The Laguna Playhouse has appointed Ann Wareham as its artistic director; until mid-2009, when she was laid off amid recession-driven cuts, Wareham had worked for 27 years at L.A.’s Center Theatre Group, where she was an associate producer.
Wareham (pictured at left, above, with playhouse Executive Director Karen Wood) joined the Laguna staff last fall as associate producer; the artistic director’s job had been vacant since August 2010, when Andrew Barnicle resigned after nearly 20 years.
Rita Rudner's stage adaptation of her novel and a new folk music revue highlight Laguna Playhouse 2011-12 season
The Laguna Playhouse’s 2011-12 season announced Monday will offer a salute to Tony Bennett, a one-man treatment of “It’s A Wonderful Life” and the next installment in Maripat Donovan’s “Late Nite Catechism” series.
Also scheduled: a new concert-narrative that traces the development of American folk music from the 1920s to the mid-'60s, and the world premiere of a play that comedian Rita Rudner has adapted from her novel, “Tickled Pink.”
“I Left My Heart: A Salute to the Music of Tony Bennett” (July 5-Aug. 23) offers three tenors and a four-piece band essaying 40-some standards Bennett has recorded; it’s from David Grapes and Todd Olson, the team that created and produced “My Way,” the Frank Sinatra tribute seen at the Playhouse in 2009.
“This Wonderful Life” (Nov. 25-Dec. 24) is the title of Steve Murray’s stage adaptation of Frank Capra’s Christmas film classic starring solo performer James Learning.
“Lonesome Traveler: A Journey Down the Rivers and Streams of American Folk” (Jan. 10-Feb. 5) is a touring show conceived and directed by James O’Neil and produced by Ventura’s Rubicon Theatre, where it’s scheduled to premiere April 16.
Donovan’s new turn as a comically instructive parochial school nun is “Sister’s Easter Catechism: Will my bunny go to Heaven?” (March 13-April 8, 2012).
“Tickled Pink” (April 24-May 20, 2012) follows the adventures of Mindy Solomon, an aspiring Broadway performer who falls into standup comedy instead — paralleling Rudner's own career path. Rudner and her husband, Martin Bergman, co-wrote the stage adaptation of her novel, and Bergman directs; Rudner herself is not in the cast.
A sixth play (Sept. 27-Oct. 23) will be announced.
— Mike Boehm
Photo: Rita Rudner. Credit: Jerry Metellus Photography Inc.
The gap between Lucille Ball and Lucy, her lovable TV alter ego, could be startling for unsuspecting fans. Watching her respond to questions from Dick Cavett with a sandpapery brusqueness or rebuff Merv Griffin as he put an innocent hand on her back was to realize that the dizzy redhead she played was a far cry from the hard-bitten acting professional and studio boss who carved out a permanent place in show-biz posterity.
In “I Loved Lucy,” Lee Tannen’s feeble stage adaptation of his popular memoir, which had its world premiere Saturday at the Laguna Playhouse, Lucille Ball (Diane J. Findlay) is a backgammon demon in a velour track suit whose twilight years are spent in the company of — guess who? — Lee Tannen (Jeffry Denman). He’s a gay man in his 30s, a relative of Ball’s second husband, Gary Morton, and someone who can quote “I Love Lucy” episodes chapter and verse.
Although based on Tannen’s personal history, the play is totally unconvincing in how it’s drawn. This two-hander conveniently banishes Ball’s family and friends, turning her relationship with Tannen into the central one of her golden years. Morton is off golfing, and Ball’s apparent grumpiness about kids jumping all over the furniture keeps daughter Lucie Arnaz and her brood at bay.
--Resolution: The former co-owner of a now-shuttered Manhattan gallery has pleaded guilty to stealing $120 million from investors and clients by selling art he did not own and luring victims into buying into fraudulent ownership interests. (Wall Street Journal)
--Stage-bound: British author Ian McEwan's celebrated war-and-remembrance novel, "Atonement" -- which inspired a 2007 film with James McAvoy and Keira Knightley -- will be made into an opera with music by composer Michael Berkeley and a libretto by poet Craig Raine. (BBC)
--High school musical: Music Theater International, which handles licensing for shows such as "Hairspray" and "Rent," reportedly is talking with the creators and producers of "Glee" about crafting a stage adaptation of the hit Fox series. (Variety)
--Funding cut: New York Mayor and philanthropist Michael R. Bloomberg is quietly ending a program that has provided nearly $200 million of his own money to the city's nonprofits, including hundreds of small arts and cultural groups. (New York Times)
--At an impasse: Attempts to renegotiate the contract for musicians in the recession-battered Detroit Symphony Orchestra have ended without a deal. (Detroit Free Press)
--Reprieve: After warning that they might need to close their show days after it opened earlier this month, the producers of "The Miracle Worker" have secured financing to allow the Broadway revival to run through mid-April -- with hopes of attracting spring vacationers. (New York Times)
--Flamboyant figure: H.M. (Harry) Koutoukas, a flamboyant pioneer of the off-off Broadway theater who once won an Obie Award for "Assaulting Established Tradition," has died at 72 in Manhattan. (Playbill)
-- Karen Wada
Photo: The cast of "Glee." Credit: Fox
It's certainly not the most original target for satire. But with a theater company this talented, you're guaranteed at least a few big laughs at the expense of the tan and the wealthy.
Second City, the popular Chicago comedy theatrical company, is coming to the Laguna Playhouse with the world premiere production of "Can You Be More Pacific," which will lampoon the privileged beach-side culture of Orange County.
Among the subjects positioned in Second City's comedic cross hairs will be plastic surgeons, real housewives, Republicans, freeways and monstrous theme parks.
The show will be the latest in a series of city-specific comedies that Second City is producing around the country. The company sends people to each city to do research and absorb the local culture, and then commissions a script as well as music. So far, the company has produced shows in Philadelphia, Denver, Atlanta and Washington. In the planning phases are shows for Phoenix and Tuscon.
Kelly Leonard of Second City told Culture Monster that the idea behind the project is to produce musical comedies that feature hyper-local references and jokes that go beyond old stereotypes.
"Can You Be More Pacific" is set to run March 21 to April 11. No cast has been announced yet, but Second City said it will use local actors.
-- David Ng
Photo: The Laguna Playhouse. Credit: Los Angeles Times
Death has a way of putting the kibosh on immortal longings, but as Michael Jackson’s recent passing makes clear, legends ultimately belong to their fans. And “My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra,” which opened Saturday at the Laguna Playhouse, is a groupie’s dream.
Conceived by Todd Olson and the show’s director and choreographer, David Grapes, this revue, performed by a cast of two men and two women, pays homage to America’s all-time coolest crooner by trotting out a few dozen of the more than 1,300 songs Ol' Blue Eyes recorded in his unbelievably prolific career.
Conceding that Sinatra's mighty trumpet of a voice and gift for naturally taking ownership of lyrics are inimitable, the singers shy away from impersonation. Of the four performers, John Fredo (Man No. 1) is the most similar, but even he can only vaguely approximate the seemingly effortless magic of the Chairman of the Board’s belting a tune with the alacrity of a saloon dweller throwing back a scotch.
Other people’s laughter can sometimes be so mysterious. I chalked up the guffaw that came in response to the standard announcement about not unwrapping candy during the show to a private crack by the culprit’s husband. But the live laugh track that accompanied Saturday’s opening-night performance of “An Empty Plate in the Café du Grand Boeuf” at the Laguna Playhouse remains inexplicable to me.
Truth be told, I don’t think I emitted a single chuckle throughout the 90 minutes of Michael Hollinger’s innocuous yet inert comedy. The overall effect, oxymoronic though it may sound, is a kind of pleasant indifference — your mind gladly wilts the way it does after a long day at work while you’re sitting on the couch not watching the blaring TV.
Perhaps sensing that the material is a bit remedial, the cast strays into sitcom mannerisms that pull out all the stops to get a rise. But let’s not blame the production, directed by Laguna Playhouse artistic director Andrew Barnicle, for playwriting faults that it’s only trying to genially overcome.
I guess I was waiting for the right sequel to come my way. Over the weekend — and without the excuse of liquor, I hasten to add — I succumbed to “ 'Til Death Do Us Part: Late Night Catechism 3.” And though I chuckled a fair amount in the show’s first half (believe it or not, this loosey-goosey cabaret comedy has two acts), in the cool glare of the weekday morning sun, I couldn’t help feeling guilty and impure.
How to account for my fall from artistic grace? Well, it would be easy to say my editor made me do it, but blame must be apportioned to the Laguna Playhouse, where the show is having its world premiere. Such a lovely theater, located just a stone's throw from the romantic coastline, could get anyone in the mood for a little mindless stage hanky-panky.
On opening night, Sister was played by Maripat Donovan, the original “Late Night Catechism” star and co-author, who lets Mary Beth Burns and Nonie Newton-Breen sub for her one or two performances a week. Charging down the aisle like a walrus in a penguin get-up, she admonishes the audience to “settle down” as she takes her place at the helm of a makeshift elementary-school classroom. With her blue-collar bark and unstoppable rolling-boulder physique, I could feel myself becoming instantly tipsy from her hectoring hilarity.
The subject of Sister’s lesson is marriage, a sacrament she handily pairs with the blessing of the sick (formerly known as last rites). The thinking here is that marriage vows span earthly life. Death essentially annuls them, which may be an act of charity when you consider an alternative in which not even murder could sunder you from your other half. So apparently Catholics get married, have kids, become grandparents, retire and then drop dead — blessedly single again.
Sister’s pedagogical mode is Socratic, meaning she blindsides members of the audience with questions, most of them bearing on the nature of their intimate relationships. There’s much levity in watching mature, well-dressed Orange County theatergoers be reduced to stammering third-graders under her reprimanding scrutiny. Unfortunately the script, which Donovan wrote with Marc Silvia, the show’s director, is really nothing more than a wing and a prayer for Sister to glide on. Donovan is pretty swift in the ad-lib department, but an hour is a lot of time for this kind of interactive lollygagging.
The second act centers on "The Compatibility Game," which Sister describes as a cross between “Match Game” and “The Newlywed Game.” Basically, she yanks two couples from the audience, asks them questions about their preferences, and the team with the most right answers wins. This sort of participatory hokeypokey might play well at fundraisers (for which Donovan, clearly entrepreneurial, pitched her services at the end of the evening), but as theater it left the impression of a warm-up for an act that never materialized.
Donovan doesn’t possess the incisor-sharp verbal wit of Barry Humphries (a.k.a. Dame Edna), though she shares the same ambition to create a money-raking conglomerate out of an outrageous persona. Trouble is, as outrage goes, Donovan plays it way too safe. Her mockery of the church (there’s a running gag about the pope’s astronomer confirming that space aliens are indeed creatures of God) might be heretical for Vatican Council, but most of these quips would leave them unabashedly tittering at an Easter lunch in the rectory.
Since much of the show changes night to night, perhaps Sister will eventually get to hold forth on the issue of same-sex marriage, which curiously came up only once in a tangential joke about priests getting married. One would expect this brand of comic catechism to satirize, not steer away from, controversy.
Maybe that’s why the fleeting pleasures of “ ’Till Death Do Us Part” left me feeling a bit cheapened at the end. Does that count as a venial sin? I’ll say an Act of Contrition just in case.
-- Charles McNulty
" ‘Til Death Do Us Part: Late Nite Catechism 3." Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 3
Price: $35 - $70; (949) 497-2787.Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.
Photo: Maripat Donovan as Sister. Credit: Ed Krieger
A diva despite her mild temperament, Ella Fitzgerald proudly wore the title of “first lady of song.” Yet she seemed comfortable in the spotlight only when she could lose herself in music. Give her a microphone and she could fill a room with clarion sunshine, but her stage presence tended to subside with the orchestra.
In “Ella,” a musical biography that turns into a concert in the second act, Tina Fabrique re-creates the peculiar mix of astonishing giftedness and personal diffidence that characterized this vocal legend. Conceived by Rob Ruggiero, the production’s director, and Dyke Garrison, the show opened Saturday at the Laguna Playhouse, and it’s easy to see why the work has become popular on the regional theater circuit.
An entertaining stroll through the American songbook, “Ella” doesn’t let its tame script by Jeffrey Hatcher get any bulkier than a sketch. The setup is a 1966 concert in Nice, France, in which Ella is asked by her indispensable manager, Norman Granz (Harold Dixon), the man who founded Verve Records, to offer a little more patter than usual to reassure her fans that despite her grief from recent losses, “Miss Ella” is ready to let it rip.
-- Painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware River gets a makeover.
-- Jenkins Shannon is named new director of Pasadena Museum of California Art.
-- Playwright Rajiv Joseph, whose play "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo" will be seen at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, and David Adjmi are awarded 2009 Kesselring Fellowships.
-- Royal Opera House goes dark, but the show must go on -- in a bar.
-- Touring production of "Dreamgirls," set for Ahmanson Theatre, will include the song "Listen" from the film.
-- Economic uncertainties force Laguna Playhouse to drop expansion plans.
-- Beijing to loan 29 Qing Dynasty relics to Taiwan in first cultural exchange in decades.
-- Set your TiVo: American Masters presents “Jerome Robbins: Something to Dance About” Wednesday on PBS.
-- Performing arts companies slash ticket prices to fill seats.
-- Reopening of Iraq's National Museum remains uncertain.
-- Lisa Fung
Top photo: Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze's painting "Washington Crossing the Delaware" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Lower photo: Workers restore a replica of the original decorative frame that once held the famous 22-by-12-foot painting. Credit: Frank Franklin II / AP