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Monty, Millie, and the Mummy

What's coming (and going) this fall on San Diego stages? Pat Launer takes a close look. logo

Things have been hopping in San Diego theater, and there are no signs of any calming down in the near future. Fresh from its knockout, sellout world premiere at the Old Globe, the musical version of The Full Monty bares all on Broadway in October. Meanwhile, the next local, Broadway-bound project is premiering at La Jolla Playhouse: Thoroughly Modern Millie. And speaking of comebacks, Luis Valdez (Zoot Suit and the film La Bamba) has picked the San Diego Repertory Theatre to present his first new play in 14 years, a semi-autobiographical family history called The Mummified Deer.



The Old Globe is crossing its fingers for Monty while bringing back the Grinch. The mean, green Dr. Seuss character makes his third annual appearance in the highly child-friendly musical How the Grinch Stole Christmas (score by Mel Marvin, book and lyrics by Timothy Mason), November 19-December 31. Before he arrives, the Globe is mounting a new adaptation (by local professor/Greek scholar/philanthropist Marianne McDonald) of Euripides' The Trojan Women, directed by Seret Scott, who's wowed Globe audiences before with her gut-wrenching productions of The Old Settler and Blues for an Alabama Sky. This timeless anti-war story should translate into a beautiful and stimulating outdoor performance. (September 9-October 14)

Roger Rees
Another returning director is Roger Rees, who won a Best Actor Tony Award for his tenderhearted portrayal of the title character in The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (which originated at the Royal Shakespeare Company). TV-watchers know him as the ruthless Robin Colcord on Cheers, but Globe audiences remember from last year his madcap production of The Merry Wives of Windsor, set in Windsor, Ontario. Well, Rees is back to turn Shakespeare on his ear once again; he's directing Love's Labours Lost, a comedy of the sexes that promises to be another wild roller-coaster ride. (September 23-October 28)

When it comes to star turns and stadium-sized egos, nothing equals the cast of characters in actor Austin Pendleton's new play, Orson's Shadow. This one crams Orson Welles, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, and Joan Plowright onto one little stage, lumped in with the self-promoting masochist who brought them all together in the first place: renowned theater critic Kenneth Tynan. Recreating a legendary moment in theater history, the play was a hit last winter in its premiere at Chicago's celebrated Steppenwolf Theatre (of which Pendleton is a longtime member). Witty and incisive, this West Coast premiere will be an eye-opener. (September 16-October 21)


Tonya Pinkins in
Thoroughly Modern Millie

The big fall news from the La Jolla Playhouse--aside from the resignation of one-year artistic director Anne Hamburger and the temporary (?) return of Des McAnuff to plan next season--is Thoroughly Modern Millie, which boasts a megawatt creative team: award-winning Broadway director Michael Mayer, hot young composer Jeanine Tesori, author Richard Morris (who wrote the original story and screenplay for the hit 1967 movie), co-lyricist/co-author Dick Scanlan, and legendary orchestrator Ralph Burns. One of the stars of this new stage musical is Tonya Pinkins, whose fabulous voice local audiences will remember from Play On! (at the Globe). The costumes alone should knock your socks off. (October 15-November 12)

Before Millie arrives, the Playhouse will be Going to St. Ives. This new play by Lee Blessing (whose A Walk in the Woods and Fortinbras premiered at the Playhouse) is directed by Maria Mileaf, a UCSD directing alum. It focuses on the convergence and conflict of two powerful women: an English eye surgeon and the mother of a brutal African dictator. (September 17-October 15)



Two reprises kick off the season at the San Diego Repertory Theatre: R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe, a twice-extended sellout last season, and It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues, the most successful musical in the Rep's 25-year history. The heady, intelligent one-man show about inventor/philosopher/cosmologist Bucky Fuller, developed and directed by Rep co-founder Douglas Jacobs, stars (in his most magically reined-in performance) the immensely talented but usually antic Ron Campbell (September 17-October 8). Blues (September 16-October 22), a history/revue of that musical genre, went from San Diego to Broadway last year and garnered a Tony nomination. Also back this season, for the 25th time, is A Christmas Carol (November 25-December 24), destined to be a comic circus as it's directed by Joan Schirle, who helmed last year's feverish Waiting for Godot and Picasso at the Lapin Agile.

The major new attraction at the Rep is Luis Valdez, currently in the midst of a two-year residency at the theater. His Mummifed Deer (October 20-November 19) is surreal, spiritual, mysterious...and matriarchal. For the first time in a Valdez play, all the lead characters are women. And a ceremonial Yacqui deer-dancer runs through it.



The San Diego Playgoers Series of national touring productions welcomes the newly revised Broadway musical version of The Scarlet Pimpernel (November 28-December 3) and that Irving Berlin beauty, Annie Get Your Gun (December 12-17), starring Marilu Henner and Tom Wopat. And--snap, tap, rap, clap--Stomp is back (November 14-19).



For two weeks only, a high-powered UCSD reunion of sorts takes place at Sledgehammer Theatre. Director Matthew Wilder teams up with incendiary actor Bruce McKenzie for a brace of Beckett: Krapp's Last Tape and Play. Provocative and enlightening, if not cheerful and sprightly. (September 7-17)

Sledgehammer also heralds the premiere of a funky rock opera: Alice in Modernland, a sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll riff on the Lewis Carroll classic. Directed by Sledge's artistic director, Kirsten Brandt, and written by Canadian playwright Kirsten Nash. Remember what the Doormouse said: "Feed your head..." (October 29-November 26)

On a more serious note, North Coast Repertory Theatre is featuring The African Company Presents Richard III (September 30-November 5). This drama by New York playwright Carlyle Brown concerns the first black theatrical troupe in the country which, in 1820, becomes so popular that it's a threat to white theater groups--especially when they're both trying to stage the same hump-backed Shakespearean history. Next up at North Coast is First Night, a sweet, little holiday comedy à deux, which was a big hit for the theater in 1987. (November 18-December 31)

Diversionary Theatre has scored a major coup with the local premiere of Mineola Twins (October 6-November 4), by Pulitzer Prize-winner Paula Vogel. The almost-identical Myrna and Myra slog through several of America's most trenchant decades (from Eisenhower to Bush), fighting all the way over politics, purity, and prurient interests.

Bloody but unbowed: Lamb's Players Theatre presents a new adaptation of Dracula, re-conceived by artistic director Robert Smyth and writer-in-residence Kerry Meads (Boomers, American Rhythm). These dark and stormy nights (October 13-November 19) will be followed by Lamb's trio of Christmas offerings.

Viva Voltaire! It's hardly the best of all possible worlds (as Dr. Pangloss would put it) in Candide, Leonard Bernstein's legendary adaptation of the anti-optimism classic, but the score is delicious. At San Diego Comic Opera, September 15-24.

See you on the quad: Big doin's at SDSU this semester, with a tribute to Yip Harburg, the late, great lyricist and librettist. SDSU presents a musical revue, Somewhere Over the Rainbow: Yip Harburg's America (November 10-19), plus a staged reading of Harburg's 1961 musical The Happiest Girl in the World (October 24) and a Harburg Symposium (November 11).



October 22: Three-time Tony Award-winner Audra McDonald pays a much-awaited visit with a cabaret-style tribute to Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin and Leonard Bernstein. At the California Center for the Arts in Escondido.

November 18: "Bravo San Diego," a uniquely outrageous convergence of the arts, business, and civic communities, featuring fabulous food and the best of San Diego's visual and performing arts. This unparalleled spectacle is brought to us, for the second time, by the San Diego Performing Arts League and the Westgate Hotel. Don't miss it!

Finally, in the Shameless Plug Department: Don't forget to tune in to KPBS on October 30 (KPBS radio) and November 2 (KPBS-TV) to get a sneak-peek at lots of the shows mentioned above on Center Stage, a live-audience, live performance variety show devoted exclusively to live theater and hosted by yours truly. A great way to put a little drama in your life!

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