Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
January 3, 2014
Looking back at the year in theater, it’s clear that what made it special was the Special Events. 2013 saw the first annual San Diego Fringe Festival, a wide-ranging mélange that made creative use of three different downtown venues. And the La Jolla Playhouse debuted its exciting, international, biennial WithOutWalls Festival, which featured site-specific performances ranging from the beach to the inside of cars.
Meanwhile, the Playhouse launched its DNA program, focusing on blossoming works, at an earlier stage of development than their Page to Stage project.
The big news at the Old Globe was the much-anticipated new artistic director. Shakespeare maven Barry Edelstein is already making his mark, in choosing plays, bringing in big names and hosting intimate conversations with theater heavy-hitters. He’s about to direct his first production at his new home –the not-often-seen Shakespeare tragic-comedy, “The Winter’s Tale.”
New work was a highlight of 2013, with readings and new play festivals at most theaters, large and small – showcasing local writers and prominent outsiders.
As in the film world, there were some high-priced, high-profile disappointments. And some low-budget productions that soared into the stratosphere. Several film-to-stage adaptations – most notably, “Double Indemnity” at the Globe and “His Girl Friday” and “Sideways” at the Playhouse – debuted with variable success.
The best new musicals of the year were “The Last Goodbye” and “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” both at the Globe. For 2014, I’ve got my eye on “Chasing the Song,” by the creators of “Memphis,” in its next evolutionary stage at the La Jolla Playhouse.
The best musical revivals of the year were “Chicago” at San Diego Musical Theatre, “Young Frankenstein” at Moonlight Stage Productions and “In the Heights” at the San Diego Repertory Theatre. The Rep also produced one of the most unforgettable shows of the year: the hot, sexy “Venus in Fur.”
Other memorable productions were “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” and “Bengal Tiger in the Baghdad Zoo” at ion theatre; “The Brothers Size” and “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead ” at the Old Globe; “The 39 Steps” and “WIT” at Lamb’s; and “The Bluest Eye,” a co-production of Moxie Theatre and Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company. The loss of the powerhouse founder of Mo’olelo, Seema Sueko, who moved on to the Pasadena Playhouse, is one of the year’s great misfortunes. Also in the ‘loss’ column, we may be looking at the recently refurbished North Park Theatre which, it seems, will be a turned into a concert hall rather than a live theater venue.
The year’s outstanding performances are too numerous to mention, but suffice to say that, despite the enduring recession and considerable belt-tightening, theater is alive and well and flourishing in San Diego.
Make a resolution to see more local theater this year. Everyone in New York knows that San Diego is a theater town. It’s time you knew it, too.
©2013 PAT LAUNER