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Los Angeles Spotlight: May 2009

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Amanda Leigh Cobb and Josef Brown
in Dirty Dancing
(© David Scheinmann)
We're promised the "time of our life" with the West Coast premiere of the new musical Dirty Dancing -- The Classic Story on Stage (Pantages Theatre, May 8-June 28). Based on the ever-popular film that starred Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, the show was previously presented in London and Australia, with the adaptation penned by Eleanor Bergstein, who wrote the original screenplay and coproduced the film. A stellar cast (Eric McCormack, Lucas Grabeel, Harry Groener) brings the beloved classic The Fantasticks to life once again, under the direction of Jason Alexander (Reprise at UCLA Freud Playhouse, May 5-17). And a longtime Manhattan favorite that recently ended its run will be presented with a seasoned cast of L.A.-based actor-singers, when Forbidden Broadway, Greatest Hits, Volume 1 presents a best-of compilation revue (Musical Theatre West at Carpenter Performing Arts Center, May 1-17).

Still more tuners are on tap, most notably Big, The Musical (West Coast Ensemble at the El Centro Theatre, May 5-June 28). This Broadway almost-ran is based on the famous Tom Hanks film comedy about a kid who suddenly wakes up in the body of a 30-year-old-man, and features a score by Davis Shire and Richard Maltby Jr. with a book by Joseph Weidman. Also promising is Crowns, Regina Taylor's adaptation of the book by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry (Ebony Repertory Theatre May 5-June 14 and Pasadena Playhouse July 10-August 23). This Helen Hayes Award-winning musical explores the lives of the "hat queens," six women in the South whose stories of love, loss, identity, and sisterhood are woven into the hats that crown their heads. A new country-western jukebox tuner is offered in Jason Petty's Obie-winning turn as the great Hank Williams in Hank and My Honky Tonk Heroes (El Portal Mainstage Theatre, May 14-24). Fullerton Civic Light Opera brings back the always-welcome chestnut, Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I (Plummer Auditorium, May 8-24). Two vintage song cycles, Stephen Sondheim's Marry Me a Little and Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Years are offered as a double bill by East West Players at the David Henry Hwang Theatre (May 7-June 7).

The dramatic highlight of the month promises to be the world premiere of Rajiv Joseph's Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo (Kirk Douglas Theatre, May 10-June 7), directed by the masterful Moises Kaufman. It's described as a lyrical, haunting new play set against the backdrop of the war in Iraq in a surreal and darkly humorous view of war and its aftermath. Is He Dead? (International City Theatre, May 1-24) is a little-known play by Mark Twain, called a sly critique of the art world. Actors' Co-op revives Arthur Miller's classic The Crucible (Crossley Theatre, May 1-June 7), a parable of McCarthyism, set during the infamous Salem Witch trials. Tom Stoppard's playful comedy about the mystery of love, The Real Thing (Skylight Theatre, through May 31) is directed by Allen Barton.

Edwin Sanchez' gritty urban love story Trafficking in Broken Hearts (Celebration Theatre, May 13-June 14) is about an encounter among a tough Puerto Rican hustler, a 17-year-old runaway on the streets, and a frightened young lawyer from the Midwest. Half of Plenty (Rogue Machine at Theatre/Theater, May 8-June 21), by Steppenwolf playwright Lisa Dillman, is called a hilarious and chilling tale on lean times and family values in America, expressing familiar anxieties on modern living. Laura Schelhardt's debuting play, Courting Vampires (Theatre @ Boston Court, through June 7) is an allegory that straddles the graveyard and the courtroom. Another world premiere, The Idea Man (Elephant Theatre, May 8-June 13), offers a sardonic commentary on class conflict in the workplace.

Comedy is on the roster as well, headed by the world premiere of Stephen Belber's The Muscles in Our Toes (May 23-June 29), involving a startling kidnap that occurs during a 20th-anniversary high school reunion. Mark Saltzman's Setup and Punch (Blank Theatre Company at 2nd Stage Theatre, May 9-June 21), including original rock songs by Berton Averre and Rob Meurer, is about a songwriting duo whose relationship is blown to bits when they must collaborate with the sex-god singer-composer of a cutting-edge band. Rantoul and Die (Lillian Theatre, May 14-July 4), by Mark Roberts, writer-executive producer of TV's Two and a Half Men, is described as a romantic comedy wrapped in razor wire.

Family fare includes Beyond the Beanstalk (The Jack Tales), presented by New York's Das Puppenspiel Puppet Theater (Orange County Performing Arts Center, May1-3), expands upon the classic fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk. Santa Monica Playhouse offers Mother's Day Enchanted Lunchtime Theatre on May 5, including ensemble play development for youngsters, as well as a lunchtime meal.

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