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Regional Reviews: San Diego

San Diego Fall Theater Preview 2009

Fall in San Diego can be a difficult time for theater.  Companies open one, possibly two, shows and then around mid-November, holiday fare takes over through the end of the calendar year.  The holiday shows are important, of course, because they not only make money for the company but also bring in audiences who may be discovering either the troupe or the theatre for the first time.  Still, for theater regulars it feels that everything shuts down over the holidays until after the first of the year.

There is no one theater season in San Diego.  Some companies (the Old Globe in particular) operate on a school calendar and then stage a separate summer season, but other companies have their own rhythms.  We are starting to see more calendar year seasons being announced.

For larger companies, fall can be a time to put on plays concerning weightier topics, but it seems that our two largest regional companies, the La Jolla Playhouse and the Old Globe, have also taken opportunities to schedule new works.

And so it is this fall, with the Old Globe staging Sammy, a new musical by Leslie Bricusse that incorporates hit songs such as "What Kind of Fool Am I?" and "The Candy Man" that Mr. Bricusse wrote with Anthony Newley.  Davis protégé Obba Babatundé stars under Keith Glover's direction.   The Globe is also staging the West Coast premiere of Evan Smith's comedy, The Savannah Disputation, under the direction of Kim Rubinstein.  The cast of mostly Globe regulars also features Nancy Robinette in a rare appearance outside of her home base of Washington, D.C., where she is regarded as one of that city's top actors.  The Savannah Disputation will be the last production for the Globe's temporary arena space in the nearby San Diego Museum of Art.  Its new arena space will open in January with a production of Neil Simon's Pulitzer Prize winning Lost in Yonkers, and that production will run in tandem with Duncan Sheik's (Spring Awakening) new musical, Whisper House.  In November and December, the Globe mounts its annual production of Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas!.

The La Jolla Playhouse, whose season begins in early summer, has already opened four of its seven regular season productions.  The two scheduled for the fall are Doug Wright's new adaptation of August Strindberg's Creditors and Ivan Menchell, Frank Wildhorn and Don Black's new musical, Bonnie and Clyde.   Mr. Wright will be directing a cast that includes Kathryn Meisle, Omar Metwally  and T. Ryder Smith.  Bonnie and Clyde will be directed by Jeff Calhoun, and casting has not yet been announced.  The company then takes a hiatus and closes its season in February with Aurélia Thierrée's surrealistic Aurélia's Oratorio.

Dropping into the La Jolla fall schedule this week only is Hoover Comes Alive, which is being mounted in the Page-to-Stage series (where the creative team works on the production throughout).  Les Freres Corbusier is bringing back one of history's most criticized U.S. presidents as a rock star bent on rescuing the country from its economic malaise.  Alex Timbers directs the eight performance Tuesday-Sunday run.

Other companies whose seasons start in the fall are the San Diego Rep, which begins with the musical Long Story Short, written by Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda, two-thirds of indy band GrooveLily, followed by a dark holiday show, Conor McPherson's The Seafarer, in a production directed by Delicia Turner Sonnenberg. 

Ms. Sonnenberg is also artistic director of Moxie Theatre, whose new season just kicked off with a production of Mary Fengar Gail's Drink Me or The Strange Case of Alice Times Three, which she co-directed with company member Jennifer Eve Thorn.  The play, receiving its West Coast premiere after first being read at South Coast Rep ten years ago, is a strange/disturbing feminist/womanist fantasy/black comedy (too many combinations, I think) that is nevertheless receiving a fine production by Moxie in its La Jolla Playhouse residency (in a small black box space tucked away on the back side of one of the theatres La Jolla Playhouse shares with the theater program at the University of California, San Diego).  After the residency ends, Moxie will move into the Rolando space near San Diego State that Cygnet Theatre is vacating (closing with a third production of its hit one-man play, Fully Committed) with a re-mounting of the company's first production, Liz Duffy Adams' Dog Act followed after a holiday break by Lisa Loomer's Expecting Isabel.  With its La Jolla Playhouse residency kicking the company into high gear, Moxie is definitely on this year's "to watch" list.

Cygnet Theatre began its season this summer with a rollicking production of Michael Frayn's Noises Off, directed by artistic director Sean Murray.  Fall brings a production of Tracy Letts' The Man From Nebraska directed by company member Francis Gercke.  The company's holiday offering is It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play.

Diversionary, San Diego's LGBT theater company, also began its season this summer, and after hosting a rental production of Side Man later this month, the company will partner with Ion Theatre for a 30th anniversary production of Martin Sherman's Bent.  December brings the West Coast premiere of Paul Rudnick's The New Century directed by Igor Goldin, who also helmed Diversionary and other productions of the Broadway-aspiring musical, Yank!.

Speaking of Ion Theatre, they lost their performance space and are renting in the East Village area of downtown for now.  This week sees the opening of Ion's new season with a production of David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow.  Bryony Lavery's Frozen follows in October, and after Bent, the company will be on hiatus until the first of the year.

Two North County companies that begin new seasons this fall are the North Coast Rep in Solana Beach, which just opened Joshua Salzman and Ryan Cunningham's musical take on Pride and Prejudice titled I Love You Because with staging by San Diego State musical theater guru Rick Simas; and Carlsbad's New Village Arts, which soon will open Jonathan Marc Sherman's Things We Want featuring several young company members under Lisa Berger's direction.  North County Rep continues its season with Lanford Wilson's Talley's Folly in October, followed by its annual production of A Christmas Carol in December, while New Village Arts mounts Steve Martin's Picasso at the Lapin Agile in November before taking a break for the holidays.   A third North County company, Vista's Moonlight Stage Productions, finishes its summer outdoor musicals season with Cats, followed by an indoor production of Larry Shue's The Foreigner in November.

Meanwhile, San Diego area theater companies on a calendar year schedule are finishing up their seasons this fall.  Among these are Lamb's Players Theatre, which will be staging Joyful Noise, Tim Slover's play about the creation of Handel's "Messiah."  Lamb's goes all out at the holidays, hosting Festival of Christmas at its downtown Coronado venue as well as An American Christmas, a holiday dinner and show in the ballroom of the famed Hotel Del Coronado.  The company's production of the musical Godspell, which opened this summer in downtown's Horton Grand Theatre, has been extended into at least November.

Compass Theatre in Hillcrest finishes off its year with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in October, David Mamet's Boston Marriage in November and A Tuna Christmas in December.

In North County, the Welk Resorts Theatre completes its 2009 season with The Andrews Brothers, a jukebox musical about a USO troupe written by Roger Bean (The Marvelous Wonderettes) and featuring a crack group of harmonists.  The Welk's holiday offering will be A Christmas Carol: The Musical featuring music by Alan Menken.

Finally, the touring scene will bring in some hit musicals this fall.  This week, Broadway San Diego imports Spamalot directly from its Los Angeles and San Francisco engagements, albeit with some cast changes.  In October, Disney's The Lion King will be here for almost a month's run (it is unusual for Broadway San Diego shows to run for more than a week), while December will bring Australia's The Ten Tenors Holiday Program in for a week, along with a two-performance evening of Jerry Seinfeld's stand-up act.

Given that there will be a few additional productions put on by companies who mount shows at irregular intervals, the fall theater season in San Diego looks to both quality and a good range of productions to tempt both local and out-of-town theatergoers.

See the current season schedule for the San Diego area.

- Bill Eadie

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