Billy Crystal
(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
Billy Crystal
(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
The City of Angels becomes the City of Stars this month, with a variety of big-name players taking to the stage. And there are few stars bigger than the ever-popular actor-comic Billy Crystal, who brings his smash solo vehicle, 700 Sundays to the Beverly Hills' Wilshire Theatre (January 12). Lovers of classics will want to check out Lynn Redgrave's star turn as Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde's 1890s drawing room comedy, The Importance of Being Earnest, directed by Sir Peter Hall. (Ahmanson Theatre, January 25).

Some familiar TV names turn to theater as well this month. Daytime heartthrob Matthew Ashford stars in Bruce Kimmel's thriller Deceit (El Portal, January 13); Jay Johnson: The Two and Only! features the former Soap star deconstructing and demonstrating his lifelong obsession with ventriloquism (Westwood's Brentwood Theatre, January 20); Sharon Lawrence stars in Dale Griffiths Stamos' Dialectics of the Heart, a new play about cultural dissension and forbidden romance in the academic world. (Edgemar Center for the Arts, January 20); the Pasadena Playhouse serves up Howard Michael Gould's comedy Diva with Annie Potts as an egomaniacal sitcom star (January 20); Mariette Hartley's solo show If You Get to Bethlehem, You've Gone Too Far is based on her best-selling memoir (Sherman Oak's Whitefire Theatre, January 21); and Vicki Lewis joins Stephen Bogardus and Burke Moses in the Reprise! production of Cy Coleman's vintage musical City of Angels (UCLA Freud Playhouse, January 25).

One of the most eagerly anticipated offerings will be the kickoff of A Season of Shores, an ambitious repertory slate featuring all six plays of Del Shores, one of the city's most revered homegrown playwrights. The festival gets things rolling with one of his biggest hits, Southern Baptist Sissies, a tragicomic view of growing up gay in the Bible Belt (Zephyr Theater, January 20). Expect a lot of Southern-fried humor along with a heaping helping of poignancy in these welcome revivals, which continue throughout the year.

It's Ibsen redux at Costa Mesa's South Coast Repertory with the premiere of The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler by Tony Award winner Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q) in which the pre-women's-lib heroine from the classic Norwegian drama tries to escape an alternate hell where she has resided for the past century (January 13). The resilient, 24-year-old Theatre/Theater moves to its seventh location (now in West L.A.) with Shuffle, Shuffle Step, a trio of Samuel Beckett one-acts (January 6). The gay-focused Celebration Theatre stages Thomas O'Neil's Judy at the Stonewall Inn, a fanciful dramedy about the ghost of Judy Garland and the historic gay-rights Stonewall riots (January 20).

Elsewhere around town, Center Theatre Group's new artistic director Michael Ritchie remounts last year's Greenway Court Theatre premiere of Thomas Gibbons' Permanent Collection, which examines art and cultural bias when an African-American businessman takes charge of a museum. (Kirk Douglas Theatre, January 15). The acclaimed Road Theatre Company in North Hollywood offers the West Coast premiere of Michele Lowe's String of Pearls, in which four actresses play 27 roles, blending sex, satire, poignancy, and absurdism (January 20).

Other offerings of note include Dakin Matthews' verse translation of Don Juan, The Trickster of Seville (Andak Stage Company, January 28); Jessica Goldberg's Stuck is about the tragic loves of two 23-year-old girls in Middle America (Meta Theatre, January 13); Rock of Ages, a new musical set in 1986 Hollywood (Vanguard Theatre, January 26); an encore engagement of Sandra Tsing Loh's solo show Mother on Fire (24th Street Theatre, January 24), and Eve Ensler's acclaimed solo piece The Good Body (Wadsworth Theatre, January 31).

Thankfully, the small-fry have not been forsaken. Santa Monica Playhouse presents a return of its popular adaptation of Cinderella (January 14). Also returning due to popular demand is December's hit family show Ken Roht's Route 99 Orange Star Dinner Show, a musical extravaganza of plastic and fun (Evidence Room, January 6).