A couple of years ago, at a performance of Lady in the Dark, which was presented as part of the "Encores! Great American Musicals in Concert" series at New York's City Center, anyone sitting behind Marcia Seligson in the audience might have seen a metaphorical light bulb floating over her head.
The self-described "musical theatre nut and amateur musician" who'd relocated from New York to the West Coast had long been of the opinion that there was more appetite for musical theatre in Los Angeles than there was availability. Now she'd come across a concept with which she could not only indulge her ambition to produce live events in her new hometown but at the same time challenge her thesis. She's succeeded beyond her wildest dreams.
Earlier this year, Seligson, as producing artistic director of Reprise! Broadway's Best in Concert, launched a subscription series at the UCLA Freud Playhouse, which began last May 14-18 with Burt Bacharach/Hal David/Neil Simon's Promises, Promises, starring Jason Alexander. The series continues Sept. 24-28 with Andrea Marcovicci in the E.Y. Harburg/Burton Lane Finian's Rainbow and concludes Nov. 19-23 with Wonderful Town, the Leonard Bernstein/Betty Comden/Adolph Green musical starring Tyne Daly.
So overwhelming has been the demand for tickets that 85 percent of the subscription was sold out in the first three weeks following an announcement of the series last spring. And following six sold-out performances of Promises, Jason Alexander and the rest of the cast, which included Alan Thicke, Jean Smart and Barney Martin, were induced to come back in August for another 10 days.
"I knew the [formula] would work brilliantly out here," says Seligson, "because there is such a big talent pool out here, actors working in television and movies who don't have a chance to exercise their love of musical theatre. We're really committed to using local talent. We want this to be a Los Angeles project, an ongoing home for musical theatre, tapping the best talents in choreography and staging"directors like Stuart Ross (Promises, Promises), Will Mackenzie (Finian's Rainbow) and Tom Moore (Wonderful Town) and Peter Matz, the veteran conductor, arranger and composer who is the musical director for the series.
Reprise! has covered the same ground as Encores!indeed both did concert versions of Promises, Promises, though the L.A. critics tended to be more favorable than their New York peersbut Seligson says that somewhere down the road, she'd like to workshop new musicals in a concert form. She is also looking to expand the series' venue beyond the 528-seat UCLA Freud Playhouse. Invariably, commercial runs of the shows are also being discussed (for now, they are limited to six performances each). The tremendous success of the Broadway revival of Chicago, which began as an Encores! production, has only served to heighten Reprise!'s profile in the arts community.
"There have been conversations about taking Promises to Broadway, but right now we have rights to do just what we're doing," says Seligson. "It has nothing to do with us, at least not at the moment. I do think that Wonderful Town is a candidate to go to Broadway or on the road. The problem is casting. What's so attractive for performers is that they can easily make a commitment of two weeks or a month. But longer runs are much trickier. It's nothing short of a miracle that we were able to get almost the entire cast of Promises back."-- By Patrick Pacheco