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Los Angeles Spotlight: January 2005

Getting Into the Habit

Betty Garrett in Nunsense
As expected, the L.A. theater scene resumes at a leisurely pace in January, following the annual near-shutdown of activity during the holiday period from mid-December through after New Year's. Yet there are a handful of promising high-profile offerings and a few obscure but tantalizing prospects for avid theatergoers looking for a post-holiday doldrums fix.

As has often been the case lately, a lot of the big guns this month come in the form of musicals. Heading the list is the world premiere of an operatic-styled historical epic, Gaveston, Favourite of the King, at the Celebration Theatre in Hollywood (opening January 14), with book and lyrics by Ken Prestininzi and music by Christopher Winslow, charting the 14th-century relationship between King Edward II of England and Piers Daniel Gaveston. It begins as Edward II becomes king and calls to court his banished lover, Gaveston. Their reunion becomes the focus of political intrigue, emotional manipulation, and finally civil upheaval. This production will be a bittersweet occasion, as it's the swan song for artistic director Derek Charles Livingston, who is leaving his post after four years of leading L.A.'s veteran gay-focused group through award-winning and critically acclaimed productions, such as the long-run musical Pinafore!.

Equally exciting is the prospect of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's seldom performed 1929 musical Happy End, a gritty guys-and-dolls musical that's far removed from the world of Damon Runyon or Frank Loesser. Mobsters, streetwalkers, vagrants, pious do-gooders, and the respectable unemployed rub elbows in this quintessential Brechtian marvel. It's being staged by the stalwart Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice (opening January 22), a revival of the group's very first production when they formed in 1985.

Among other musicals are the touring edition of the Cameron Mackintosh production of Oklahoma! at Hollywood's Pantages Theatre (opening January 18); Betty Garrett, Bridget Hanley, and Lee Meriwether in the zany romp Nunsense at Hollywood's Theatre West (opening January 20); Stephen Schwartz's classic Charlemagne musical Pippin from Reprise! Broadway's Best at the UCLA Freud Playhouse (opening January 25); and a two-week return engagement of Southern California's home-grown Broadway musical Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a glittering Deaf West musical, at downtown's Ahmanson Theatre (opening January 12).

And of course, there are several non-musical treats as well. Lyric Hyperion Productions and Silverlake's Company of Angels team up to offer Othello, opening January 14 at the Angels Theatre. Director Marc Antonio Pritchett's unorthodox staging of the Shakespeare classic will commemorate its 400th anniversary; a hip soundtrack and LCD projections onto big screens are promised. There could be fun and atmospherics aplenty in a revisit to George M. Cohan's classic mystery Seven Keys to Baldpate, at the Sierra Madre Playhouse (opening January 7). Another interesting-sounding offering is Matt Gould's autobiographical solo show The Time When I Was Mamadou, at Hollywood's Hudson Mainstage Theatre (opening January 7). A redheaded black, Jewish gay guy goes to Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer. Trying to be a do-gooder, he ends up in a misguided soiree to the Sahara Desert. And finally, Krista Vernoff's seriocomedy Me, My Guitar & Don Henley, at the 2100 Square Feet Theatre in L.A. (opening January 7), is about a mixed-up family of former flower children in which there are at least six sides to every story.

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