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SAN DIEGO
Regional Reviews by Bill Eadie

San Diego Winter-Spring Theatre Preview

La Jolla Playhouse
One of the three theatres at the
La Jolla Playhouse complex

As in many cities, the recession has clearly hit San Diego theatre. Companies are cutting back once again, some even laying off staff or producing fewer shows or shows with smaller casts. In general, companies are playing things safer, though there is still some creativity and artistic risk-taking on the horizon. The winter and spring months are usually a mixed bag in San Diego as the La Jolla Playhouse wanes and the Old Globe takes over as the dominant company. But hope always springs anew following the theatrical doldrums of the holiday season (there were so many doldrums this season that no company ventured a run of A Christmas Carol). Union-Tribune theatre critic James Hebert took note of the trend and concluded that perhaps the perennial money-maker was no longer such a sure thing as it once had been.

The winter-spring season starts off with a bang, though, as on January 10 the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle presents its annual Craig Noel Awards for outstanding artistic work in 2010. Leading the pack on nominations are two La Jolla Playhouse productions, Ruined (a co-production of Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer Prize-winning play with the Berkeley Rep and Boston's Huntington Stage) and Limelight: The Story of Charlie Chaplin (a Broadway-aspiring musical), with 11 and 9 nominations respectively. Other well-nominated 2010 productions were the Old Globe's summer outdoor version of The Madness of George III, Cygnet Theatre's small-scale production of the musical Sweeney Todd, and the Old Globe's Robin & the 7 Hoods, another Broadway-aspiring musical, directed and choreographed by San Diego native Casey Nicholaw.

The Playhouse also has the most anticipated show in the upcoming season, the world premiere of William Finn and James Lapine's new musical, Little Miss Sunshine. Messrs Finn and Lapine have collaborated previously on shows such as The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, A New Brain and Falsettos, and their quirky sensibilities should be just right for adapting one of the most honored recent indy films. Broadway veterans Hunter Foster, Malcolm Gets, Dick Latessa and Jennifer Laura Thompson star in a longer-than-usual run (February 15 March 27).

Not to be left out, The Old Globe gets to produce a new musical as well, Paul Gordon's version of Jane Austen's Emma. Jeff Calhoun, who has been busy directing Broadway-aspiring musicals of late, helms the production, and Patti Murin takes the title role. The Globe also has a busy spring of shows in both indoor theatres, including Death of a Salesman, starring Jeffrey DeMunn; Rafta, Rafta ..., directed by New York's Jonathan Silverstein; the thriller Groundswell, directed by Kyle Donnelly; the U. S. premiere of Alan Ayckbourn's Life of Riley; and the Pulitzer Prize-winning August: Osage County.

San Diego Rep has three shows from last year's New York theatre season coming: Tracy Letts' Superior Donuts, Sarah Ruhl's In The Next Room (Or The Vibrator Play), and Anna Deavere Smith's Let Me Down Easy. The last is a co-production with La Jolla Playhouse but at the Rep's Lyceum Stage facility in downtown. San Diego Musical Theatre will also occupy the Lyceum to produce a version of the Los Angeles hit production of The Story of My Life, along with A Chorus Line. And, in downtown, Broadway San Diego presents short runs of the tours of West Side Story, Next to Normal, The Wizard of Oz, Stomp and Mamma Mia! at either the Civic Theatre or the Balboa Theatre.

Cygnet Theatre, which impressed not only with Sweeney Todd last season but with the risky undertaking of the three Norman Conquest plays in repertory, will try to have lightning strike twice with a production of the musical Cabaret. The company is also presenting the world premiere of San Diego resident Stephen Metcalfe's The Tragedy of the Commons, and will close out its season in early summer with Our Town.

Lamb's Players Theatre, a troupe that operates on a "company" model, has hit a rough patch and had to lay off five people lately. It has also restructured its upcoming season, and upcoming are the familiar adult comedy Steel Magnolias and an adaptation with music of the children's story The Book of the Dun Cow. Lamb's hit '80s revue MiXtape continues to run at its downtown space; the other shows will play in its Coronado home base. The early summer will bring a run of The Music Man, opening before the other summer shows get going.

The smaller centrally located theatre companies are featuring a potpourri of work. Moxie Theatre produces the world premiere of blues singer Candye Kane's autobiographical musical, The Toughest Girl Alive, followed by Liz Duffy Adams' Or and Marisa Wegrzyn's Ten Cent Night. Diversionary Theatre produces the romantic comedy Fair Use, the world premiere biographical play Dooley, and a play yet to be announced (the New York hit The Temperamentals perhaps?). Diversionary also hosts Triad Productions' The Maiden's Prayer, by Nicky Silver, and InnerMission Productions' The Vagina Monologues. ion Theatre wraps up its season with the world premiere of Wonder Wounded Heroes and the San Diego premiere of Martin McDonagh's The Lieutenant of Inishmore. North Coast Rep continues its season of San Diego premieres with 2 Pianos 4 Hands, the Canadian play The Drawer Boy, and Buffalo playwright Tom Dudzick's King O' the Moon. New Village Arts features its artistic director, Kristianne Kurner, in Waving Goodbye, followed by Sam Shepard's Simpatico, Scott Hudson's Sweet Storm, and the season's second production of Death of a Salesman. Intrepid Shakespeare Company's spring production will tackle the challenging Richard II on a shoestring budget. Moonlight Stage Productions' winter season includes Barefoot in the Park, Irving Berlin's I Love a Piano, and the country music drama Foxfire. Finally, the Welk Resorts Theatre has shifted away from producing musicals in favor of presenting celebrities such as Rita Moreno, Debbie Reynolds, Vicki Lawrence and Debby Boone. But the company will open The Fantasticks in February for a two-month run.

Optimists see the economic advancing slowly but surely, and it can't come fast enough for San Diego's theatre community. Even so, there's plenty of interesting work for theatregoers to enjoy this winter and spring on San Diego's stages. For a complete listing of San Diego theatre, be sure to visit current season schedule for the San Diego area.

- Bill Eadie

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



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