Tonya Pinkins in Caroline, or Change(Photo © Michal Daniel)
Tonya Pinkins in Caroline, or Change
(Photo © Michal Daniel)
As the year begins winding to a close, the L.A. theater scene typically follows suit with fewer openings. Yet fewer doesn't necessarily mean leaner, and this year's November roster includes some highly promising offerings.

The venerable Center Theatre Group leads the field with two must-see events. The biggest news is the November 7 debut of an eagerly anticipated new venue, CTG's $12-million Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City. The world premiere of A Perfect Wedding, a new work by the perpetually quirky and frequently praised Charles L. Mee (Big Love, Summertime, Wintertime) launches the new facility. Described as a "big-hearted comedy," the new play takes place in a mystical forest, where friends, families, philosophical gravediggers, unwelcome guests, and four "Radical Fairies" plan a wedding. Now that sounds like an equal-opportunity affair. The 300-seat Douglas theatre, originally a 1940s movie house, is named in honor of its major donor. Fittingly, this celebratory production is directed by soon-retiring, longtime CTG artistic director Gordon Davidson.

The second big CTG offering is the Ahmanson's November 14 West Coast premiere of last season's acclaimed Broadway musical Caroline, or Change, with book and lyrics by the amazing Tony Kushner (Angels in America), music by Jeanine Tesori (Thoroughly Modern Millie), and directed by the ever-renowned George C. Wolfe. Bringing in members of the original cast, the show received six Tony nominations, including Best Musical, with a win for Anika Noni Rose (Featured Actress in a Musical). Set in 1963 Louisiana, it's a powerful story of major social changes swirling around an African-American family. This is a rare opportunity for Angelinos to see a recent major Broadway show virtually intact. The eight-week Ahmanson engagement replaces the cancelled Wonderful Town touring edition, then moves on to a San Francisco run.

Three other musicals promise to be stellar attractions. International City Theatre in Long Beach presents a musical comedy with a Latin beat when 4 Guys Named Jose... and Una Mujer Named Maria begins its California premiere on November 5. Conceived by David Coffman and Dolores Prida, with book by Prida, the show incorporates such favorite pop songs as 'La Bamba," "Black Magic Woman," and "La Vida Loca." It's about four homesick guys in snowbound Nebraska who meet in a fast-food restaurant and decide to put on a show at the local VFW hall. 41 songs, performed in Spanish and English, encompass four decades of cherished chart-toppers. The perennially popular family favorite, Peter Pan, with Cathy Rigby in what she swears is her farewell tour, flies into Hollywood's Pantages Theatre November 9 for a two-week stop. The 75th anniversary of the heralded children's theatre company the Nine O'Clock Players is commemorated by the group's first original musical, Happily Ever After, After All, with book by Scott Guy and music and lyrics by Nick DeGregorio. In what sounds like a variation on Sondheim's Into the Woods, it asks the question: What would happen if the bad guys got tired of losing at the end of every fairy tale? The fanciful happenings commence November 9 at the Assistance League Playhouse in Hollywood.

Beyond these possible gems are a variety of additional tantalizing prospects. Two revered local theatre companies, Cornerstone Theatre Company and the Asian-American-focused East West Players, unveil Shishir Kurup's world premiere play As Vishnu Dreams, directed by Juliette Carrillo at the David Henry Hwang Theatre in Little Tokyo, beginning November 10. Created in collaboration with the local Hindu community, it's a contemporary adaptation of the epic Hindu poem, The Ramayana, incorporating musical sequences and shadow puppets. Another highly respected group, Circus Theatricals, presents the world premiere of Shem Bitterman's drama The Circle at Hollywood's Stella Adler Theatre, beginning November 6. The play examines the aftermath of a killing spree by a high school student who opens fire on a prayer group. Bitterman won Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle's coveted Ted Schmitt Award for his 1998 world premiere play The Job. Tim Robbins' Actors Gang Theatre is staging the U.S. premiere of Brett C. Leonard's Roger and Vanessa, opening November 5. The hour-long drama, which has been compared to the works of John Patrick Shanley and Sam Shephard, is about a brutal relationship between two damaged people. A rarely seen American classic, Sophie Treadwell's 1928 expressionist courtroom drama Machinal, is offered by Blank the Dog Productions at West Hollywood's Lee Strasberg Theatre, starting Nov. 4.

These are the highlights, and if they turn out to be as good as they sound, this could be a turkey-free November. Happy Thanksgiving to all.