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Laguna Playhouse's 2010-11 season tends toward new plays with small casts

April 13, 2010 |  5:13 am

LagunaPlayhouse The Laguna Playhouse won't be going for lavish in its coming 90th anniversary season, but its smallish productions -- the five plays combined require just 15 actors  -- do tend strongly toward the newish and the safeish.

The 2010-11 season continues a populist tack that took full effect this year -- what managing director Karen Wood described in the new season's announcement as "the types of plays that our audiences really enjoy ... created with the community and the economy in mind" and emphasizing "accessible programming."

Playhouse leaders acknowledged recently that the company had shifted its focus from an "expansive vision," in which it dreamed of building a second stage for adventurous plays, and has re-envisioned itself as a community arts center in which the nonprofit stage company's own offerings will be supplemented by a wide range of other performances, including big bands, comedians, talks by authors and events produced by outside groups.

Of the coming season's plays, one, "I Loved Lucy" (Oct. 5-31), will be brand new, the premiere production of a show about Lucille Ball's last years. Author Lee Tannen has turned his 2001 memoir, "I Loved Lucy: My Friendship with Lucille Ball," into a two-actor play drawn from his experiences as Ball's confidant and backgammon partner during the 10 years before her death in 1989.


Also new is a two-character musical, "Daddy Long Legs" (Nov. 30-Dec. 26), directed and with a libretto by John Caird ("Nicholas Nickleby," "Les Miserables") and songs by Paul Gordon, who previously teamed with Caird for a musical version of "Jane Eyre." It's based on a 1912 novel by Jean Webster about a talented young woman, a poor orphan whose wealthy benefactor refuses to make himself known to her but requires her to keep him posted about her progress by writing him monthly letters.

The Laguna run is considered part of a world premiere involving three partner companies that already have staged it, beginning with the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura, where Times theater critic Charles McNulty's mixed review last fall cited "a completely winning performance by Megan McGinnis [pictured, with Robert Adelman Hancock in a scene from the play] and the kind of rags-to-riches Cinderella saga that never fails to draw in the matinee crowd."

Another musical, "Life Could Be a Dream" (July 6-Aug. 29), is writer-director Roger Bean's sequel to "The Marvelous Wonderettes," complete with a soundtrack of familiar '50s and '60s pop hits, such as "Runaround Sue" and "Unchained Melody." In "Dream," an all-male quartet preps for a radio contest it hopes will be its big break.

The show premiered last August at the Hudson Mainstage Theater in Hollywood, where it's scheduled to run through May 30. The Times' review pegged it as "unapologetically escapist entertainment, superbly rendered in every particular ... so frothy, it floats." Playhouse spokesman Christopher Trela said that although actor contracts haven't been signed yet, the aim is to bring back all or most of the original cast.

The fourth new or nearly-new production is Hershey Felder's next one-man-and-a-piano turn, "Maestro: The Art of Leonard Bernstein" (Jan. 4-Feb. 6, 2011). The Laguna run will follow on the heels of the show's just-announced November premiere at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood. Felder won't need directions to the Laguna gig: He has performed his Chopin and George Gershwin shows at the Playhouse, and opens a two-week run of "Beethoven, As I Knew Him" on May 11.

Finishing the subscription season will be a revival of Noel Coward's comic classic about marital ups and downs, "Private Lives" (March 15-April 10, 2011), directed by Playhouse artistic director Andrew Barnicle.

-- Mike Boehm


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Upper photo: The Laguna Playhouse. Credit: Christopher Trela / Laguna Playhouse

Lower photo: Megan McGinnis and Robert Adelman Hancock in a production of "Daddy Long Legs." Credit: Carol Rosegg