CA's La Jolla Playhouse hasn't turned its back on pop musicals, and why should they? Director-in-residence Des McAnuff's staging of The Who's Tommy helped win the playhouse the 1993 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre. With artistic director Michael Greif at the helm, this season will see the Broadway smash Rent plus a new musical by pop songwriter Barry Manilow.
Here's the La Jolla 1997 season lineup:
The Importance of Being Earnest (May 13-June 15, opens May 18)
Les Waters directs Oscar Wilde's 1895 comic masterwork, subtitled "A Trivial Comedy For Serious People." Linda Hunt (film: The Year Of Living Dangerously) will play the muddled matron Lady Bracknell. Worthing will be played by Jefferson Mays, Algernon by Barnaby Carpenter; Miss Prism by Christine Estabrook, and Cecily by Aimee Guillot. (Gwendolyn has yet to be announced). Also appearing will be Paul H. Juhn, Peter Bartlett and Tom Fitzpatrick (Happy Days at LaJolla. This oft produced farce of false identities and class consciousness recently had an all star staging Off-Broadway, directed by Tony Walton and featuring Eric Stoltz and Melissa Errico.
The School For Wives (June 10-July 13, opens June 15)
Neel [sic] Keller directs this 1662 Moliere comedy.
Rent (July 1-Aug. 31, opens July 13)
Considered one of the major musicals of the decade, Rent features book, music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson, who died just as the show was premiering Off-Broadway at New York Theatre Workshop. Michael Greif's staging of this rock musical, based on Puccini's La Boheme, moved to Broadway's Nederlander Theatre and won the 1996 Tony and Pulitzer prizes for Best Musical. The Model Apartment (July 22-Aug. 24, opens July 27)
Donald Margulies unsettling drama (with elements of pitch-black comedy) played briefly at Off-Broadway's Primary Stages in October 1995. Mark Rucker will direct La Jolla's production of the play, which shows two retirees unable to find peace because of their children -- one dead, the other psychotic.
undecided -- a Tony-nominee for Best Play (Sept. 9-Oct. 12, opens Sept. 14)
One of the plays chosen for a 1996-97 Tony nomination will come to LaJolla's Weiss Forum in September. Figure on one of the following: The Last Night Of Ballyhoo, An American Daughter, Stanley, Skylight or The Young Man From Atlanta.
Harmony (Oct. 7-Nov. 23, opens Oct. 19)
A world-premiere of Barry Manilow's new musical, Harmony is inspired by the true story of the Comedian Harmonists, six young men in 1920s Germany who rose from unemployed street musicians to become world-famous entertainers. While at the height of their fame, they played to sold-out shows in world-class concert halls, made a dozen films and sold millions of records. But the group's mixture of Jews and Gentiles inevitably led to clashes with the newly established Nazi party.
Bruce Sussman wrote the book and lyrics for Harmony, which will be directed by David Warren (Broadway's recent Summer And Smoke revival). Warren's last La Jolla project was Des McAnuff's Silent Edward in 1986.
Manilow, a Brooklyn native, wrote such pop hits as "Weekend In New England" and "Copacabana." His musical score for Off-Broadway's The Drunkard -- written when he was 18! -- ran for eight years. In 1994 he wrote the score for the Warner Brothers animated feature, Thumbelina. Sussman scored the Off Broadway musical Miami (book by Wendy Wasserstein) and Ted Tally play, Coming Attractions.
Michael Grief, artistic director of La Jolla Playhouse, wrote of the show, "I have been aware of and inspired by The Comedian Harmonists for many years. Indeed, my production of Machinal...was influenced by their sophisticated, urban style of music-making [in] diverse styles: jazz, classical and popular music of their day. Barry Manilow's music for Harmony captures that stylized, breakthrough sound."
Manilow called the writing of Harmony "the most challenging and creative journey of my career... I have tried to probe in equal depth most every musical style I've ever loved. The first time we visited La Jolla Playhouse, I knew we had found a perfect home for our project."
Manilow told San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Michael Phillips, "It's not a rollicking farce, it's substantial subject matter. And hopefully very entertaining." Sussman has said the show was about "finding redemption through remembering."
Managing director Terrence Dwyer wrote that "with Harmony, the Playhouse continues its long-standing commitment to popular composers and playwrights who are creating new works for the musical theatre. Harmony's world premiere is a great addition to our 50th anniversary season."
Single tickets to productions in the La Jolla season will go on sale April 14 at noon, at the box office or by phone (619) 550-1010. Subscriptions are already onsale, and subscribers will have an early chance to buy extra tickets to La Jolla shows, March 31-April 13. Single tickets for plays run $21-$39; musicals run $30-$55 (Harmony is only $26-$42.50).
Managing director Terrence Dwyer credited upgrades to La Jolla's telephone system for the ability to provide better ticket services to patrons. Demand for tickets has been extremely high, especially since this is La Jolla's "15/50 Season," that is, the theatre turns 50 this year, and it's been 15 years since the playhouse's revival in 1983.