Published in Décor & Style Magazine

Summer is in full swing, the hills are alive with the sound of music, and Décor & Style is steppin’ out…. expanding north into Orange County. And as D&S blossoms and grows, so does this column, which will now cover the theater scene in two counties. Like the magazine, we’ll start south and move north.

In the South Park section of San Diego, at the little storefront McDonald Mori Performing Arts Center, the Muse Theatre is taking a big bite — of Tony Kushner. The brilliant, Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of “Angels in America” wrote “Hydriotaphia or The Death of Dr. Browne” before that other, award-winning epic, but this one wasn’t produced until later, in 1998. Billed as an “epic farce,” the mysterious and funny play explores the simultaneously harrowing and comic mesh of politics, spirituality and gender, framed by the last day of the life of Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682), noted scientist, writer and, according to Kushner, “seminal capitalist.” As always, Kushner boldly mixes realistic and phantasmagoric effects, with appearances put in by souls, witches, ranters (raging against the dawn of capitalism) and the playwright’s old buddy, Death. Kushner has said the humor in the play is influenced by Monty Python, with a bit of Krazy Kat comics and Lewis Carroll thrown in. Breathtaking flights of fancy and a heart-stopping challenge for a small theater company. At the McDonald Mori Performing Arts Center (MMPAC) on Juniper Street; 619-239-2894.

There’s music in the air all summer, especially outdoors, under the stars. In East County, atop Mt. Helix, Christian Community Theatre is presenting “Footloose,” the bubble gum, dance-happy story of a kid from the big city (Chicago) who winds up in a small town where dancing, along with just about anything else that’s fun, is immoral and illegal. So he’s got to fight the local minister and plead with the town council for the high school students’ right to hold a school dance and “cut loose.” In addition to the title tune, fans of the movie will recognize the familiar “Let’s Hear It For the Boy.” Dance has always been a major focus at CCT, who should work miracles with this so-so show. (7/18-8/3; 619-588-0206).

In Balboa Park, Starlight Musical Theatre opens its zillionth season with the timely patriotic tuner, “1776,” set in Philadelphia during the stifling summer months before the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Clearly, political in-fighting, pet peeves, high-flying egos, behind-the-scenes intrigues and tempestuous turf battles are nothing new to this country. Composer/lyricist Sherman Edwards spent 9 1/2 years researching and creating the engaging and entertaining show (book by Peter Stone), which was nominated for 5 Tony Awards when it opened on Broadway in 1969, and won four, including Best Musical. (through July 7, at Starlight Bowl; 619-544-7827).

Up in North County, under the stars in Vista’s Brengle Terrace Park, Moonlight Stage Productions brings back the irrepressible Dolly Gallagher Levi, that matchmaker and finagler extraordinaire, in “Hello, Dolly.” In the pre-feline mid-’60s (oblique reference to the ubiquitous “Cats”), “Dolly” was Broadway’s longest running musical, until it was unseated by “Fiddler on the Roof.” That really was the Golden Age of Musicals. “Dolly” remains a great song-and-dance show (“Before the Parade Passes By,” “Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” “It Takes a Woman,” “It Only Takes a Moment “) with a show-stopping title tune. (July 10-21 at Moonlight Amphitheatre; 760-724-2110).

Speaking of show-stoppers, how about “Three Mo’ Tenors,” a celebration of the African American tenor voice. Victor Trent Cook, Rodrick Dixon and Thomas Young make a brief stop in San Diego to strut their musical stuff. Each is an accomplished singer in his own right, conservatory-trained, with opera, Broadway and recording credits. This is no cheesy spoof of the original Three Tenors or their work. These guys are major talents, and they’ve been garnering critical acclaim all over the country. The Boston Herald called their performance “a joyous entertainment that nearly blows the roof off.” The Chicago Tribune called it “a sensational show” that offers a head-spinning survey of genres and styles: from classical to jazz, blues to gospel, Broadway to Motown. As the Washington Post put it, the show “does not exploit and debase classical material… it exalts popular material to classic status. (7/24-25; at the Civic Theatre; 619-570-1100 or 619-220-TIXS).

When you talk about tweaking classic material, you can’t omit the long-awaited Black Ensemble Theatre production of “The Odd Couple.” It’s a bit of an in-joke, since the co-founders of the company, Rhys Green and Walter Murray, ARE the Odd Couple incarnate, an African American Oscar and Felix. The two accomplished actors, directed by the highly comic actor/director Don Loper, should knock the socks off the play in ways Neil Simon never dreamed. (7/26-8/18 at MMPAC in South Park; 858-831-1931).

The Globe Theatres have a pretty dreamy summer in store, with three theaters running at once. On the main Old Globe stage, Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons:” opens the season, reuniting talented in-house director Richard Seer and guest actor Daniel J. Travanti, who teamed up for a flawless, haunting production of “Old Wicked Songs” two years ago. They’re joined by Reed Diamond, who did outstanding work that same year (1999) in the Globe’s gorgeous mounting of “Three Days of Rain.” “All My Sons” was Miller’s breakout play. Written and premiered in the prideful days after America’s victory in World War II, the drama challenges patriotic bravado with the story of a factory owner named Joe Keller who has a dark secret about his homefront work during the war. The incident threatens to reveal itself at the most inopportune time, as Joe’s devoted son Chris prepares to marry a hometown girl and assume his rightful place as his father’s scion. Based on a true story, the play wrestles with issues of morality and social conscience, responsibility to one’s family and to the community at large. A searing and timeless tale. (7/21-8/31; 619-239-2255)

In-the-round on the Globe’s small Cassius Carter Centre Stage, there’s “Faith Healer,” Brian Friel’s powerful 1979 drama about an itinerant Irish faith healer whose strange and uncontrollable gift leads him, his wife and his manager from one “adventure” to the next through the hinterlands of Scotland and Wales. As the play evolves, we start to see Frank as part artist, part con-man. The tale we first heard from The Fantastic Francis Hardy is not at all the same as that related by either his wife or his manager. They all talk about the same times and places but their recollections are vastly different. The award-winning Friel, master of language, once again explores the elusive search for truth. Seret Scott brings her searing directorial eye back to the Globe (her 6th visit) for this provocative play. (7/14-8/25; 619-239-2255).

Outdoors on the Festival Stage, the Globe is tackling “The Taming of the Shrew.” Ever-controversial, the boisterous comedy depicts the volatile courtship of the hell-cat Katharina by the brash and canny Petruchio, who is determined to win her dowry by subduing her legendary temper. Fresh from his success on Broadway with the musical “Urinetown,” John Rando directs. (through 8/4; 619-239-2255).

Up in La Jolla, the Playhouse season continues with “”A Feast of Fools,” a world premiere written by and starring that gloriously malleable New Vaudeville clown, Geoff Hoyle (through 7/14). And then comes “When Grace Comes In,” by Heather McDonald, who gave us the spare and heartbreakingly beautiful 1995 world premiere, “An Almost Holy Picture.” Her latest premiere is a riveting drama about a senator’s wife who takes stock and then takes off — on a life-changing journey that seeks to recapture the past. (previews begin 7/30; the show runs through 9/1 at the Mandell Weiss Forum on the campus of UCSD; 858-550-1010).

Up the coast a bit, in Solana Beach, North Coast Repertory Theatre is following the smash-hit, repeatedly-extended “Pageant” with a double whammy: two comic classics in repertory (same cast, different shows), both written by linguistic geniuses: Oscar Wilde’s timeless masterpiece, “The Importance of Being Earnest” and Tom Stoppard’s brilliant absurdist farce, “Travesties.” Written nearly 100 years apart, they both skewer society and remain surprisingly relevant. And a character in one (“Travesties”) actually performs in a production of the other (“Earnest”) so they mesh in delightfully witty ways (“Earnest” continues through 9/8 in repertory with “Travesties,” which runs 7/14-9/15; 888-776-NCRT).

From North Coast Rep we move up to South Coast Rep — only the North one is south and the South one is north. Go figure. In Costa Mesa, South Coast Repertory Theatre is hosting its 17th annual Hispanic Playwrights Project, mounting public readings of new plays by four Latino writers and reprising last year’s sold-out five-writer collaboration, “California Scenarios,” a site-specific smorgasbord of five short plays, performed in an outdoor garden designed by Isamu Noguchi. Onstage, Luis Alfaro updates Sophocles’ “Electra” in “Electricidad,” which concerns Clemencia, a former rodeo queen whose husband, Agosto, is murdered, and whose son Orestes is returning home from banishment in Las Vegas. Nilo Cruz, author of the lyrical “Two Sisters and a Piano,” sets “The Beauty of the Father,” in the Costa del Sol, where a young woman is reunited with her artist father, through a statue of Federico Garcia Lorca. Playwright Magdalena Gomez was also inspired by a mystical piece of art. Her intriguing memory play, “Lobster Face (or The Shame of Amanda Cockshutt)” chronicles a woman’s journey from kindergarten to hippie life to old age. Rogelio Martinez’s contribution to the Festival is “Lost in Translation,” in which a Cuban hotelier holds guests hostage as a storm approaches — and a bigger storm ensues within. The whole event is uniquely California, and not to be missed (7/25-8/4; at South Coast Repertory Theatre in Costa Mesa; SCR, 714-708-5500).

Next door, the Orange County Performing Arts Center is gearing up for another visit from “The Phantom of the Opera,” the perennial extravaganza that the London Sunday Times called “God’s gift to the musical theater.” By now, the tragic tale is well-known: a beautiful opera singer becomes entangled with a young composer shamed by his physical appearance into a shadowy existence beneath the majestic Paris Opera House. The blockbuster opened in 1986 in London, where it’s still running. In addition, there are numerous touring companies, each of which is held up to rigorous standards. As co-creator (with Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber) Sir Cameron Mackintosh puts it, “What’s good enough for New York is good enough for Des Moines.” Not to mention Costa Mesa. (7/31-4/24 at the Orange County Performing Arts Center; 714-740-7878 or 213-365-3500).

Up in Long Beach, the International City Theatre presents the apartheid-era masterwork of South African playwright/actor/director Athol Fugard, “Master Harold… and the Boys,” about a white adolescent’s initiation into the uses and abuses of racial power. At once lyrical and explosive, the unflinching drama retells a painful chapter from Fugard’s own past, as it cuts to the heart of racism, friendship and the bonds between fathers and sons. (through 7/14 at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center; 562-436-4610).

North, south, east or west… there’s play-time in all directions… theater that’s cool, and theater that’ll make you sweat So take the plunge — put a little drama in your summer.


©2002 Patté Productions Inc.