Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: JULY 30, 2010
The surprising and delightful link between two high-spirited productions – a Shakespearean romance and a musical comedy – is the next generation.
Both the La Jolla Playhouse and the San Diego Repertory Theatre have teamed up with young people to enhance their current theater offering. Members and alumni of the San Diego Youth Symphony are accompanying Christopher Ashley ’s whimsical, wildly inventive production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Playhouse. And half the 60 performers and musicians in the Rep’s ebullient “Hairspray” are from the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts. This is unprecedented for both companies, and it’s a spectacular indication of the imagination of local theatermakers and the future of local theater.
Everything’s topsy-turvy in this “Midsummer Night,” where love literally turns the world upside down. So chandeliers, pianos and fireplaces are upended, and aerialists hang from the rafters. It’s a sumptuous visual feast. But there’s so much going on, backed by the gorgeous strains of Mendelssohn’s 19th century creations for the play, wonderfully augmented by the original music and sound composition of Mark Ben nett, that sometimes the lush lyricism gets a little lost in the maelstrom. Still, the costumes are ingenious, the acrobats are agile, the lovers are engaging and the language is well spoken, even if the outlandish play-within-a-play, ‘ Pyramus and Thisbe ,’ drags just a bit at the end.
Ashley made a number of innovative directorial decisions, and most work quite well. One conspicuous alteration is that the ingénues aren’t. All four of the confused and hormonally over-amped sweethearts are verging on middle-age, supposedly desperate for one last chance at love, though the desperation barely shows in their adolescent cruelty and capriciousness. If that bothers you, no matter. You’ll still be charmed by the glorious music, antic action and stunning stage pictures.
Things are a little overblown at the San Diego Rep, too. But more physically than symbolically. “Hairspray” is all about a plus-sized spitfire who wants to integrate a popular, 1960s teenage TV dance show, a close cousin to ‘American Bandstand.’
In the multiple Tony award-winning 2002 musical, based on John Waters’ 1988 cult film, Tracy Turnblad’s big heart matches her girth and her grand social ambition. Bethany Slomka , who only graduated from SCPA two years ago, is a knockout. And as for the excellent ensemble, you’ll have a tough time telling the students from the pros. The energy is terrific, propelling the high-octane singing and dancing. The costumes are aptly garish, the wigs are outrageous and the music is infectious. Thanks to director Sam Woodhouse , choreographer Javier Velasco , a superb youth orchestra and a bevy of irresistible performances, the REP can celebrate a big, fat, teased-up, aerosoled hit.
So consider these two great ways to make your own Midsummer Night a dream.
“Hairspray” runs through August 15 at the San Diego Repertory Theatre in Balboa Park .
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” continues through August 22, at the La Jolla Playhouse, on the campus of UCSD.
©2010 PAT LAUNER