KPBS AIRDATE: December 20, 1995
There were plenty of reasons to celebrate this past year in the theater: It was the Old Globe’s 60th anniversary, and the San Diego Rep’s 20th. The Globe’s incredible, indomitable Craig Noel turned 80 — and directed two delightful productions to boot! We had some wonderful out-of-town guests: John Goodman, Randy Newman, Stephen Sondheim, David Garrison, David Morse, Theodore Bikel, Josh Mostel, Eric Bogosian, Spalding Gray and hunky Sam Harris.
“The Phantom of the Opera” broke all house records at the Civic Theatre and “Les Miz” did great at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido. “Angels in America” lived up to all expectations and beyond — it was one of those rare, heart-stopping theater experiences. On a much smaller scale, so was “An Almost Holy Picture,” which was an almost holy evening of theater courtesy of David Morse, at the La Jolla Playhouse.
Sondheim and George Furth’s comedy thriller, “The Doctor is Out” moves from its Old Globe world premiere directly to Broadway, opening in March. “Randy Newman’s Faust,” a musical feast that needs some serious book-work, will probably detour a bit before it hits the Great White Way, but the La Jolla Playhouse will likely have another winner on its hands, this one directed by its new boss-man, Michael Greif. The American musical theater needs this kind of quirky infusion of life.
In the new-growth department, two new venues blossomed this year: The Green Room at Twiggs Tea and Coffee Co., which is owned by composer Michael Roth and his wife. Roth worked on Faust and collaborated with choreographer John Malashock, who made a spectacular foray into theater this year. Watch for more exciting things from both. Moonlight Amphitheatre is taking another shot at an indoor season, for which they attractively renovated the Avo Theatre in Vista. And Ensemble Arts Theatre has finally gotten a home: in the old Art Union Building.
There were some new theater producers in town, too: Outcast Productions toured around with a musically vibrant “Sunday in the Park with Sondheim” and Fly By Night Productions developed the sexy new musical “Dracul,” that hopes to head Off-Broadway.
But for every silver lining, there’s a cloud…. This year saw the very sad ending of two important chapters in San Diego theatre history: the 15 year-old Gaslamp Quarter Theatre Company, and the plucky, talent-ridden but homeless Blackfriars Theatre closed their doors. Blackfriars went out with a bang: “Ivanov,” a hugely exciting Chekhov production by the visiting Maxim Gorky Theatre, and “Player’s Joy,” an intimate, one-man recollection by artistic director Ralph Elias.
All in all, it was a more than eclectic season, with something to charm or thrill anyone — from a gorgeous “Tempest on the Beach” to a wild and woolly Sledgehammer “Peter Pan.” A few politically charged productions bear mentioning: “Keely and Du” at the Rep, “Beirut” and “God’s Country” at the Fritz and Ionesco’s frighteningly pertinent “Drop Dead” at SDSU. Also highly noteworthy: “Desire Under the Elms” and “Shadowlands” at North Coast Rep, “Cloud Tectonics” at the La Jolla Playhouse, “Henry IV” at the Old Globe, “Curse of the Starving Class” at UCSD, “The Miracle Worker” at Lamb’s Players Theatre, “El Paso Blue” at San Diego Rep, “My Fair Lady” at Christian Community Theatre, “Bandido” at Southwestern College, and “Miss Evers’ Boys” at San Diego Black Theatre Ensemble.
Cleverness and humor were provided by the Rep’s “Good Night Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet,” ”All in the Timing” at Ensemble Arts Theatre, “Our Gay ‘Apparel” at Diversionary Theatre, and North Coast Rep’s “Inspecting Carol,” as well as the November edition of “Forbidden Broadway” at the Theatre in Old Town, which has made a cottage industry out of the ‘Forbidden.’
Some of our local double threats — actor/directors — were busy in both domains, and they should continue their talented duality: Christina Courtenay, Duane Daniels, Doug Jacobs, Priscilla Allen, and Sam Woodhouse.
Finally, there are some special faces and names you should watch for in ‘96: scenic designer Michelle Riel, sound designer Pea Hicks, and, in no particular order, a few actors very worthy of note: Gabriel Romero, Walter Murray, Laurie Williams, Matthew Reidy, Howard Bickle, Bets Malone, Doren Elias, Jeffrey Meek, Deanna Driscoll, KB Merrill and Jefferson Mays.
You may not be aware of this, but San Diego is known nationwide as a real theater town. So take pride and take part. Volunteer at a theater, go to the theater, and give Gift-Tix for holiday presents, good for a year at 75 local performing arts venues.
Hope you have a dramatic holiday season!
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1995 Patté Productions Inc.