KPBS AIRDATE: December 29, 1994
Pat Launer KPBS-FM
The theater community is shuddering its way into the new year, bracing against a cold wind blowing from Washington . The new Contract with America doesn’t exactly feature the arts in bold print. Funding was cut back last year and there’s every indication that things will only get worse.
The economy nearly demolished the musical scene. With tsunami force, it pulled down Starlight Musical Theatre and drowned the nascent San Diego Music Theatre. Starlight bravely saved itself, but we did lose all the shows that traveled from Pasadena in to the Poway Center for the Arts. As the floods subsided, new islands emerged: the multi-million dollar Escondido Center for the Arts opened, the San Diego Actors Theatre and Gaslamp Quarter Theatre made a comeback, and the Lamb’s Players Theatre, fresh from successes running simultaneously at three houses, built itself a beautiful new home in Coronado .
The theater community took some personal losses, most notably Bill Eaton, the Old Globe’s ever-ready, ever-friendly, stalwart Public Relations maven. And prolific and prodigious writer-director Will Roberson. Sadly, too, the talented forces behind Blackfriars Theatre and Sushi Performance and Visual Arts remain homeless.
But there were many high points this year, too. First, some of my favorite productions of 1994, by category:
In the Musical arena: the Lamb’s “Boomers” was the best new one, created locally; the La Jolla Playhouse’s “How to Succeed” was the best revival, especially technically, and in the same vein, “Tommy” was the most exciting re-visit. “Forbidden Broadway” made a very successful stop at the newly for-profit Theatre in Old Town , and it’s soon to be followed by the world premiere of “Forbidden Hollywood.” “Crazy for You” provided a terrific homecoming for San Diego singer/hoofers Beverly and Kirby Ward, and Moonlight Amphitheatre did a grisly-but-great “Sweeney Todd.”
This year’s comedy kudos go to Lamb’s long-running “Beau Jest” and North Coast Rep’s “I Hate Hamlet.” The biggest comedy surprise for me, one with some meat on its funny bone, was the touring production of “The Sisters Rosenzweig,” brought to us by San Diego Playgoers.
The hardest category to trim down was dramas. My list of Bests includes Diversionary Theatre’s “Porcelain”; the Globe’s “Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me” and “Jar the Floor”; SDSU’s production of “The Normal Heart”; “The Conduct of Life” and “One for the Road” at the Fritz Theatre; The San Diego Rep’s “Three Hotels”; the Sledgehammer/Theatre E co-production of “Cross-Dressing in the Depression” and Octad-One’s impressive revival of “A Moon for the Misbegotten.”
Best Theater-in-Repertory goes to the La Jolla Playhouse for “Therese Racquin” and “The Triumph of Love.” Most provocative and talked-about play: “Oleanna” at the Globe.
Out-of-town Bests were the hilarious “Fool Moon” in L.A. ; “Jelly’s Last Jam” at the Orange County Performing Arts Centre (we hope it’s coming here soon, as it was supposed to); and South Coast Repertory Theatre’s haunting production of “Dancing at Lughnasa,” which will be produced at the Globe later this year.
Faces to watch and names to watch for in ’95: new artistic directors Michael Greif at the La Jolla Playhouse and Rosina Reynolds at the Gaslamp Quarter Theatre; playwrights Naomi Iizuka, Josefina Lopez, Stuart Ostfeld and Andy Lowe, 18 year-old winner of the statewide Young Playwrights contest; director Lisa Portes, whenever she returns from coordinating and directing all those international productions of “Tommy”; actress extraordinaire Linda Castro and fellow talented actors: Damon Bryant, Kim Miyori, Shana Wride, Devorah, Laurie Williams, Doug Waldo, Peter Smith, Barry Mann, Bruce McKenzie, Joshua Fischel, K.B. Merrill, Diane Rodriguez, Angie Phillips, and Vickilyn Reynolds. Last, but certainly not least, to look out for: Craig Noel, the indomitable Old Globe executive producer, who turns 80 next summer, just in time for the Globe’s 60th anniversary.
There are many causes for celebration as we look back on ’94, especially that so many theaters survived, and so much exciting and varied art was made. Here’s to keeping it all very much alive in ’95. And you can do your part: Go to the theater. Catch you between acts….
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1994 Patté Productions Inc.