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Los Angeles Spotlight: November 2007

Ray of Sunshine

Brandon Victor Dixon
in Ray Charles Live!
(© Michael Lamont)
Leading a diverse November lineup of openings is the world premiere of the bio-tuner Ray Charles Live! A New Musical (Pasadena Playhouse, October 31-November 9), with book by renowned playwright Suzan-Lori Parks (Topdog/Underdog, 365 Days/365 Plays) and a score consisting of the late, great singer/songwriter's golden oldies. Sheldon Epps directs a cast of 23 headed by Brandon Victor Dixon (Tony nominee for The Color Purple) in the title role, and also featuring Nikki Renee Daniels (of Broadway's Les Miserables and Aida) and American Idol alum Sabrina Sloan. It promises to be a stellar affair.

The month's other must-see production is the L.A. debut of Alan Bennett's multiple Tony-winner, The History Boys (Ahmanson Theatre, November 7-December 9), directed by Paul Miller, based on Nicholas Hytner's original staging. It's about myriad lessons -- both expected and unexpected -- learned by British schoolboys seeking admission to prestigious universities.

Some appealing tuners are on tap, headed by the West Coast premiere of the Off-Broadway show All This & Heaven Too (West Hollywood's Macha Theatre, November 8-December 30), with book and lyrics by Bill Dyer and music by Dick Benedictis, about a group of mature gay men gathering at the life celebration of a recently deceased friend. Jason Alexander, begins his first season as artistic director of Reprise! Broadway's Best, by helming an atypical interpretation of the vintage Faustian romp Damn Yankees (UCLA's Freud Playhouse, Nov. 6-18). A predominately African American cast and the shifting of the old-fashioned musical's setting to 1981 L.A. will put a new spin on it.

Another frothy hit from that period -- and another one boasting songs by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross -- is The Pajama Game (Musical Theatre West at Long Beach's Carpenter Performing Arts Center, November 2-18). Anaheim's Chance Theatre presents the Orange County premiere of Anne of Green Gables -- The Musical (November 9-December 23), Joseph Robinette and Evelyn D. Swensson's adaptation of Lucy Maud Montgomery's early-20th-century series of novels, a surefire attraction for young girls.

A. R. Gurney's popular comedy Sylvia, starring Cathy Rigby, promises a lot of doggone fun (La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, November 2-18). Also on the lighter side is writer-director Jon Edelman's debuting farce Screwballs (Odyssey Theatre, Oct. 18-Dec. 15), about a divorced couple who switch bodies.

There's also a wealth of dramatic fare. Making its L.A. premiere at Burbank's Victory Theatre is Rebecca Gilman's The Glory of Living (October 25-December 16), described as a dark, unflinching exploration of child abuse, sexual deviance and serial murder -- not exactly light matinee fare. Additional explosive material is on hand in Chad Beckin's 'Nami (Hayworth Theatre, October 18-November 17), a tense, haunting drama about two New York couples clinging to the tatters of their relationships. The award-winning Circle X Theatre Company premiere Jeff Goode's new play, Love Loves a Pornographer ([Inside] the Ford, November 17-January 20), asks the question: how does a Victorian pornographer commit extortion, without inordinate discord, at tea? Directing is acclaimed and prolific actress Jillian Armenante (A Mighty Heart, Judging Amy, The Cider House Rules).

J.M. Barrie's virtually forgotten Edwardian masterpiece, Dear Brutus is being revived by the classics-oriented A Noise Within (November 3-December 16). Recently produced in Orange County but making its L.A. debut is Joe Calarco's Shakespeare's R & J (Chandler Studio Theatre, November 1-December 8), a compelling story of some young Catholic schoolboys' explorations of gender roles and sexual identity while reading Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. First-time playwright Jeanne Sakata and renowned Angelino director Jessica Kubzansky explore the life of one man's human-rights struggles during the Japanese American internment of World War II in Dawn's Light: The Journey of Gordon Hirabayashi (East West Players at the David Henry Hwang Theatre, November 1-December 2).

Three shows sound like promising holiday-season family treats. South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa offers David Wood's adaptation of Roald Dahl's tale, The BFG (Big Friendly Giant, November 4-18.) Nine O'Clock Players present Carol Weiss' original musical, Alice!, a looking-glass adventure (Hollywood's Walter Lantz Theatre, October 28-December 2). Cerritos Center for the Arts hosts A Garfield Christmas (November 23-25), featuring the fat-cat movie star and his friends.

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