Published in KPBS On Air Magazine June 1992

A loaf of bread, a jug of wine and…. an outdoor musical.   Ahhh, the sweet sins of summer. The strains of familiar tunes, illuminated by the spectacle below and the stars above. There’ll be an abundance of the familiar this summer under San Diego skies: a lot of old, a little new, a few things borrowed and some country-blue.

Fully half of the fourteen upcoming large-scale outdoor musicals have been done once or twice before at the same venue. All but two have already been seen in San Diego .   The problem, says Bonnie Ward, Producing Artistic Director of Starlight Musical Theatre, is that the musical theater repertoire is diminishing. “We used to get 7-8 musicals a year from Broadway,” Ward notes.   “And we used to do three or four shows a season that we’d never done before. That’s impossible now. It’s a scary situation.”

In its 47 years of productions, Starlight has had to do lots of re-runs.   “We’re sort of borrowing from the Disney tradition,” says Ward. “They re-release their films about once every six years.   At Starlight, it’s every 8-10 years.”

Starlight is producing five outdoor musicals this summer, four of which have been done before: “Gypsy” just departed, followed by “No, No Nanette” (June 17-28), “Paint Your Wagon” (July 29-August 9) and “Camelot” (August 19-30). The “new” news is “Chess” (July 8-19), the 1986 musical from Tim Rice, who was the Superstar-Jesus-Joseph collaborator of Andrew Lloyd Webber.   Rice wrote the lyrics and collaborated on the book of this tale of two chess players — from opposite sides of what was once the Cold War — who fall in love with the same woman.   The Starlight production will tone down the politics, and play up the love triangle.

Ward is also excited about reworking “No, No Nanette”, the most popular musical of the Twenties. Rife with flappers and tappers, the show features standards such as “Tea for Two” and “I Want to Be Happy.” A local twist: Beverly and Kirby Ward (husband and wife; son and daughter-in-law of co-directors Don and Bonnie Ward) will play opposite each other as Lucille and Billy Early.   “It’s a family affair,” says Bonnie Ward, chuckling.

What should be a family affair (but isn’t) is the planning of theatrical seasons in San Diego . We need one coordinated, centralized electronic bulletin board so there are no overlaps. This year, there are fewer duplications. But “Camelot” does appear at Christian Community Theatre atop Mount Helix , as well as at Starlight Bowl.

“It happened once before,” says Paul Russell, founder and artistic director of the twelve year-old CCT, the country’s largest community theater of its kind.   “It didn’t seem to hurt our audiences. Sometimes people go to see both productions and compare. People who love musical theater will do anything for musicals.”

Same for Russell himself, who, in 1989, broke both knees in the line of duty, during a “Hello, Dolly!” dance routine. Now he’s happily back onstage to play the endearing con-man, “Professor” Harold Hill, in “The Music Man” ((June 25-July 11).   This show heralds CCT’s second year at the 1200-seat Kit Carson Amphitheatre in Escondido .   Half the 60-member cast are children, two of whom belong to Russell.

CCT’s summer productions at the beautiful Mt. Helix location include “Camelot” (July 23-August 8) and “7 Brides for 7 Brothers” (August 20-September 5). The latter, a first for CCT, will be directed by Russell. The show is light on story and score, but heavy on dancing.   “I’m excited about showcasing the incredible local talent,” says Russell.

Lots of talent will be showcased up in Vista , at Moonlight Amphitheatre, where three of the four productions are new ones for the twelve year-old company. For the first time, Moonlight’s Youth Theatre is opening the summer season, with a multicultural production of “The Wiz” (June 23-27). “Stylistically, this one’s very different from regular musical theater,” says Kathy Brombacher, Moonlight’s founder and artistic director.   “There are rock singers and rappers. We’re even adding a tap number, and one done on rollerblades.”

The regular Moonlight season continues with “Mame” (July 8-19) and “The Pirates of Penzance” (July 29-August 9), Moonlight’s first foray into Gilbert and Sullivan-Land. Brombacher predicts that the creative director-choreographer team of Gary Krinke and Ray Limon will do something wild:   “They’ll probably have pirates coming over the hillside and raiding picnic baskets.”   Later (August 19-30), that same hillside will be alive with “The Sound of Music”. The season wraps with Broadway’s longest running musical, “A Chorus Line” (September 9-20), which was the most highly requested show on the Moonlight audience ballots (“Pirates” was number two).

There’ll be toe-tapping at the Old Globe this summer, too; they’re bringing a little bit o’ country outdoors, with a new musical mounted on the Lowell Davies Festival Stage: “Lost Highway:   The Music and Legend of Hank Williams” (August 26-October 4). Mark Harelik (most recently seen at the La Jolla Playhouse as the vibrant “Elmer Gantry”) is the co-writer and star who brings to life Williams’ short, troubled, but meteoric career as singer/songwriter. He’ll croon familiar Williams tunes such as “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “Hey, Good Lookin'” and “I Can’t Help It If I’m Still in Love With You.”

Sounds like there’s something for everyone on San Diego ‘s outdoor stages this summer.   So grab the picnic basket, the blanket and the brood. There’s (reiterative) music in the evening air.

©1992 Patté Productions Inc.