Actors for Themselves' Joseph Stern has been specializing chiefly in well-crafted serious drama at his Matrix Theatre ("Eminent Domain," "Betrayal," "Two Small Bodies," "Orphans," "The Common Pursuit").
Not since "Chapin," a revue of the songs of the late Harry Chapin that Stern produced nine years ago at the Improv, has he shown any interest in musicals or revues.
Until now. On Aug. 3, "HeartBeats," a new musical by and with Amanda ("The Rose") McBroom, will open at the Matrix--and no one at the moment is quite able to say just what kind of thing it is.
"It's all music," McBroom attempted, "a compilation of some stuff that's been around for a while and some new songs. 'The Rose' is in it and a lot of material from my new album, 'Dreaming,' but it's a multi-layered piece. We're attempting to create a hybrid. On one level it's a nightclub act by a group called the HeartBeats. On another it's about their interrelationships."
Acknowledging that he wants to capitalize on the strength of McBroom's songs, director/choreographer Bill Castellino said he isn't yet sure of the form.
"The objective is to create a revue-type evening with a story, something that looks like a concert but works like a play. Everything is sung, but it's not a non-book musical."
For Stern the attraction is what he calls "a certain emotionality, a certain chemistry. It's the first musical I've done where I want to go all the way with it."
George Ball, Mara Getz, Dan McDonald and Stacy Shaffer complete the cast. Supervising producer is Sam Weisman, with sets and lighting by Gerry Hariton and Vicki Baral and costumes by Madeline Ann Graneto. William Elliott is doing the musical arrangements, with sound design by Bill Hewlett. Previews begin July 23.
Added McBroom: "This has been an amazing year for me. I formed my own record company, produced an album, and now this show."
MORE MATRIX: Simon Gray's "The Common Pursuit," which turned out to be one of Actors for Themselves' finest productions of any season (benefiting from the fine-tuning the play received during Gray's intensive six-week residency at the Matrix last winter), will be produced by Jack McQuiggan at New York's Playhouse 91.
It is expected to open Oct. 15, with Sam Weisman again directing and four members of the Los Angeles company traveling east to repeat their roles: Judy Geeson, Kristoffer Siegel-Tabori, Christopher Neame and Nathan Lane.
What's in it for the Matrix?
"We get credit on the title page," said Stern, "and a small royalty."
SHOUTIN' IT UP: Cornetist Nat Adderley will be playing up a storm (with sidemen Victor Feldman, Roy McCurdy and Walter Booker) at the "jazz celebration" to follow Sunday's closing matinee of "Shout Up a Morning" in La Jolla.
Nat co-wrote that score with his late brother, Julian (Cannonball) Adderley, and the gala jazz event will honor Cannonball and benefit the La Jolla Playhouse. Also featured will be Nancy Wilson (discovered by the Adderley brothers).
Tickets are $25 for the concert, $50 for the concert and a sit-down dinner or $125 for all of the above plus a champagne reception with the jazzmakers after--your choice. Information: (619) 452-3960.
A REALLLY BIG SHOW: Dick Shawn and Robert Morse sharing the same stage may be more than anyone's funnybone can withstand, but that's not all. They'll be steering along 40--that's right, 40-- other notable performers who'll create the rest of the fun at a mammoth benefit for the Actors' Fund presented by Susan Dietz and Peg Yorkin on Wednesday, 8 p.m., at their newly renamed Public Stage/L.A. on Canon (formerly L.A. Stage Co. West).
Gordon Hunt will direct the onstage traffic for this evening of Broadway show tunes, called simply "Broadway on Canon." Sounds more like the whole Broadway canon, given the numbers. Just kidding. Tax-deductible tickets for this worthiest of causes are $25 and $50. Call (213) 859-2644.
WINE AND NO WOMEN: A wine-tasting and silent auction at the Mills House Gallery in Garden Grove will launch the Grove Shakespeare Festival's eighth summer season Sunday (2-5 p.m.). The festival opens July 12 with "Henry IV Part I" (directed by the Berkeley Rep's Richard E.T. White) and continues Aug. 16 with "The Merry Wives of Windsor" (staged by Grove producing artistic director Thomas F. Bradac). Featured in the Equity nucleus this year are Harry Frazier, Benjamin Stewart, Greg Mortensen, Carl Reggiardo and Daniel Bryan Cartmell. What? No merry wives?
"NICK/NICK" TALK/TALK: The questions were routine, but the answers fun and often funny at the conversation with some of the 32 cast members of "Nicholas Nickleby," hosted by the Los Angeles Drama Critics' Circle at the Variety Arts Center on Tuesday.
"Nick/Nick's" evolution, we discovered, was democratic in a uniquely British way. It started without a script. Subplots were cut and actors asked to improvise sequential portions of the novel. When roles had to be apportioned, actors were told to list their favorites and drop them in a hat.