The jury's out on Legally Blonde, the new musical that enjoys its world premiere at the Golden Gate Theatre (January 23-February 24) before heading to Broadway. Inspired by the beloved motion picture of the same name, the musical focuses on Elle Woods, a perky glamour girl who wiggles her way into Harvard Law School in order to win back the boy of her dreams, and ends up with a much different life than she imagined. Broadway veterans Laura Bell Bundy, Orfeh, Richard H. Blake, Christian Borle, and Michael Rupert head the cast; the music and lyrics come from the husband-and-wife team of Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin; outstanding choreographer Jerry Mitchell takes the reins as director; and the knockout scenic design comes from the talented David Rockwell.
Kicking off 2007 at the American Conservatory Theater is W. Somerset Maugham's much-loved comedy The Circle (January 4-February 4), the playwright's popular satire that tackles the burning and oft-discussed debate over passion versus practicality, fidelity, and marriage. Mark Lamos, an A.C.T. favorite, is the production's director, guiding a top-notch cast that includes Broadway veteran Kathleen Widdoes and James Waterston.
Meanwhile, over at the Zeum Theater, A.C.T. is hosting its annual First Look New Plays Festival (January 16-27), featuring The Tosca Project, by artistic director Carey Perloff and collaborator Val Caniparoli, Jose Rivera's Brain People, and Constance Congdon's adaptation of Moliere's The Imaginary Invalid.
Across the Bay, life creepily imitates art in the Berkeley Repertory Theatre's production of Martin McDonagh's chilling whodunit, The Pillowman (January 12-February 25), directed by Les Waters. In the award-winning drama, a man tells scary stories to his mentally challenged brother for entertainment purposes. But these ghoulish tales go from fiction to fact when a series of gruesome murders that mirror these homespun tales terrorize the town. Guess who quickly finds himself fingered as the prime suspect?
If you'd prefer something cheerier, consider Third Child Productions' staging of Emperor Norton, The Musical (January 5-April 1), the wildly funny musical that premiered last year at San Francisco's Dark Room Theater. This is the story of one of San Francisco's most famous and beloved eccentric real-life characters: businessman Joshua Norton, who lost his entire fortune, went bonkers, and seemingly out of nowhere proclaimed himself "Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico."
Traveling Jewish Theatre opens its mainstage season with Rose (January 4-February 25), the one-woman show penned by acclaimed playwright Martin Sherman. TJT cofounder Naomi Newman steps into the title role as audiences follow Rose on her life's wild journey that begins in a Ukrainian shtetl and ends in Miami Beach. In between, the unsinkable Rose escapes a Warsaw ghetto, explores the dim wattage of Atlantic City, and includes a stay at a Connecticut hippie commune.
Enjoying its California premiere is Anthony Clarvoe's Ambition Facing West (January 17-February 11) at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. Winner of the Elliot Norton Award for Outstanding New Play, this provocative work chronicles a family's journey between 1940 and 1980 from Croatia through Wyoming and finally to Japan.
Always a family favorite, Lionel Bart's famed musical Oliver! (January 12-27) takes hold of the Stage 1 Community Theatre in Newark. Directed by Barbara Williams, this perennial charmer is based on Charles Dickens' novel about a precocious orphan boy whose street smarts and natural charm eventually yields great riches.