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Los Angeles Spotlight: November 2010

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Alice Ripley in Next to Normal
(© Joan Marcus)
One of the most acclaimed musical dramas of recent years, the winner of multiple honors including a Pulitzer Prize, launches its North American tour, with Tony-winning star Alice Ripley reprising her Broadway performance. Next to Normal (Ahmanson Theatre, November 23-January 2), featuring music by Tom Kitt, book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and direction by Michael Greif, charts a contemporary family's struggle to take care of themselves, and each other. The cast also features Asa Somers, Curt Hansen, Emma Hunton, Jeremy Kushnier, and Preston K. Sadleir.

Another musical with a strong must-see aura preceding its arrival is the world premiere of Randy Newman's Harps and Angels (Mark Taper Forum, November 10-December 22). Conceived by Jack Viertel, featuring songs by the ever-popular Newman, and directed by Jerry Zaks, the new piece is described as a compelling, honest, and humorous commentary on what it's like to be born, grow up, fall in love, and live and die in America. Among the cast members are Adriane Lenox, Michael McKean and Katey Sagal.

Another world premiere musical is the latest composer-bio piece from actor-musician Hershey Felder. In the solo piece Maestro: The Art of Leonard Bernstein (Geffen Playhouse, November 2-December 12), directed by Joel Zwick, Felder tells the story of the great composer/pianist/author/teacher through virtuosic piano playing and dramatic anecdotes.

Additional enticing musicals open in time for the holiday season. The touring edition of Broadway's 2009 West Side Story revival makes its way to the Pantages Theatre (November 30-January 11). David Saint recreates Arthur Laurents' direction of the Bernstein-Sondheim classic. The beloved fairy tale Cinderella is revisited as a musical extravaganza with a contemporary beat, presented in the style of a traditional London panto (El Portal Theatre, November 27-December 19). It stars Freddie Stroma -- best known as Cormac McLaggen in the Harry Potter films -- as Prince Charming, along with Jennifer Leigh Warren as The Fairy Godmother and Leave it to Beaver's Jerry Mathers as Cinderella's Father.

The month's dramatic fare is highlighted by the L.A. premiere of Tom Stoppard's Rock 'N' Roll (Open Fist Theatre, November 5-December 18), directed by Barbara Schofield. Set in 1968, it's called an electrifying collision of the romantic and the revolutionary. A rock-'n'-roll soundtrack accentuates this story of a Cambridge graduate student returning to his homeland of Czechoslovakia just as Soviet tanks roll into Prague. Stephen Adly Guirgis' surrealistic The Last Days of Judas Iscariot (Company of Angels at the Alexandria, November 19-December 12) eschews the boundaries of time as famous figures from Biblical and world history meet in purgatory at an important trial. Gregory Blair's debuting Cold Lang Syne (Ruby Theatre at the Complex, November 26-January 2) is a yuletide-season thriller about a holiday gathering of young friends that takes a deadly turn.

Susan Nanus' The Survivor (Electric Lodge Theatre, November 6-14), based on the memoirs of Jack Eisner, depicts the true story of a courageous gang of teenagers in the Warsaw Ghetto, fighting for their lives. Relatives of the characters portrayed act in this production. Reality meets drama in another unique project, Bloody Red Heart (Odyssey Theatre, November 4-21), which was developed through a youth outreach program. This stage adaptation of a book of essays, Red: Teenage Girls in America Write on What Fires Up Their Lives Today, incorporates real-life stories of L.A. girls, aged 13-19, enacted by students from the L.A. City College Theatre Academy.

Humor -- ranging from lighthearted to pitch-black -- is also among the month's fare. A double bill of theater parodies from the ever-sardonic Christopher Durang is served up in Lemon Durang Pie (Davidson/Valentini Theatre, November 5-December 5), which includes For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls, a send-up Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie, and A Stye of the Eye, which takes on Sam Shepard's A Lie of the Mind. Beth Henley's Pulitzer winning Southern-fried comedy, Crimes of the Heart, is revisited by the Asian-American-focused East West Players (David Henry Hwang Theatre, November 4-December 5). Shakespeare's venerable The Comedy of Errors is offered by the Porters of Hellgate (Actors Forum Theatre, November 5-28).

Four productions seem ideal for holiday-season family viewing. Bob Baker's Nutcracker! (Bob Baker Marionette Theatre, November 6-January 16, 2011) promises to combine music and marionettes to beguiling effect. Young performers appear in the vintage Broadway musical Once Upon a Mattress (Eclectic Company Theatre, through November 21). South Coast Repertory's Theatre for Young Audiences presents Sideways Stories from Wayside School (November 5-21), John Olive's adaptation of Louis Sacher's Wayside School book series, in which a teacher who is a witch transforms rebellious students into apples. Finally, Charlotte's Web: The Musical, offered by Laguna Playhouse's Youth Theatre (November 12-21), features a score by Charles Strouse and a book by Joseph Robinette.

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