Spring arts preview: Theater
A look ahead at the spring season in theater.
‘Little Miss Sunshine’
Movie-to-musical transformations aren't usually grounds for cultural enthusiasm, but this one has a few things in its favor. First, this indie sleeper, about a family regaining its daffy optimism via a young daughter's unlikely dream of winning a children's beauty pageant, is an undeniable charmer. Second, the creative team of composer William Finn and writer-director James Lapine, whose previous collaborations include “Falsettos” and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” is one of the American musical's vintage best. Finally, this is a tale that seems tailor-made for singing and — wink, wink — pole dancing.
La Jolla Playhouse, La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive. $53-100 Through March 27. $53-$100. www.lajollaplayhouse.org
‘The Book of Mormon’
Let the protests begin: “South Park” creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker wrote this musical with composer and lyricist Robert Lopez (best known for his Tony-winning work on “Avenue Q”), suggesting a naughtily irreverent attitude toward the religious subject matter. But then all's fair in love and wacked-out comedy, even one that divides its focus between Mormon missionaries sent to a rough part of Uganda and Joseph Smith, the founder of the Latter-day Saints. The humor will no doubt push the envelope of acceptable impiety, but theme-park Broadway could use just this kind of insouciant injection.
Eugene O’Neill Theatre, New York. www.bookofmormonbroadway.com
‘The Cripple of Inishmaan’
When Martin McDonagh's fiendish comedies are done right, they're bloody unforgettable — and that “bloody” should be taken literally. Director Garry Hynes, who won a Tony for her staging of McDonagh's “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” has a keen instinct for the author's macabre madness, and her touring production of this 1996 dark comedy, about a cripple who wants to horn in on the Hollywood doc that's shooting in his pocket of rural Ireland, comes to the Douglas already widely acclaimed.
Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City. Through May 1. $20 to $45, www.centertheatregroup.org
‘God of Carnage’
The original Broadway cast of Yasmina Reza's savage urban farce reunites for the Los Angeles premiere, and you won't want to miss the comic alchemy. This Tony-winning play, about two outwardly sophisticated couples trying to calmly resolve an altercation that occurred between their 11-year-old sons, can seem thin on the page, a pencil sketch illustrating the manifold ways concerned parenting can flip into egomaniacal aggression. But Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini and a truly hilarious Marcia Gay Harden, who deservedly won a Tony for her performance, bring a raucous, teeth-bared humanity to this ironic divertissement from the celebrated French author of the popular comedy “Art.”
Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. Through May 15. $20 to $120. www.centertheatregroup.org
Playwright Itamar Moses (“Bach at Leipzig”) is drawn to haunting conundrums — historical, cultural and personal. In his latest work, he brings two scientists together from different fields — one's a computer specialist, the other is a molecular biologist — to probe the limits of rationalism in the irrational arena of love. Moses is a talented dramatist poised for a breakthrough. Whether “Completeness” will mark a significant step forward remains to be seen, but the play is sure to get an incisive world-premiere production from his frequent directorial collaborator, Pam MacKinnon, who has a solid track record with other such intellectually heady playwrights as Edward Albee and Bruce Norris.
South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Through May 9. $24 to $63. www.scr.org
-- Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times theater critic
Photo: A scene from "Little Miss Sunshine" at the LaJolla Playhouse. Credit: Craig Schwartz