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Sondheim Approves

September 03, 1986|HILLIARD HARPER | San Diego County Arts Writer

SAN DIEGO — Last week's announcement that the Old Globe will present the world premiere of Stephen Sondheim's new musical, "Into the Woods," puts a stamp of authority on the "new" San Diego theater scene.

Sondheim's return--in 1985 he and George Furth rewrote their 1981 musical, "Merrily We Roll Along" for a run at the La Jolla Playhouse--means that the nation's leading musical theater composer has more than just nice things to say about San Diego.

Sondheim and his collaborator, director-playwright James Lapine, trust the professionalism and artistic skill of not one but both of San Diego's top theaters. Sondheim's and Lapine's coming also says something about their perception of local audiences' sophistication.

Weaned on Shakespeare at the Globe and more adventurous theater at San Diego Rep, the Playhouse and a number of other local stages, San Diegans recognize good theater when they see it. They also know a turkey when it gobbles.

Granted, "Into the Woods" fell out of a deal at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, but before it went there, Lapine had offered to do the show at the Playhouse, artistic director Des McAnuff reports. The problem was the Playhouse couldn't produce the show until 1987. "We much prefer them doing it here than in Seattle," said McAnuff, who is "delighted" that the Globe is doing the musical. "It's a fabulous testimony to what's happened in San Diego over the last few years."

In practical terms, launching "Into the Woods" in San Diego represents a savings to the New Yorkers and an added expense to the Globe. Globe managing director Tom Hall estimates the show would cost $4 million in New York. Here the price tag is $500,000. Hall still had to hustle additional funds.

MEANWHILE, AT BALBOA: The Centre City Development Corp. continues to protect the San Diego Art Center's interests at the expense of anyone who might want to put forward an alternative financial plan to restore the Balboa Theater.

CCDC is sitting on an exclusive agreement with developer Chris Mortenson to renovate the now vacant theater even though Mortenson became in essence a non-party to the project in November. The Art Center is hardly mentioned in the existing agreement with Mortenson.

In November, Art Center officials announced that they would not put into the theater the four-story museum and retail space the agreement called for. They proposed instead a three-story facility with little retail space, Mortenson's prime financial motivation for involvement in the project.

Months have passed, and the Art Center has yet to come up with either funding for the project or working drawings for the new design. It did produce what CCDC project manager David Allsbrook calls "a construction package" that includes preliminary drawings.

Allsbrook said the fact that Mortenson isn't involved in the project has little bearing on continuing to honor an agreement with him. Everyone, Allsbrook said--Art Center and theater enthusiasts--must wait for a survey of the need for theaters downtown that is due in October.

ARTBEATS: Last month's benefit show for the Natalie Bush Gallery was a success, Bush reports. She sold 11 of 21 collagraphs, donated to her by seven artists. The gallery's next exhibit, opening Sept. 13, will be the off-the-wall anthropomorphic sculptures of Los Angeles artist Daniel Martinez. . . .

It must be time for the La Jolla rough water swim. The Thomas Babeor Gallery is having its annual Billy Al Bengston exhibit Sept. 5 to Oct. 11. Bengston, a health enthusiast, is a regular participant in the swimming event.

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