople

‘The Mystery of Irma Vep – A Penny Dreadful’

The Actors Co-op presents a fright-fest play by Charles Ludlam.

When: Runs 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 2:30 p.m. Sunday through Nov. 10. Also, 2:30 p.m. Oct. 19.

Where: Actors Co-op Crossley Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St. (on the campus of First Presbyterian Church), Hollywood.

Tickets: $35; $30 ages 60 and older; $25 students.

Information: 323-462-8460. www.actorsco-op.org

‘Night of the Living Dead’

The Group Rep presents the play adapted by Gus Krieger, from the 1968 movie written by George A. Romero and John Russo, about seven people who barricade themselves inside a farmhouse to escape from ghouls. Minimum age: 13. No intermission.

When: Runs 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday through Nov. 10. Also, 8 p.m. Oct. 30-31.

Where: Lonny Chapman Theatre, main stage, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood.

Tickets: $25; $20 ages 65 and older and students.

Information: 818-763-5990. www.thegrouprep.com

‘Urban Death Tour of Terror – Family-Friendly Version’

A haunted theater attraction suitable for those age 8 and up.

When: 7 p.m. Oct. 5, 12, 19, 26 and 31, and also 7 p.m. Nov. 2.

Where: Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.

Tickets: $16 in advance; $20 at the door.

Information: 818-635-9153. zombiejoes.com

ORANGE COUNTY

‘I Never Saw Another Butterfly’

This Youth Theatre production tells the story of Raja, a young Czech teenager who is forced into Terezin, or Thereisenstadt, a Jewish ghetto that was used as a stopping point on the way to the Nazi death camps.

When: 1 and 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19, 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20, 10 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 24 and other dates through Oct. 27.

Where: Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach

Tickets: $13

Information: 949-497-2787; lagunaplayhouse.com

‘Violet’

This play, set in the Deep South during the Civil Rights Movement and featuring a gospel, rock, country and R&B score, follows a disfigured woman on a bus trip as she seeks the help of a TV evangelist.

When: 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18 and Saturday, Oct. 19, 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20 and other dates through Nov. 17.

Where: Costa Mesa Playhouse, 661 Hamilton St., Costa Mesa

Tickets: $23-$25

Information: 949-650-5269; costamesaplayhouse.com

‘Sherlock Holmes: Here There Be Dragons’

In this world premiere, Sherlock Holmes investigates the case of a fiendish killer on the loose in Whitechapel.

When: 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18 and Saturday, Oct. 19, 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20 and other dates through Nov. 3.

Where: Camino Real Playhouse, 31776 El Camino Real, San Juan Capistrano

Tickets: $22-$32 plus fees

Information: 949-489-8082; www.caminorealplayhouse.org

‘The Canadians’

Two friends from small-town Manitoba go on a gay cruise, which gives one of them the courage to express his true nature to the world.

When: 7:45 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18, 2 and 7:45 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19, 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20.

Where: South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

Tickets: $31-$93

Information: 714-708-5555; scr.org

‘Silence! The Musical!’

It’s the Orange County premiere of this self-described “smutty, bawdy, raunchy tribute” to the Oscar-winning 1991 film “Silence of the Lambs.” Note: Intended for mature audiences.

When: 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18 and Saturday, Oct. 19, 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20 and other dates through Nov. 10

Where: STAGEStheatre, 400 Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton

Tickets: $30-$32

Information: 714-525-4484; stagesoc.org

RIVERSIDE COUNTY

‘The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’

Hemet dinner theater Play With Your Food celebrates the famous sleuth in this play that incorporates the short stories “A Scandal in Bohemia,” “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” “The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot” and  “The Adventure of the Dancing Men.” The meal includes a choice of salmon, roast beef or chicken.

When: 6:30 p.m. Oct. 18-19, 25-26; 1:30 p.m. Oct. 20 and 27.

Where: 140 N Buena Vista St., Hemet

Tickets: $42

Information: 951-663-8491, playwithyourfoodhemet.com

SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY

‘Young Frankenstein’

The musical based on the Mel Brooks classic comedic take on Frankenstein comes to the Creative Arts Theater in Victorville.

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

Where: High Desert Center for the Arts, 15615 8th St., Victorville

Tickets: $16; $14 for students, seniors and military

Information: 760-963-3236; creativeartstheater.com

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10 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Aug. 30-Sept. 5

LOS ANGELES COUNTY

‘Driving Wilde’

A play by Jacqueline Wright that’s based on Oscar Wilde’s novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”

When: Runs 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 7 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood.

Tickets: $25; $20 seniors and students.

Information: 323-856-8611, www.theatreofnote.com

‘Fefu and Her Friends’

This comedy-drama by María Irene Fornés contains adult themes.

When: Runs 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles.

Tickets: $32-$37.

Information: 310-477-2055, Ext. 2, www.odysseytheatre.com

‘The Gin Game’

A play by Donald L. Coburn about two people who reveal personal secrets – and elements of their own characters – while playing gin rummy.

When: Runs 1 p.m. Aug. 31.

Where: Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga.

Tickets: $26-$42; $15-$25 ages 65 and older and students; $10 ages 5-15.

Information: 310-455-3723. www.theatricum.com

ORANGE COUNTY

‘We’ve Only Just Begun’

Celebrate the 50th anniversary of the release of the Carpenters’ debut album with a recreation of a concert by the duo, with hits such as “Close to You” and “Rainy Days and Mondays.”

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 31

Where: 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach

Tickets: $66-$81

Information: 949-497-2787; lagunaplayhouse.com

‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’

This adaptation, based on Washington Irving’s story about schoolteacher Ichabod Crane and his encounter with a headless horseman, is recommended for ages 6 and up.

When: 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30 and Saturday, Aug. 31, 6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 1, and other dates through Sept. 28.

Where: Maverick Theater, 110 E. Walnut Ave., Fullerton

Tickets: $25 general admission; $10 students with ID

Information: mavericktheater.com

‘The 39 Steps’

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film masterpiece is mashed up with a spy novel and a bit of Monty Python in this fast-paced tale that features 4 actors playing more than 150 characters.

When: 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30 and Saturday, Aug. 31, 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 1 and other dates through Sept. 15.

Where: The Costa Mesa Playhouse, 661 Hamilton St., Costa Mesa

Tickets: $25 general admission; $23 students/seniors

Information: 949-650-5269; costamesaplayhouse.com

‘Puffs’

The play, subtitled “Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic,” takes a humorous look at the life of a boy wizard. Note: Sunday shows are “for young wizards and witches,” with all curse words removed.

When: 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30, 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 31, 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 1.

Where: Stagestheatre, 400 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton

Tickets: $22 with fees

Information: 714-525-4484; stagesoc.org

New Swan Shakespeare Festival

See “The Merchant of Venice” or “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” during the final weekend of the company’s eighth season.

When: 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30 (“The Two Gentlemen of Verona”);  8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 31 (“The Merchant of Venice”)

Where: Aldrich Park, UC Irvine Campus.

Tickets: $18-$62 Sundays-Thursdays; $28-$71 Fridays-Saturdays

Information: 949-824-2787; newswanshakespeare.com

RIVERSIDE COUNTY

‘One Man, Two Guvnors’

The Riverside Community Players’ production of this farce that includes the tagline “Laughs! Falls! Sandwiches!” opens this weekend. Ron Milts directs.

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday through Sept. 15.

Where: 4026 14th St., Riverside

Tickets: $16

Information: 951-686-4030; riversidecommunityplayers.com

‘Mamma Mia!’

The Temecula Valley Players will put on the musical of ABBA’s songs set on a Greek Island that looks at relationships. It opens Sept. 5.

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Sept. 22

Where: Old Town Temecula Community Theater, 42051 Main St., Temecula

Tickets: $12 on Thursdays; $17 and $22 on Fridays; $22 and $27 on Saturdays and Sundays.

Information: tickets.temeculatheater.org; 866-653-8696

 

SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY

‘Les Miserables’

LifeHouse Theater wraps up its production of the Victor Hugo tale this weekend.

When: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Where: 1135 N. Church St., Redlands

Tickets: $20 or $26 for adults and $10 or $13 for children ages 3-11. Tickets increase by $2 on the day of the show.

Information: 909-335-3037; lifehousetheater.com

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Chance Theater harvests the O.C. premiere of ‘James and the Giant Peach’

Those who grew up reading the works of Roald Dahl are familiar with books like “James and the Giant Peach,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Matilda” and “The Fantastic Mr. Fox.”

And if you haven’t read Dahl on the page, you certainly know his stories and characters from their many and various stage and screen adaptations.

Published in 1961, “James and the Giant Peach” became a film in 1996, featuring music by Randy Newman. A lot more recently (2010), it was adapted to the stage by Timothy Allen McDonald (book) and Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (music and lyrics).

Chance Theater delivers the musical’s Orange County premiere now through March 11. The show is part of the company’s TYA (Theater for Young Audiences) series.

Darryl B. Hovis, the show’s director, said that “when trying to create an adaptation from a well-known literary work, you need to tell it in a fresh way – especially since people are familiar with the movie.”

Hovis said an additional hurdle arose in that the venue for “James” is Chance’s 50-seat second-stage space. Hovis, his designers and the production staff had to devise ways “to tell a large, sweeping story in such a small space – and to make the audience feel they’re a part of it, as opposed to just passively watching.”

One initial solution, Hovis said, was to limit the creation of any major dance numbers, substituting “more stylized movement. But then, as I began listen to the music more and more, I realized I was totally wrong: This play wants to dance, to move.

“From that moment on, the play became a sort of animal that we had to tame so it would work in that very small, very intimate space” – so Hovis and choreographer Christine Hinchee “tried to find a balance that worked in the space without it being too big or too much.”

“I originally told Christine the direction we were going – then, that the piece was wanting more dance. Since movement and dance are such an integral part of the story, we found the lines kind of blurred between specific choreography and what was more storytelling. So basically, she became my assistant director and we just started to collaborate more and more.”

  • The mysterious Ladahlord (Tyler Marshall) offers James a magic potion that turns a normal peach gigantic and boosts five insects to the size of people. (Photo courtesy of Chance Theater)

    The mysterious Ladahlord (Tyler Marshall) offers James a magic potion that turns a normal peach gigantic and boosts five insects to the size of people. (Photo courtesy of Chance Theater)

  • After the death of his parents, James is sent to live with his two abusive aunts, Sponge (Holly Jeanne, left) and Spiker (Shannon Page). (Photo courtesy of Chance Theater)

    After the death of his parents, James is sent to live with his two abusive aunts, Sponge (Holly Jeanne, left) and Spiker (Shannon Page). (Photo courtesy of Chance Theater)

  • Alex Allen and others in the cast represent the entrance to the giant peach, where James will experience a fantastic adventure. (Photo courtesy of Chance Theater)

    Alex Allen and others in the cast represent the entrance to the giant peach, where James will experience a fantastic adventure. (Photo courtesy of Chance Theater)

  • Fantastical costumes help create the incredible world of the 2010 musical “James and the Giant Peach,” its Orange County premiere at Chance Theater featuring, clockwise from upper left, Alex Allen, Christopher Diem, Miguel Cardenas, Richard Comeau, Erica Schaeffer and Rachel Oliveros Catalano. (Photo courtesy of Chance Theater)

    Fantastical costumes help create the incredible world of the 2010 musical “James and the Giant Peach,” its Orange County premiere at Chance Theater featuring, clockwise from upper left, Alex Allen, Christopher Diem, Miguel Cardenas, Richard Comeau, Erica Schaeffer and Rachel Oliveros Catalano. (Photo courtesy of Chance Theater)

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The stylized visual look of Dahl’s novel is brought to life by Megan Hill’s scenic design and props, Alexandra McClain’s costumes, Hill’s and Aaron McGee’s puppets, and McLeod Benson’s projections and lighting.

Jason Liebson, the production’s music director, said Gordon’s score creates an added dimension, enhancing Dahl’s story, characters, concepts and themes.

“My favorite thing about musical theater,” he said, “is that when we have no more words left to express it we sing it – especially in this fantastical, incredible world they’ve created with this tiny little set. The music only serves to heighten the narrative and all the different emotions that happen throughout the show.”

That musical palette contains “a very wide mix” which encompasses traditional and contemporary musical theater numbers, jazz, big band, funk and early 1900s ragtime.

The show contains “just a ton of music,” Liebson said. In addition to its 14 songs, it also includes a considerable amount of underscoring accounting for “about 85 percent” of the stage time. Vocally, he said, the cast of nine achieves an expansive, “very full sound.”

Not coincidentally, Liebson is a longtime fan of the work of Pasek and Paul, whose music has graced the films “La La Land” and “The Greatest Showman.” Their stage musicals include “Dogfight,” which Chance staged in 2016.

A TYA producing associate, Hovis said plays in the series are designed for kids to think about and be exposed to many of the issues they’ll encounter later in life and while growing up. “We’re not just doing works that cater to kids, but that create an opportunity for parents to start a dialogue with their kids about important ideas.”

“James and the Giant Peach,” Hovis said, is squarely in line with that goal. “It deals with a bunch of different emotional elements and issues, which is what drew me to this piece – so we’re trying to be authentic and honest with those moments without feeling we have to dial it down or, by contrast, to make it happy.”

‘James and the Giant Peach’

When: Through March 11. 7 p.m. Fridays; 11 a.m. Saturdays; 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Sundays; 2 and 5 p.m. Feb. 24 and March 3

Where: Fyda-Mar Stage, Chance Theater at Bette Aitken Theater Arts Center, 5522 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills

Tickets: $23-$35

Information: 888-455-4212, chancetheater.com

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At Laguna Playhouse, ‘My Own Wife’ could be the ultimate one-person show

There’s something inherently spellbinding about any one-person stage show in which the actor performs an entire script and tells a story solo, morphing into and out of a variety of characters.

That gives plays like “I Am My Own Wife” an almost built-in appeal. How will an actor fare in bringing playwright Doug Wright’s script to life? Will he be credible as the lead character, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, or in portraying the various personalities who populated the German woman’s world?

The play’s Orange County premiere opening at Laguna Playhouse this weekend reteams director Jenny Sullivan and actor John Tufts, the duo who created Santa Barbara-based Ensemble Theatre Company’s production last February.

Wright adapted von Mahlsdorf’s 1992 autobiography, with the fall of the Berlin Wall as its backdrop. It’s told from her perspective as an elegant, eccentric 64-year-old woman. The play premiered Off-Broadway in 2003 and opened on Broadway later that year, garnering Wright the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

  • Actor John Tufts says that the key to portraying multiple characters in a one-man show is to create “a physical vocabulary” and “a distinct vocal quality and physical gestures” for each so that the audience can follow along. (Photo by David Bazemore, Ensemble Theatre Company)

    Actor John Tufts says that the key to portraying multiple characters in a one-man show is to create “a physical vocabulary” and “a distinct vocal quality and physical gestures” for each so that the audience can follow along. (Photo by David Bazemore, Ensemble Theatre Company)

  • In addition to portraying the play’s main character, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, John Tufts will also essay the 35 other roles in playwright Doug Wright’s script. (Photo by David Bazemore, Ensemble Theatre Company)

    In addition to portraying the play’s main character, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, John Tufts will also essay the 35 other roles in playwright Doug Wright’s script. (Photo by David Bazemore, Ensemble Theatre Company)

  • At Laguna Playhouse this month, actor John Tufts stars in “I Am My Own Wife,” portraying a German man who, during the Nazi regime, dressed, behaved and lived as a woman. (Photo by David Bazemore, Ensemble Theatre Company)

    At Laguna Playhouse this month, actor John Tufts stars in “I Am My Own Wife,” portraying a German man who, during the Nazi regime, dressed, behaved and lived as a woman. (Photo by David Bazemore, Ensemble Theatre Company)

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The story starts in east Germany in the 1930s, where Max Berfelde and Gretchen Gaupp were raising their son, Lothar Berfelde.

Lothar identified with being a girl even from a young age, causing tension with his father. In 1942, Max, a member of the Nazi Party, forced the 14-year-old to join the Hitler Youth. The duo’s already stormy relationship grew lethal in 1944, when Max physically attacked his son. Lothar struck back, killing him.

The teen was sentenced to four years of detention but released from jail at the end of the war. Soon, Lothar became “Lottchen” and, eventually, he began to go by the name Charlotte. He completed his new identity by replacing the surname Berfelde with the name of his hometown of Mahlsdorf.

Von Mahlsdorf might have thought the ordeal of a father’s brutal mistreatment or the terrors of the Nazi regime were the worst life could dish out – but the ruthlessness of the postwar East German secret police posed further hurdles and challenges to self-discovery, self-actualization and possible happiness.

Director Sullivan, who has credits stretching from New York City to Manitoba, said “the thing that’s really important when people see this is that it’s a true story. This is a real person who was not born a woman but who lived as a woman in the world of the Nazis and of the communists, and survived.”

The play “is the story of a young boy finding that his female side was the person he wanted to live as – which he did, in a really dangerous world.”

Sullivan calls the play’s story “dynamic” and the play itself “a really active piece. We don’t just sit around and talk.

“Many people think one-person shows must be easy, but they’re really more difficult – just the amount of energy and attention it takes to keep the focus on the material and telling the story.”

With “Wife,” she said, we have “one man playing more than 30 roles – men, women, children, young people, old people.” The challenge in directing it is “having a clear eye of how to keep telling the story as we move along through the play.”

“Fortunately,” she said, “I’m working with a truly brilliant actor.” She praises Tufts as “the ultimate craftsman, so clear about what the challenge is, of making all these different characters pop.”

Tufts, who has logged 12 seasons with Oregon Shakespeare Company, said that without clear delineation via acting and direction, “the audience can get lost and confused” as to who the actor is portraying at any given moment, making it “essential to create a basic level of clarity.”

The actor said it’s up to him “to create a physical vocabulary” for each of the 36 characters in “I Am My Own Wife.” “Each must have a distinct vocal quality and physical gestures that the audience can understand.”

Once he has cleared the technical challenge of creating that psychological equivalent of muscle memory, Tufts said the next level of the process is to immerse himself into each character with the goal of losing himself and his own identity in favor of the character’s.

Tufts said he’s had the advantage of being able to study von Mahlsdorf’s voice, behavior and physical mannerisms through a wealth of internet sources that contain film footage of her and interviews with her from news broadcasts. He also studied the feature film “Charlotte,” filmmaker John Edward Hays’ 2009 documentary of von Mahlsdorf’s life.

Tufts stresses that what makes von Mahlsdorf’s story remarkable, and makes it “essential that this be a one-person play,” is the fact that she had to create new personalities to ward off peril “merely in order to be able to survive. She had to do all sorts of things, and be all sorts of things.”

The actor, director and design team decided to eschew the use of female makeup for Tufts in favor of keeping him in designer Alex Jaeger’s costume: a simple long dress, a kerchief and a string of pearls. Sullivan said star Tufts “doesn’t change clothes” when changing character. “He goes from man to woman in a heartbeat; that grabs our attention right away and keeps it.”

While in a movie, “you go to a closeup” for emphasis, Sullivan said that in Laguna the action is framed via what she terms “really magnificent scenic, sound and lighting design” (by, respectively, Keith Mitchell, Christopher Moscatiello and Pablo Santiago, all carryovers from Santa Barbara).

“I Am My Own Wife,” Sullivan said, “is about our paying attention to people who are other than us” and that the tale it weaves “has become ever more provocative” since the contours of the LGBTQ world have changed so dramatically, especially in recent years.

,.Sullivan characterizes von Mahlsdorf’s life story, the published account of it, and now, the live play, as “a deeply profound story, a story of survival.”

Tufts calls von Mahlsdorf’s feats in the name of survival “astonishingly remarkable. It takes bravery and strength for a trans-person to live now, today, in our times.” By contrast, von Mahlsdorf, “lived under extraordinarily difficult circumstances and navigated a path in so highly restricted a society, which is more than eye-opening. It’s inspiring.”

‘I Am My Own Wife’

When: Through Jan. 28. 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 1 p.m. Sundays; “Pride Night” performance 5:30 p.m. Jan. 21; audience talk-back performance 2 p.m. Jan. 25

Where: Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach

Tickets: $45-$70

Information: 949-497-2787, lagunaplayhouse.comhttps://lagunaplayhouse.com/

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‘Something Rotten!’ blasts Shakespeare with a Broadway musical sensibility

What if the world of theater in William Shakespeare’s time were the same as the profit-driven, heavily commercial professional theater of today?

“Something Rotten!” explores that premise – within the framework, of course, of a musical comedy. The show took Broadway by surprise in spring of 2015, running 742 performances.

And on Jan. 17 of this year, less than three weeks after its Broadway closing on New Year’s Day, the show’s U.S. national tour got underway in Schenectady, New York. The tour arrives at Segerstrom Center on Tuesday, Nov. 7, for a two-week run. It also comes to the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles from Nov. 21 through Dec. 31.

  • The 2015 Broadway musical “Something Rotten!” looks at theater in Shakespeare’s time from a 21st-century perspective. (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)

    The 2015 Broadway musical “Something Rotten!” looks at theater in Shakespeare’s time from a 21st-century perspective. (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)

  • The Bottom brothers, Nigel (Josh Grisetti, left) and Nick (Rob McClure), struggle to write and produce a play as popular as anything by the wildly popular hit playwright of their day, William Shakespeare. (Photo by Joan Marcus) Josh Grisetti Leslie Kritzer Will Chase Rob McClure Brad Oscar Catherine Brunell Edward Hibbert David Beach

    The Bottom brothers, Nigel (Josh Grisetti, left) and Nick (Rob McClure), struggle to write and produce a play as popular as anything by the wildly popular hit playwright of their day, William Shakespeare. (Photo by Joan Marcus) Josh Grisetti Leslie Kritzer Will Chase Rob McClure Brad Oscar Catherine Brunell Edward Hibbert David Beach

  • Seer Nostradamus (Blake Hammond, left) tells playwright Nick Bottom (Rob McClure) that the coming wave in theater involves performers who act, sing and dance – a concept foreign to all things theater circa 1595. (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)

    Seer Nostradamus (Blake Hammond, left) tells playwright Nick Bottom (Rob McClure) that the coming wave in theater involves performers who act, sing and dance – a concept foreign to all things theater circa 1595. (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)

  • Bea (Maggie Lakis) tells Nick (Rob McClure, left) and Nigel (Josh Grisetti) she can be of tremendous use to them well beyond simply doing their cooking and cleaning. (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)

    Bea (Maggie Lakis) tells Nick (Rob McClure, left) and Nigel (Josh Grisetti) she can be of tremendous use to them well beyond simply doing their cooking and cleaning. (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)

  • Adam Pascal stepped into the role of Shakespeare during the show’s last two months on Broadway and was plugged directly into the touring company. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

    Adam Pascal stepped into the role of Shakespeare during the show’s last two months on Broadway and was plugged directly into the touring company. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

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Written by brothers Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick (music and lyrics) and British author and comedy scriptwriter John O’Farrell (book), “Something Rotten!” focuses on the Bottom brothers, Nick (Rob McClure) and Nigel (Josh Grisetti).

Failing to dent Shakespeare’s rock-star popularity, the Bottoms stumble onto an unexplored theater genre – one where actors not only act, but also sing and dance, simultaneously. The rest of “Something Rotten!” explores their theatrical exploits as they bring 21st-century concepts to unsuspecting 16th-century audiences.

The Kirkpatricks began working on the show in 2010 from an idea they’d been tinkering with for some 15 years.

Their 14 songs – including “Welcome to the Renaissance,” “God, I Hate Shakespeare,” “A Musical,” “To Thine Own Self” and title number “Something Rotten!” – are the backbone of the show’s 19 musical numbers. Wayne wrote the music, he and Karey the lyrics, and Karey and O’Farrell the script.

The show’s title, of course, is derived from one of the most famous lines in “Hamlet”: “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

What may surprise some is that the Kirkpatrick brothers have never previously written anything for the stage. Wayne is a successful Nashville-based songwriter and musician; Karey is a Los Angeles-based screenwriter (“Chicken Run”) and director (“Imagine That”).

Karey, Wayne Kilpatrick said in a phone interview, “had the performing bug” early on, acting in high school and dinner theater productions and doing street theater at Walt Disney World before moving into film.

Wayne KIlpatrick said he “pursued the songwriting route, but I’d always had this love for and appreciation of theater.” Some of his earliest memories are songs from Golden Age musicals like “Hello, Dolly!” and “The Music Man.”

Both brothers, he said, had aspirations of one day writing a musical.

The show’s genesis stretches back to roughly 1995, when Wayne said the brothers would joke about the idea, “What if Shakespeare and the world of theater during that time were like it is now?”

“We explored a lot of ‘what-ifs,’ applying a contemporary view of the world of writers working in the theater scene,” Wayne Kilpatrick said. The show, he said, “pokes fun at musicals and Shakespeare,” and yet “has reverence for them.”

Every so often, while absorbed in other professional projects, the two would zing new ideas back and forth – usually saying “Oh, yeah! That would be funny. We really should write that.”

Karey Kilpatrick had met Broadway producer Kevin McCollum while both worked at Walt Disney World. When McCollum invited them to a preview performance of “Rent” in 1996, “we told him we were exploring writing a musical.”

McCollum expressed interest, asking them to alert him when they had something ready – but busy careers and a lack of solid direction and definite ideas for the show put the brakes to anything immediate.

In 2006, Wayne Kilpatrick made a point of crafting four or five songs. While “Welcome to the Renaissance” is the only one still in the show, the activity got the ball rolling.

Four years later, the Kirkpatricks realized what Wayne calls “this idea that we keep seeming to not be able to abandon” would remain a pipe dream unless they told McCollum they were serious and asked for his input and guidance.

They were encouraged to learn that two of his shows, “Avenue Q” and “In the Heights,” had started out in fairly sketchy form.

More than four years elapsed from December 2010, when McCollum gave the duo the green light, to the show’s Broadway opening. O’Farrell had punched up Karey Kilpatrick’s “Chicken Run” script, so he was their first choice to write the book.

Wayne Kilpatrick said that while he essentially wrote the music, he and Karey the lyrics, and Karey and O’Farrell the script, the show was a true collaboration in that each was receptive to ideas from the other.

Casey Nicholaw (“The Drowsy Chaperone,” “The Book of Mormon”) joined the team as director and choreographer, then brought several actors on board. The show’s extensive workshop production in late 2014 led to a pre-Broadway tryout in spring 2015.

Wayne Kilpatrick said Nicholaw functioned “like the fourth collaborator,” like-minded in terms of comedy and music but offering valuable suggestions and guidance.

The workshop production generated such positive buzz that McCollum decided to skip the tryout and go directly to Broadway. The St. James Theatre became available, so McCollum booked it for rehearsals scheduled for February 2015.

Wayne Kilpatrick said he spent all of January 2015 with Karey in Los Angeles, the duo revising, rewriting and tweaking, then made the temporary move to New York City. All through rehearsals, he said, “a lot of material got removed and rewritten, or removed outright.”

Actor Adam Pascal, who plays Shakespeare in the touring company after taking over the role during the last two months of the Broadway run, says the playwright “is so iconic and so world-renowned that he has almost become a fictional character.”

Pascal has created “a more upper-echelon British, snobby-sounding kind of voice,” helping him define Shakespeare as “a peacock-ish Frank-N-Furter, Freddie Mercury, David Lee Roth sort – guys who like to strut.”

His Shakespeare is “a jerk, he’s arrogant, he’s obnoxious – but you like him because he’s so goofy and so un-self-aware.”

Pascal said one element of “Something Rotten!” that’s “very different” from other shows is that “it’s so self-aware in how it touches on so many classic musicals.” That element, he said, is “an intentional part of the humor.” More than most current or recent Broadway shows, the show also uses a lot more tap dancing – “a great art form, one that’s not used enough.”

And while “Something Rotten!” is unlike most other Broadway musicals, Pascal says the stylistic approach is akin to shows such as “Spamalot,” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and, “to a certain extent,” “The Producers,” with irreverence as the common trait of all these shows.

Pascal regards the show’s extensive musical theater references as unusual since the Kirkpatrick brothers “aren’t musical theater guys.”

But, the reality, Wayne Kirkpatrick insists, is that he and Karey “are,” emphasis on the word “are,” “theater guys.”

“Even if we hadn’t ever worked in theater, we grew up around it and have loved it all our lives.”

‘Something Rotten!’

When: Tuesday, Nov. 7 through Sunday, Nov. 19. 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays

Where: Segerstrom Hall, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

Tickets: $29-$104

Information: 714-556-2787, scfta.org

When: Nov. 21 through Dec. 31

Where: Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles

 

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Review: Combustible, timeless ‘12 Angry Men’ sets Laguna afire

Great writing can endure across decades and centuries, reminding us of the profundity of the human condition.

Reginald Rose’s “Twelve Angry Men” is a perfect case in point: A dozen men sit in a room discussing the pros and cons of the murder case they saw unfold in court over three days.

The play uses a single set, no special or technical effects, and no bells and whistles – just the pure drama of 12 citizens struggling to do what each believes is the right thing.

Rose’s 1954 teleplay was inspired by his own stint as a juror in Lower Manhattan’s Foley Square courthouse earlier that year. He adapted it for the 1957 film, co-producing with star Henry Fonda, later rewriting it for the stage multiple times.

Despite his long career spanning theater, film and television, the prolific Rose’s reputation rests with this one great work.

  • Juror No. 8 (Seamus Deaver, center), leaning for acquittal, calls for a vote. Still uncertain are Juror Nos. 11 (David Nevell, left), 12 (Erik Odom), 1 (Matthew Henerson) and 2 (Mueen Jahan), with Nos. 3 (Richard Burgi), 10 (John Collela, standing) and 4 (Rick Cosnett) convinced the defendant is guilty. (Photo by Ed Krieger)

    Juror No. 8 (Seamus Deaver, center), leaning for acquittal, calls for a vote. Still uncertain are Juror Nos. 11 (David Nevell, left), 12 (Erik Odom), 1 (Matthew Henerson) and 2 (Mueen Jahan), with Nos. 3 (Richard Burgi), 10 (John Collela, standing) and 4 (Rick Cosnett) convinced the defendant is guilty. (Photo by Ed Krieger)

  • Opposites in almost every possible way are the truculent, ill-tempered Juror No. 3, played in Laguna by Richard Burgi, left, and calm and rational yet compassionate Juror No. 8, portrayed by Seamus Deaver. (Photo by Ed Krieger)

    Opposites in almost every possible way are the truculent, ill-tempered Juror No. 3, played in Laguna by Richard Burgi, left, and calm and rational yet compassionate Juror No. 8, portrayed by Seamus Deaver. (Photo by Ed Krieger)

  • Jurors from all walks of life deliberate on a case of first-degree murder. From left: Richard Burgi (standing) as belligerent Juror No. 3, Rick Cosnett as fastidious No. 4, Dennis Renard as slum-bred No. 5, Tony Sancho as hot-headed No. 6, John Massey as obnoxious sports fan No. 7, Seamus Deaver as compassionate No. 8, Andrew Barnicle as elderly No. 9, John Collela as openly bigoted No. 10 and David Nevell as No. 11, a European immigrant. (Photo by Ed Krieger)

    Jurors from all walks of life deliberate on a case of first-degree murder. From left: Richard Burgi (standing) as belligerent Juror No. 3, Rick Cosnett as fastidious No. 4, Dennis Renard as slum-bred No. 5, Tony Sancho as hot-headed No. 6, John Massey as obnoxious sports fan No. 7, Seamus Deaver as compassionate No. 8, Andrew Barnicle as elderly No. 9, John Collela as openly bigoted No. 10 and David Nevell as No. 11, a European immigrant. (Photo by Ed Krieger)

  • In one of the play’s most charged moments, Juror No. 3 (Richard Burgi, left) demonstrates how a man could fatally stab a taller man, with Juror No. 8 (Seamus Deaver) standing in for the murder victim. (Photo by Ed Krieger)

    In one of the play’s most charged moments, Juror No. 3 (Richard Burgi, left) demonstrates how a man could fatally stab a taller man, with Juror No. 8 (Seamus Deaver) standing in for the murder victim. (Photo by Ed Krieger)

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To see a production of “Twelve Angry Men” at its finest, look no further than Laguna Playhouse. Director Michael Matthews has assembled a powerhouse cast that mines for all it’s worth this timeless, perceptive testament to the glories of the American jury system.

As the case of a 16-year-old accused of murdering his father, then fleeing the scene, seems a no-brainer, the jury’s initial vote is nearly unanimous. Dissenting Juror No. 8 (Seamus Deaver), though, has nagging doubts. At the outset, he stands alone.

The roster of jurors arrayed against him is formidable, led by Juror No. 3 (Richard Burgi), who believes all teen-age sons are “rotten,” with particular animosity toward the defendant. Siding with him from the get-go are unabashed bigot No. 10 (John Collela), facts- and logic-oriented No. 4 (Rick Cosnett) and obnoxious sports fan No. 7 (John Massey).

At first, No. 8’s efforts to coax a reasonable doubt seem a lost cause. Juror No. 1, the jury foreman (Matthew Henerson), suggests “we show him where he’s mixed up,” and No. 2 says all 11 should “convince him where we’re right and he’s wrong.”

But No. 8’s commitment to getting at the truth never wavers. At first his only convert is frail, elderly Juror No. 9 (Andy Barnicle). Soon, though, juror Nos. 2 (Mueen Jahan), 5 (Dennis Renard), 6 (Tony Sancho), 11 (David Nevell) and 12 (Erik Odom) are on the fence.

The script builds an incredible amount of suspense as we watch each man’s arguments, which frequently boil over into heated confrontations, lead to repeated votes and re-votes as each strains to achieve a unanimous vote of either guilt or for acquittal. The dialogue flows naturally, rarely sounding scripted.

The murder case hinges on a mosaic of minutiae, all brilliantly elucidated by Rose via the jurors’ picking apart and discussion of the trial. The more they talk, the more details emerge.

 

Documenting deliberations lasting nearly two hours are a wall clock and late-afternoon sunlight that soon melts into dusk. Traffic noise and rumbling thunder, a summer cloudburst and the jury room’s grimy windows add to the sense of realism, thanks to spot-on lighting (by Tim Swiss), sound design (Mike Ritchey), set design (Stephen Gifford) and period costumes (Kate Bergh).

 

Rose’s skilled writing turns what could have been a humdrum account into spellbinding, issues-oriented drama. The jurors, a cross-section of urban American men in the mid-’50s, represent a range of professions and educational and socioeconomic levels. Where a lesser writer would have reduced each of the 12 to stereotypes, Rose instead develops and fleshes out individualistic personalities.

Credible New Yorkers all, Matthews’ dozen are dandy, breathing invigorating life into Rose’s crackling text. Skip this production and you deny yourself an experience that embodies the most moving, thought-provoking qualities of live performance. See it and you’ll cheer for this great classic of the American theater.

Younger and more handsome than Fonda or Robert Cummings, who essayed the role, respectively, for film and TV, Deaver is an articulate, intelligent, quick-thinking No. 8 – logic-minded, but not without emotion.

An advocate for getting at the truth, he doesn’t claim to have all the answers, telling the others, “I don’t know what the truth is. No one really does.”

With his pristine pinstriped suit, gruff voice and violent temper, Burgi’s loud, vehement No. 3 would be right at home in “The Godfather,” an overbearing tough guy accustomed to bullying or shouting down anyone who crosses him.

Collela’s dynamic, scornful No. 10 restlessly prowls the stage as he spews ugly epithets, all directed at the defendant and other unnamed racial minorities referred to only as “they” and “them.”

Cosnett is a fastidious, ultra-civilized, young-ish No. 4, the calm, cool juror who, when asked if he sweats, replies “No – I don’t.” Massey’s loutish, jittery No. 7 evokes laughs and loathing, impatiently drumming the table while cracking wise. With no qualms about the death penalty, he castigates those lobbying for acquittal.

As No. 9, former Playhouse artistic director Barnicle is aptly slow-moving, stoop-shouldered and hoarse-voiced, and Nevell’s No. 11, a European watchmaker, skirts heroism in his impassioned views of the objectivity and fairness of democracy.

Matthews imbue less prominent roles with more volatility: Sancho is a fiery No. 6, unafraid to confront No. 3, Renard’s No. 5 is more vocal than polite, and Henerson’s jury foreman is thin-skinned and less than conciliatory.

Succinct and stark is the late-play plea for tolerance and mercy, “Let him live.” That one of No. 8’s former antagonists is the person to speak the line makes the play’s closing minutes that much more profound, and profoundly moving.

 

‘Twelve Angry Men’

When: Through Oct. 22. 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 1 p.m. Sundays, 5:30 p.m. Oct. 15; no 2 p.m. Oct. 12

Where: Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach

Tickets: $60-$105

Length: 1 hour, 40 minutes (no intermission)

Suitability: All ages

Rating: ****

Information: 949-497-2787, lagunaplayhouse.com

 

 

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Arts Preview: Familiar names, new artists and big milestones mark 2017-18 season

Orange County’s coming arts season contains the usual tempting line-up of big names and popular shows, but there are signs of challenge and change in the air, too. One look at this year’s roster of high-profile events proves that the arts continue to become more inclusive and diverse, with something for everyone.

Former Segerstrom Center president Jerry Mandel, who was chosen to run the Irvine Barclay Theatre in 2015, is shaking up its well-worn line-up with new offerings in all disciplines. Pacific Symphony marks a milestone in any orchestra’s development: a Carnegie Hall debut.

In addition to beloved world-class favorites such as Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Lang Lang and Joshua Bell, the classical music season includes controversial young pianist Igor Levit, who recently gained as much fame for his political statements as his electrifying keyboard style. Soka University continues its tradition of presenting young champions of prestigious contests with Yekwon Sunwoo, 28, gold medalist of the Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. First, though, he’ll be making his West Coast debut performing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with Pacific Symphony at the Tchaikovsky Spectacular concert on Sept. 9.

The dance season presents two of the country’s most respected companies of color, Dance Theater of Harlem and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, during a busy five-day period next spring. Cloud Gate Dance Theater of Taiwan, the Asian nation’s only modern dance company, comes to the Segerstrom Center in March. In Los Angeles, inventive, playful British choreographer Matthew Bourne kicks off the dance season with a bang when “The Red Shoes” opens at the Music Center in September.

The theater season is distinguished by the haunting and offbeat Tony winner, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” at 3,000-seat Segerstrom Hall (a huge venue for a spoken-word play), and the local debut of an iconoclastic musical that is proving to be Broadway’s ultimate dark horse:  “Hamilton,” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop-infused saga of the life and times of founding father Alexander Hamilton.

In the world of visual arts, the coming season promises a cornucopia of non-traditional exhibits and ambitious projects. Four O.C. galleries and museums are participating in this year’s “Pacific Standard Time,” which focuses on Latin American art. And the Bowers Museum will present treasures from the summer palace of Chinese Empress Dowager Cixi.

MORE FROM THE 2017-18 ARTS PREVIEW

Classical music’s heavy hitters are on the way

Dance performances will push boundaries

Theaters aim for the popular and upbeat

In visual arts, Orange County steps out into the world

O.C. arts venues have something for every taste

Events for the whole family

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Arts Preview: Theaters aim for the popular and upbeat

Need a pick-me-up? Local theaters will stage productions with a theme of lightheartedness in the 2017-18 season, with a packed schedule of optimistic plays and toe-tapping musicals that are sure to leave theatergoers with good feelings.

Intense anticipation has circled Orange County’s performing arts since the announcement that the touring Broadway phenomenon “Hamilton” will come to the Segerstrom Center of the Arts on May 8-17, but each of the theaters have other premieres that patrons can get excited about. This includes the Broadway musical “Something Rotten!” at the Segerstrom Center on Nov. 7-19, “I Am My Own Wife” at the Laguna Playhouse on Jan. 10-28, 2018 and “Little Black Shadows” at South Coast Repertory on April 8-29 – all of which are theater or world premieres.

“Pure excitement and anticipation, that’s the feel for our upcoming Broadway season. We are welcoming back beloved megahit shows by popular demand and also presenting five Center premieres, including ‘Hamilton,’” said Terry Dwyer, Segerstrom Center president, “Orange County audiences can look forward to a thrilling and eclectic line-up of musicals.”

A recurring theme of romance will also pervade theaters this season, including Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Love Never Dies” (Feb. 27 through March 11) and the Broadway revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I” (April 24 through May 5) at the Segerstrom Center and South Coast Repertory’s “Once” (Sept. 2-30), “Shakespeare in Love” (Jan. 13 through Feb. 10) and the battle of the sexes play “SHREW!” (March 24 through April 21).

SCR artistic director Marc Masterson said the Costa Mesa-based theater, which will celebrate its 54th season this year, will present “some familiar and exciting names, some new discoveries that will change things and some great live theater for our audiences.” This includes NPR commentator, former UCI professor and returning playwright Sandra Tsing Loh’s play “Sugar Plum Fairy” (Dec. 3-24.)

Laguna Playhouse’s 97th season will feature larger casts, more full-scale productions and award-winning plays and musicals, said artistic director Ann Wareham.

“Theater is unique in that it provides opportunities to open our eyes and hearts and minds to new points of view and contemporary stories and lay witness to experiences that might be different from our own,” said Wareham, “We are looking forward to presenting important works like the American classic ’12 Angry Men,’ the world premiere of ‘Nathan Gunn Flying Solo’ and the Tony and Pulitzer prize-winning plays ‘I Am My Own Wife’ and ‘Clybourne Park.’”

 

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Arts Preview: Dance performances will push boundaries

Orange County audiences are spoiled for choice when it comes to selecting performances that challenge and expand the ideas of traditional concert dance.  Of course there will be the classics – the Mariinsky Ballet at Segerstrom Center for the Arts (Oct. 12-15) and productions of “The Nutcracker” at Segerstrom (Dec. 7-17)  and, for the first time in five years, The Music Center (Dec. 7-10) – but  the 2017-2018 offerings also promise projections, props, lighting and narrative that dazzle with more than just technical movement.

In September, Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at The Music Center brings the U.S. premiere of Matthew Bourne’s “The Red Shoes” to The Music Center’s Ahmanson Theatre. With it, audiences can expect to see Bourne’s trademark choreography paired with the vibrant costumes and sets of a theatrical production. The narrative promises to take center stage using inventive movement as its medium for communication.

Similarly, Jessica Lang of Jessica Lang Dance says she considers dance to be her material for creating visual art. Lang’s pieces often include interactive sets with dancers manipulating props and large set pieces. Like in “The Calling,” in which a dancer stands in a dress that stretches across the entire stage, the visual elements of Lang’s pieces are memorable backdrops to her contemporary choreography. Her company will perform at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach on Oct. 7.

Also offering more than dance in its production, Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan will show how it marries dance and martial arts in a choreographed interpretation of Chinese culture. The company makes its Segerstrom debut in March with Lin Hwai-min’s ballet “Formosa,” which includes large projections and music by award-winning indigenous singer Sangpuy.

As these artists join a season that welcomes iconic dance companies such as Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at Segerstrom April 19-22 and Paul Taylor Dance Company in the Laguna Dance Festival Sept. 14 and 16, they expand the definition of traditional concert dance.

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