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Regional Reviews by Bill Eadie

San Diego Summer Theatre Preview

The recession has clearly hit San Diego theatre. Companies this summer are, for the most part, not experimenting much, sticking mostly to the tried and true. Shakespeare's on the bill, as it has been every summer in San Diego, as is Hello, Dolly!. The one major premiere is pretty much recycled, and even the smaller theatres have taken to digging out interesting theatrical chestnuts. Still, San Diego does its best theatre business during the summer, when both the Old Globe and the La Jolla Playhouse are running a full head of steam (the Globe will have five productions playing simultaneously in August) when lots of tourists are in town.

So, what will there be to see? Well, my bet for the surest thing is Cygnet Theatre's mounting of all three of Alan Ayckbourn's Norman Conquest plays. These three (Table Manners, Round and Round the Garden, Living Together) will play in repertory (with marathon performances of all three plays on Saturdays), similar to last season's British staging in New York. Cygnet is coming off of a very high level production of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, and it has shown that it can marshal the resources necessary to pull off something like this 1973 tour-de-force. Performances begin July 28 with an official opening on August 7, a marathon day, and the repertory runs into November. Before that (through July 3), Cygnet is mounting a very credible production of Noel Coward's Private Lives at its Old Town Theatre home base.

The Old Globe wins the prize for quantity, as it does every summer, with five productions on the boards at once. The Globe closes its spring production of Matthew Lopez's The Whipping Man on June 13 as it begins to open the summer Shakespeare repertory in its outdoor theatre. Repertory director Darko Tresnjak has departed, leaving Executive Producer Louis Spisto in charge of the entire operation, both artistic and financial. Mr. Spisto has reached across the pond to bring in former Royal Shakespeare Company artistic director Adrian Noble to serve as artistic adviser for the summer repertory. Mr. Noble will direct King Lear, which begins performances on June 12, and The Madness of King George III, which starts on June 19. Ron Daniels directs The Taming of the Shrew, which begins on June 16. The repertory company includes some Globe rep stalwarts and Associate Artist Robert Foxworth, who will play the title role in King Lear.

In July, the Globe brings in a pre-Broadway run of the jukebox musical Robin and the 7 Hoods. Based on the film of the same name with a book by Rupert Holmes and using Rat Pack-era songs by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, the show will feature Broadway performers Will Chase, Eric Schneider, Amy Spanger and Kelly Sullivan. San Diego native Casey Nicholaw directs and choreographs. Performances begin July 14 with opening night scheduled for July 30.

The Globe's summer season concludes with the West Coast premiere of The Last Romance, Joe DiPietro's play about love later in life. Long-time Old Globe Associate Artist Marion Ross stars with her life partner, Paul Michael. Performances begin July 30.

The La Jolla Playhouse is mounting only two productions this summer while promising two new musicals for later in its season. The summer shows are Surf Report, by local playwright Annie Weisman (Be Aggressive), and A Midsummer Night's Dream, directed by Playhouse artistic director Christopher Ashley using an upside-down set, puppetry by Basil Twist, and music composed by Felix Mendelssohn. Surf Report runs June 15 - July 11, while A Midsummer Night's Dream runs July 20 - August 22. Opening in early September will be the Christopher Curtis/Thomas Meehan musical biography of Charlie Chaplin, dubbed Limelight, and a William Finn/James Lapine musical version of the film Little Miss Sunshine, will open next February.

The other premiere of note is the first West Coast production of the Broadway musical [title of show], running in July and August at the Diversionary Theatre. With a strong cast of local performers that includes Tony Houck, Heather Paton, Karson St. John and Tom Zohar, direction by James Vasquez, and musical direction by Tim McKnight, this one looks promising.

Some of the other smaller theatres will be pulling out plays considered to be "classic" in one form or another. New Village Arts, 30 miles north of downtown in the beach town of Carlsbad, is currently staging Tennessee Williams' rarely seen Summer and Smoke and will be following that production up in July with The Seven Year Itch. Lamb's Players Theatre opens its production of Harvey in its Coronado facility this week, and North Coast Rep continues through June 20 with The Voice of the Prairie, a play about storytelling just as radio was getting its start. And Moxie Theatre begins performances of Sarah Ruhl's adaptation of Eurydice on June 17; it runs through the beginning of August.

Summer is also the time for musicals, both indoors and outdoors. Indoors, the San Diego Repertory Theatre will be producing the regional premiere of Hairspray with a mixed cast of professional adults and teenaged theater students. North Coast Rep presents the first local production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee throughout July. Lamb's has a white gospel show, Smoke on the Mountain, running into July at its downtown Gaslamp district location, and it will open a company-written musical titled MiXtape at the Coronado location in August. Oddly, the Lawrence Welk Resort, which was known for musicals, has given them up for the summer after its current production of Footloose closes in late June. They'll resume in September with The Full Monty.

Outdoors, the Starlight Bowl in Balboa Park stages Suds in June, The Pajama Game in July, and Hello Dolly! in August. Moonlight Stage, up north in Vista, runs a youth theatre production of Cinderella in June, Oklahoma! in July, Crazy for You in August, and Miss Saigon in September. The theatre is located near Camp Pendleton Marine Base, so who knows about having a helicopter hovering over the stage in this last production ...

Late spring in San Diego has been mild with better than usual weather, and if this trend continues into summer a lot of people may say, "To hell with the recession, I'm going there." And, that'd be good for everyone in San Diego, including theatres.

See the current season schedule for the San Diego area.

- Bill Eadie

Follow Bill on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SDBillEadie.



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