Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
February 25, 2011
Here’s this week’s dramatic question: Can young people enjoy old theatrical creations? The answer, based on three current productions, is a resounding … ‘Depends.’
At UCSD, a second-year MFA directing student, Anthony Luciano , is helming an updated version of Ibsen’s 1890 masterwork, “ Hedda Gabler ,” replete with cellphones , laptops and gorgeous outfits for the spoiled central character, who feels trapped in her beautiful, contemporary digs. The conflicts feel up-to-the-minute, and Zoë Chao’s knockout performance as Hedda captures all her enigmatic colors: sassy, envious, violent, love-starved, romantically delusional, bored and gleefully wicked. In this production, her husband may not be boring enough to engender her antipathy, the dissolute writer may not have enough Bad Boy, irresistible charisma but Chao is luminous.
Now, the Welk Resorts Theatre doesn’t typically cater to a callow crowd – though “The Fantasticks ,” a coming-of-age allegory, should be attractive to the young. Usually performed on a bare stage, this production, directed by Ray Limon, is more elaborate than most, projections and all, but it retains the play’s homage to the magic of theater, its cluttered set filled with backstage detritus — a jumble of props and set-pieces. In the brilliant Schmidt and Jones creation, everything needed to further the action comes out of a trunk – including a couple of comic characters, not as comical as they could be here. Randall Dodge , who’s played the central role of El Gallo multiple times, anchors the piece, with his rich, resonant baritone, arched eyebrow, and wistful and seductive actions. He’s the perfect foil for teaching the idealistic ingénues the cruel ways of the world. With its signature song, “Try to Remember,” a recollection of young love, the sweet show is framed as a nostalgia piece.
But nothing’s more nostalgic than “I Love a Piano,” Ray Roderick and Michael Berkley’s musical tribute to the wildly prolific Irving Berlin, who penned 1500 songs over his 60-year career. A Russian immigrant, he embodied the American Dream, and lived to age 101, having conquered Tin Pan Alley, Broadway and Hollywood .
This musical revue cleverly links 64 of his songs, including timeless ones like “White Christmas,” “God Bless America ” and “Easter Parade.” But many of the lesser-known numbers are so era-specific, they just feel dated.
At Moonlight Stage Productions, the six performers are talented, engaging and in constant motion, thanks to Carlos Mendoza’s inventive direction and choreography. The quick-change costumes are delectable, and the harmonies are luscious, under Terry O’Donnell’s musical direction. Still, as I noticed in the self-selected singalong section surrounding me, the show feels attuned to those who can remember and reminisce.
So decide for yourself about theater for the young: with something traditional, something retro, or a new take on a venerable classic.
“ Hedda Gabler ” runs through February 26 in the Weiss Forum Theatre on the campus of UCSD.
Moonlight Stage Productions’ “I Love a Piano” continues through March 13 at the Avo Theatre in Vista .
“The Fantasticks ” remain at the Welk Resort Theatre in Escondido through April 3.
©2011 PAT LAUNER