Published in KPBS On Air Magazine August 1991

It’s slim pickin’s for a summer smorgasbord. The setting is spectacular — a sun-speckled afternoon or a star-splashed night in San Diego . But the table is a bit bare, and a lot of the offerings, though heaped with hype, seem the same. You don’t have to loosen your belt; you can’t really over-indulge. You can only graze, not gorge, on outdoor theater this month.  

The menu is more limited than usual, though the venues are varied.   It all boils down to a binary choice:   ballad or Bard.

There are four al fresco Shakespeare productions, and four flashy musicals.   Within each category, two repetitions.   (And that’s not counting the seven brides and seven brothers, which dance their Western way through Moonlight Amphitheatre August 7-18).

These are uncanny coincidences. Last year, Moonlight Amphitheatre and Christian Community Theatre opened productions of “Annie Get Your Gun” less than one week apart. This year, the shoot-out has taken to the Highlands , and the melody lingers longer. Not six weeks after Moonlight closes “Brigadoon”, CCT re-awakens the little town that is supposed to lie dormant for 100 years. It’s not like the two companies are right on top of each other; CCT is in La Mesa , and Moonlight’s up in Vista .   But still.

Both companies specialize in summer musicals, and they go all out, with large casts and as much extravagance as their budgets and (jumbo-size) venues will allow.   So if you’re in North County or East County , Lerner & Loewe are leaving their mellifluous mark on your neighborhood this month.

From here, things start to get sticky in Vista .   After Moonlight announced its summer season, and after being thrilled to present Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1979 hit, “Evita”, all of a sudden, Starlight Musical Theatre slipped “Evita” into its lineup (August 14-25). Starlight was originally scheduled to try out its commissioned world premiere, “For My Country – The USO Musical.” But, says artistic director Don Ward, “it was a money issue.   To produce a brand new musical, we needed to come up with approximately $25,000 more than we normally spend on a production.   We thought we had a good crack at it, but not by the mid-February deadline imposed on us by our Board.”

So, since Lloyd Webber’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” was “an enormous box office success” last summer, and Starlight’s 1985 production of “Evita” broke all attendance records, they figured the Lloyd Webber fans would be thrilled with “another spectacular production.” Ward insists that he had no idea Moonlight was doing the same show.   “I called (Moonlight’s artistic director) Kathy Brombacher to apologize,” he said.   “We do have slightly different audiences. Hopefully, one won’t negate the other, but each will act to support the other.”

Brombacher’s convinced that ““Evita” will be the smash of the Moonlight season.” See for yourself (August 28-September 8).

Now, how do you like your Shakespeare? Or, more aptly, how do you take your “Tempest” — heavily embellished or raw and unadorned? You can choose what promises to be another exciting adventure with acclaimed director Adrian Hall, at the Old Globe (August 30-October 6). Or you can go off the beaten path in Balboa Park to Zorro Gardens , and see what kind of “Tempest” the Naked Shakespeare Company has whipped up. (Relax, Rev. Wildmon.   The name refers to the group’s origins in a bare storefront on Fifth Avenue .   It’s okay to bring the kids; these free performances are in the park, not in the buff).

“The Tempest” may be Shakespeare’s most magical tragicomedy. Adrian Hall has said it’s “a language play, joyously written, bristling with political and social implications.”   The Ruse ‘s Christopher R, who directs the Naked Shakespeare Company, feels that “the meanings and resonances are contemporary, especially in these Columbian-centennial times: Colonization of uncivilized lands, invasion of other cultures, enslavement and freedom.”

For additional historical references, see the Naked Shakespeare Company’s “Julius Caesar”, playing in repertory with “The Tempest”, Saturday and Sunday afternoons through September 22. (Note:   Zorro Gardens is directly west of the Reuben H. Fleet Space Theater).

If twilight-time is your time, try Shakespeare-by-the-Lake, Octad-One Productions’ annual presentation at the amphitheater adjacent to Theatre East (formerly East County Performing Arts Center ).   This year, one of Octad’s hottest actors, Don Pugh, directs “The Taming of the Shrew” (weekends, through August 25).   Pugh isn’t “trying to make any political statements,” relative to feminism or anything else, but he has retained Shakespeare’s Induction, or Prologue, the play within (or really, before) the play. The drunken countryman Christopher Sly actually sits among the audience.   “I thought that would make the play more accessible,” says Pugh. “If someone in the show is part of the audience, and he understands the action, maybe they will, too.”

The action is easy to follow with this plot, which is brisk, bawdy and well-constructed.   The play would be the perfect follow-up to last month’s “Kiss Me, Kate” at Starlight Bowl, a revival of Cole Porter’s magnificent musical sendup of “…the Shrew”.

You could definitely fill a few days and nights with outdoor theater this month.   But you can’t quite get your fill.

©1991 Patté Productions Inc.