Arts In LA

by Julio Martinez, September 19, 2014


Legendary stage and screen star Angela Lansbury (pictured) embarks on a North American tour of Noël Coward’s 1941 comedy icon, Blithe Spirit, starting at Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre, opening Dec. 14. Lansbury reprises the role of Madame Arcati, for which she won her fifth Tony Award in 2009 for Best Featured Actress in a Play. The production is staged by Tony winner Michael Blakemore, who helmed the 2009 Broadway and subsequent London revivals of the play.


Despite last season’s concerns that California Repertory Company would be vacating the Royal Theater aboard the Queen Mary as its performance venue, Cal Rep is moving forward with its 2014–15 season on the historic British liner, permanently moored in Port of Long Beach. The season opener is The Pavilion, Craig Wright’s metaphysically sentimental sojourn within the 20th reunion of the Pine City, Minn., high school class of 1985.The play is helmed by Alexis Macnab, opening Sept. 19.

   Cal Rep’s season continues with Charles Busch’s 2000 Tony-nominated satire of philosophy and art, The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, helmed by Gavin Cameron-Webb, opening Nov. 7; Sarah Ruhl’s (pictured) 2004 comedic look at a Brazilian maid who yearns to be a comic, The Clean House, helmed by Joanne Gordon, opening Feb. 13, 2015; and the premiere of Out of Orbit by Jennifer Maisel—a JPL scientist and her daughter attempt to connect across space and time—director TBA, opening April 17, 2015.


Musical Theatre West in Long Beach opens its 2014–15 season with the West Coast debut of the 2013 Broadway tuner Big Fish, wrought by Andrew Lippa (music and lyrics) and John August (book)—based on the 1998 novel by Daniel Wallace and 2003 film by Tim Burton—helmed by Larry Carpenter (pictured), musical direction by Matt Smedal, opening Oct. 31 at Carpenter Performing Arts Center.

   Rogue Machine on Pico Boulevard continues its 2014 season with the premiere of Vince Melocchi’s Nice Things, helmed by Elina de Santos—“exploring the changing and diminishing options available for today’s young men and women in small-town America”—opening Oct. 4.

   Atwater Village Theatre rings in the holiday stage fare a bit early, hosting the premiere of Villa Thrilla by Anna Nicholas—“a merry, mod, madcap murder mystery with a seasonal twist”—helmed by Gary Lee Reed, opening Oct. 18.


Casting is complete for the modern-day staging of William Shakespeare’s Othello, intermingling the talents of three local artistic directors—Odyssey Theatre’s Ron Sossi (producer), Rogue Machine’s John Perrin Flynn (director), and The New American Theatre’s Jack Stehlin (portraying Iago). The title role is being taken on by Emmy and Alma Award winner A Martinez (pictured). The cast also includes Anna DiGiovanni (Desdemona) Robb Derringer (Michael Cassio), Susan Wilder (Emilia), Marc Jablon (Roderigo), Peter Van Norden (Brabanzio), and Kate Parkin (Bianca). The production opens Oct. 17 at Odyssey Theatre in West LA.

   Actor and solo-play guru Stacie Chaiken (pictured) brings her one-woman play The Dig to Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice—a comedy, born of Chaiken’s experience in Israel and the Middle East during the Second Intifada, opening Sept. 18.

   Steve Allen Theater in Hollywood hosts First Day Off in A Long Time—a comic solo show about suicide—written and performed by Brian Finkelstein, helmed by Adam Swartz, playing Wednesdays in October. The performance is based on the four years Finkelstein volunteered at a New York City suicide hotline.


Rubicon Theatre of Ventura opens its 17th season with 2 Pianos 4 Hands—“a musical comedy for anyone who has ever had a dream”—scripted by actor-musicians Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt—which garnered a 1996 Dora Award (Canadian equivalent to a Tony) for Outstanding Production. Rubicon’s staging features Christopher Tocco (pictured) and Thomas Frey, directed by Frey, opening Oct. 18.


By the late 1930s, national radio broadcasts rival the film industry in Hollywood for fan attention. A proliferation of radio stations is concentrated on Vine Street, spilling over onto Sunset Boulevard on the south and Hollywood Boulevard to the north. Thousands of radio fans populate such audience radio shows as Amos ’n Andy, Burns and Allen, The Great Gildersleeve, Baby Snooks (starring Fanny Brice), and countless others during the day.

   Hoping to keep those fans in Hollywood at night is entrepreneur Guido Bracchini, who opens 500-seat dinner theater Florentine Gardens on Dec. 28,1938, located at 5955 Hollywood Blvd. The bill o’ fare includes dinner, dancing to the Emil Baffa Orchestra and occasional variety acts, including a high wire act called The Flying Herzogs, all for the price of $2.50. Florentine Gardens is a lowbrow joint compared to the high-end supper clubs such as Ciro’s, Trocodero, and Mocambo that populate upper Sunset Boulevard; but the dance band and the cheap eats pack them into Florentine.

   By 1941, business drops off. People can eat and dance for only so long. They want to be entertained. Frank Bruni takes over management and immediately installs a chorus line of scantily clad ladies (pictured above), including youthful Yvonne de Carlo. Bruni also recruits guest talent from radio shows to appear at the Florentine at night. The excitement comes from the audience not knowing who will show up on any given night. Bruni drops the dinner-show price down to $1.50 during the World War II years and spotlights a range of former vaudeville talents such as Abbott and Costello, Sophie Tucker, The Mills Brothers, and comic ventriloquist Señor Wences.

   On one impromptu performance night, youthful Mickey Rooney reunites with his estranged father, Joe Yule, to entertain an audience of mostly servicemen, re-creating routines from their vaudeville-circuit days. As an added bonus, Rooney’s date, Judy Garland, takes song requests from the soldiers and sailors in attendance.

   The popularity of Florentine Gardens declines sharply after the war. By 1948, it is bankrupt. During ensuing decades, many attempts are made to have the building condemned and torn down, but it still stands today, operating as a DJ-driven nightclub, still utilizing the moniker Florentine Gardens.

Julio Martinez hosts Arts in Review—celebrating the best in live theater and cabaret in Greater Los Angeles—on Fridays, 2–2:30pm, on KPFK (90.7FM).

The following have generously supported
Fitzmaurice Voicework
with Lisa Pelikan
Fountain Theatre
4–Nov. 30


   * Theater reviews of Run for Your Wife, Orphans, The Western Unscripted, Happy Days, Animals Out of Paper


   * Theater reviews of Spring Awakening,  The Goat or Who Is Sylvia?, Good People, Maple & Vine, The Full Monty, Drood, Marjorie Prime, and more

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