Published in Décor & Style Magazine

We’re well into the dog days of summer, which people have been saying for about 20 centuries. The Romans linked the rising of the dog star, Sirius, to the sultry summer heat. So, let’s get sirius about having some fun while summer’s still raging. This month, you can have a pretty hot time at just about any theater in town.

If it’s music you want, the hills are alive…

Broadway/San Diego is bringing back “Rent,” that internationally applauded, ‘La Boheme’-inspired musical paean to the bohemian life, updated and reset in New York amid the AIDS epidemic. Because it was originally directed by Michael Greif, then artistic director of La Jolla Playhouse, San Diego got to see the West Coast premiere of the rock opera. The most heralded musical in decades, winning the Obie, the Tony and the Pulitzer Prize, is not just about gays and AIDS, or even starving artists. It’s really about love, valor and compassion, to coin a theatrical phrase. Not to mention friendship, loyalty and community. The show is kind of like a concert, young and hip, loud and brash, fun and in-your-face. It will always be bittersweet, not just for its plot, but for its sad back-story. The brilliant young creator of “Rent” never got to see his dream fully realized. Jonathan Larson died suddenly of an aortic aneurysm, at age 35, just before the show went into previews in New York in 1996. But with all its sadness, it’s an ebullient theatrical testimonial to a generation and an era. It trumpets youth, energy and impetuosity, but it’s not just for the young. It has something to say to us all. (8/7-12 at the Civic Theatre; 619-570-1100 or 220-TIXS).

Following close on its heels at the Civic Theatre is another blockbuster reprise — “Beauty and the Beast.” The mega-musical brings its dancing flatware to San Diego once again, and children can delight to the bookworm Belle and her Beastly host with-a-heart-of-gold, boo at that monstrous, self-inflated Gaston and the light up for the luminous Lumiere. They’ll all be back, in all their multi-million-dollar glory. The opulence, the spectacle, the pyrotechnics — see it through the eyes of a child. (8/21-9/1 at the Civic Theatre; 619-570-1100 or 220-TIXS).

Speaking of reprises, Lamb’s Players Theatre is bringing back, for the third or fourth time, their endlessly entertaining revue of the 60s, “Boomers.” It’s the roller-coaster ride of the Baby Boom generation, and if you answer to that title, you’ll reminisce your heart out (and want to sing along!) (8/2-9/22 at the Lyceum Space in Horton Plaza; 619-437-0600).

Lamb’s is also presenting “Deep River,” a compelling drama by David McFadzean (co-creator of “Home Improvement”). McFadzean, who was once the Lamb’s Players’ managing director and resident playwright, has created a coming-of-age story that combines mystery, humor and secrets galore. Six of his plays have had their premieres at Lamb’s, and “Deep River” was first produced there in 1983. It was subsequently produced Off-Broadway under the title “China Fish.” Go figure. (8/9-9/15; at the Lamb’s homebase in Coronado; 619-437-0600).

Back to the musicals, at Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista, you can catch “Dames at Sea,” that nautical-but-nice, tap-dancing 1930’s spoof of early Hollywood musicals (through 8/11; 760-724-2110) and the regional debut of “Ragtime,” the marvelous, heart-wrenching, Tony Award-winning story of immigrant America at the turn of the last century (8/28-9/8; 760-724-2110).

In Balboa Park, Starlight Musical Theatre is presenting “My One and Only,” the 1920s Gershwin musical that Tommy Tune and Twiggy revived and revitalized in 1983. It’s all about a barnstorming aviator and a champion swimmer who get absurdly involved with a bootlegging Harlem minister, a tap-dancing philosopher and a blackmailing Russian spy (8/15-25; 619-544-7827).

The Welk Resort Theatre continues “Singin’ in the Rain,” that movie music perennial all about Hollywood’s transition from silent to talking films (through 8/31; 760-749-3448).

Christian Community Theatre, back atop beautiful Mt. Helix for the summer, presents that rip-roarin’, rootin’-tootin’ love story, “Annie Get Your Gun” (8/16-31; 619-588-0206).

La Jolla Stage Company is presenting two musicals, “The Secret Garden,” the entrancing, Tony Award-winning tale of a spoiled 11-year old orphan, her reclusive uncle and the hidden flower-yard of the title (through 8/11) and they’re launching an open-ended run of “Polyester,” the funky, freaky, 70s musical revue (bubble gum, anyone?) (8/2 to whenever; 858-459-7773).

And San Diego Junior Theatre is taking a big musical bite with “Once on This Island,” created in 1990 by “Ragtime” writers Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, a magical musical fable told to a young girl during a storm in the French Antilles. It’s really an imaginative retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” (8/2-18; 619-239-8355).

To the delight of music and theater-lovers alike, the San Diego Repertory Theatre is bringing back Randal Myler’s “Love, Janis,” more a concert than a play, that tells the raucous, drug-riddled life-story of the blues-rock legend (from the book by her sister, Laura Joplin). The show features 19 of her famous, knock-’em-dead songs (“Piece of My Heart,” “Ball and Chain,” “Mercedes Benz,” “Get It While You Can,” “Bobby McGee” and more). Backed by a rockin’ seven-piece band, the reprise features a speaking Janis and two singing Janises, because it’s such a vocally demanding role. Andra Mitrovich comes to us from the New York production, where the Village Voice proclaimed her “a dynamo who’s got Janis’s moves really down…. you could almost swear it was 1967.” On alternating nights, singing will be by Kacee Clanton-Iniguez, who played the role in the original San Diego production last year. (through 8/18; 619-544-1000).

In Orange County, the Laguna Playhouse opens its 82nd season with “Always… Patsy Cline” starring two-time Emmy Award-winner Sally Struthers, with Christa Jackson as the titular musical legend. The show features 22 of Cline’s country wailers, from “Crazy” and “I Fall to Pieces” to “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and “Sweet Dreams.” The story follows the life of the singer and a Texas housewife who befriended her and stuck by her until Cline’s untimely death at age 30 in and 1963 plane crash (through 8/25; 949-497-ARTS).

At the Orange County Performing Arts Center, “The Phantom of the Opera” plays those stomach-rumbling organ chords once again. The London Sunday Times once called the schmaltzy show “God’s gift to the musical theatre.” Well, you may or may not agree, but if you haven’t ever seen it, where have you been? The Andrew Lloyd Webber extravaganza still boasts some of the most lavish sets, costumes and special effects ever to have been created for the stage, and it’s been seen and hailed in more than 90 cities worldwide (through 8/25; 714-556-ARTS). And to cap off the summer, six-time American Music Award winner Michael Bolton brings his “Lovesongs Live Concert” to OCPAC, timed to coincide with the release of his latest CD, ‘Only a Woman Like You.’ (8/31; 714-556-ARTS).

If music isn’t your food of love, how about a little Shakespeare, dance or drama?

New Village Arts, North County’s most exciting theatrical addition, has mounted its first (hopefully annual) free outdoor Shakespeare event, the delightful, romantic comedy, “As You Like It.” (8/9-25 in Carlsbad’s Stagecoach Park; 760-439-3784).

Eveoke Dance Theatre is hosting a Celebrate Dance Festival, three days of free dance performances and workshops, featuring 35 regional companies (8/23-25 at the Casa Del Prado in Balboa Park; 619-238-1153).

On August 10, the acclaimed Malashock Dance company presents “Salonen & A Soldier’s Tale,” a collaboration with the La Jolla Chamber Music Society, for which choreographer John Malashock has created ‘dance scenes’ to Stravinsky’s score (8/10, in Sherwood Auditorium at the Museum of Contemporary Art, La Jolla; 858-459-3728).

The Irvine Barclay Theatre is presenting the New World Flamenco Festival (8/9-11; 949-854-4646), featuring the Compania Juana Amaya. Amaya, a gypsy from Moron de la Frontera, is considered to be one of the most charismatic flamenco artists today.

You can’t beat our Tony Award-winning theatres, the Globe and the La Jolla Playhouse for thoughtful summer drama.

The Globe continues its tradition of presenting classic Irish storytelling with Brian Friel’s “Faith Healer,” directed by Seret Scott. One of Ireland’s finest, most sensitive playwrights has produced a beautiful, sad and poetic story of Frank Hardy — part con-artist, part real artist, as he wends his way through a series of one-night stands in Wales and Scotland (through 8/25 on the Cassius Carter Centre Stage; 619-239-2255).

In the larger, Old Globe Theatre, we are re-introduced to Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons,” winner of the 1947 Drama Critics’ Award for Best New Play. In the wake of world-wide, war-time catastrophe, the play unmasks a smaller, family tragedy that addresses the question of an individual’s moral responsibility to society. (through 8/31; 619-239-2255).

The La Jolla Playhouse is featuring two world premieres this month, both reprise appearances by high-profile playwrights. First, Charles Mee’s “Wintertime,” where farce meets folly as three couples sneak away for a secret rendezvous, only to trip all over each other in their supposed hideaway. A thought-provoking look at fighting, flirting, sex and true love, the piece is directed by Les Waters, who did wondrous work with Mee’s “Big Love,” both in La Jolla and New York (8/13-9/15; 858-550-1010).

Heather McDonald was the writer of the heartbreaking “An Almost Holy Picture,” which premiered at the La Jolla Playhouse. Now she’s back with another new work, a magical, personal, poetic drama called “When Grace Comes In,” which concerns the path not taken. On a life-changing journey, a senator’s wife tries to recapture the past. Directed by Sharon Ott, of the Seattle Repertory Theatre, this will surely be something to see.

Well, this list should give everyone something to see… So put a little drama in your summer…go to the theater!


Pat Launer is an Emmy Award-winning theater critic at KPBS radio and TV. Her theater reviews can be heard Fridays at 8:30am on 89.5FM and viewed online at

©2002 Patté Productions Inc.