LA JOLLA — If La Jolla Playhouse artistic director Des McAnuff wants to create an audience for professional theater, he's going about it in the right way.
The Tony Award-winning director (for "Big River" in 1985) has written book, music and lyrics for a stylish message musical called "Silent Edward," given it a crisp, jazzy score and an appealing Equity cast, and sent it touring.
Under the auspices of the Playhouse's new Performance Outreach Program, thousands of San Diego elementary and junior high school students are seeing the show.
This week, other members of the public have a chance to take a look.
"Silent Edward" is the Edward S. Murdoch, a historic old ferryboat operating in the small, mythical town of Blazer Bay. Young pilot Paul (Brian Fuqua) is torn between keeping the boat running or going away to college in the big city. His girlfriend and partner, April (Andrea Griffith), wants him to stay--as does Mayor Garnet Potts (Marc Cherry), who likes the revenue that the Edward brings in.
Enter Larry Burnsack (Paul L. Nolan), a fast-talking representative of a development company who sells the vain mayor on the idea of putting up a "Garnet Potts" condominium complex, a chemical plant and a concrete causeway that will put Paul out of business.
What will triumph--progress or the salvation of a cultural heritage?
McAnuff respects his young audience enough to forgo a pat ending. Fuqua and Griffith poignantly sing of the history and memories that the old ferryboat represents and the loss of a gentler way of life threatened by the developers.
Cherry, Nolan and Pamela Tomassetti (who plays big-time corporate rep Miss Salem--and two other comic roles) sing of the benefits the change will bring.
Though there's no doubt these humorous characters are the bad guys, a very real truth comes through: The changes will bring new jobs and revitalize the town.
No easy answers here, but plenty for young people to think about.
The show's tuneful score is what sparkles the most, but care has been taken everywhere--from David Warren's smooth direction and musical director Michael S. Roth's snappy arrangements, to Clare Henkel's humorous costume touches and Jean Isaacs' funky choreography.
Jon Arnone's inventive ferryboat set undergoes a clever paint job on stage, eliciting appreciative murmurs from the audience.
All the cast members sing well; Griffith, with her rich, warm voice, is a standout.
Professionalism is the key word. During Sunday's evening performance, just as the finale began, the recorded music unexpectedly went dead. The cast finished a cappella and didn't miss a beat.
That's real theater, kids.
Performances continue at the Warren Theatre on the UCSD campus today at 2 and 7 p.m. and Thursday at 2 and 4 p.m. Tickets are $5-$8. (619) 534-3960.