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The stars come out for Festival of New American Musicals' closing night

September 11, 2011 |  4:45 pm

An impressive lineup of talent, including Kristen Bell, John Stamos, Rita Wilson, Marissa Jaret Winokur, Drew Carey and others, provided a tuneful ending Saturday to the 4th annual Festival of New American Musicals. The Hollywood actors, along with acclaimed songwriters and inspiring young artists, previewed their new shows, sang theater songs, improvised musical sketches and mingled with the estimated 200 festival supporters who turned up for the celebration.

Bob Klein, one of the festival's executive producers, said that the festival has presented 132 shows, including 16 world premieres, with more than 1,000 performances in 83 venues throughout Southern California. (Marcia Seligson and Linda Shusett are the festival's other two executive producers.) It was also announced that Darren Criss, who plays Blaine Anderson on "Glee," has been named spokesperson for the 2012 Festival of New American Musicals. Although Criss had previously been announced as a participant in the Saturday event, organizers said he was unable to come. 

The party took place at the Toluca Lake home of Eric Vetro, a voice coach whose music room walls are lined with gold records, which he said clients gave to him. Most of the day’s performers were Vetro's clients too.

Although best known as an actress for her roles in “Veronica Mars,” “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “You Again,” Bell said during the reception that she trained for opera as a child, before being given “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” from “Sweeney Todd,” to sing. 

“It was the first time I wasn’t singing in Italian and I thought, ‘I can connect to this - here’s a young girl singing and it’s in English,’ ” she said. “That’s how I discovered the theater and became an actress.”

Wilson -- an actress and producer of the musical film “Mamma Mia!” -- sang selections from her recently recorded CD for Decca Records, scheduled for release before Valentine’s Day 2012. Explaining her choice of Dave Loggins' pop hit “Please Come to Boston” at a celebration of musical theater, she said: “New musicals often do their tryouts in Boston.” 

The musical offerings mixed hit songs and show tunes, many from shows yet to be staged. Frances Fisher, of "Titanic" and "The Lincoln Lawyer," introduced Desmond Child, a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, who is creating musicals about Lucille Ball and revolutionary Cuba. The latter, "Cuba Libre," chronicles his family's time in Cuba, before and after the revolution.

Drew Carey and Chip Esten improvised a musical skit, patterned on the TV show, “Whose Line Is It Anyway,” before inviting Stamos to join them in inventing a theater song one word at a time.

Among others participating were Kelly Levesque and Tyler Hamilton of Diane Warren's Due Voci, Graham Phillips, Nolan Gerard Funk, Ben Platt, Molly Gordon, James Carpinello, Brooke Adams, Amanda McBroom, Michele Brourman, David Burnham, Eamonn McCrystal, Kim Huber, Penelope Yates, Sue Goodman, David Zippel, Sophie B. Hawkins and Alexa Russo, and Garrison Hall from the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. On the piano: Brad Ellis of “Glee,” Michael Orland of “American Idol,” Gerald Sternbach and Todd Schroeder.


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-- Ellen Olivier

Above: From left, Kristen Bell, Eric Vetro and Rita Wilson at the closing night party for the Festival of New American Musicals. Credit: Ellen Olivier.