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Big Name Is Sought to Sing 'Songs of War' at the Gem

May 09, 1989|Jan Herman

Notes from all over. . . .

Will it be Judd Hirsch or Steve Landesberg (of TV's "Barney Miller") on stage at the Gem Theatre in Garden Grove when Murray Schisgal's latest play, "The Songs of War," has its world premiere there in July?

Or either one?

"Hirsch and Landesberg are supposed to be reading the script right now," says Tom Bradac, artistic director of the Grove Theatre Company. "But who knows if they're willing?"

Playwright Schisgal, who had arrived in Los Angeles from New York last week to work on a movie project for longtime friend Dustin Hoffman, turned up to watch the first cast auditions at the Gem over the weekend.

Schisgal and director Jerry Guardino hope to interest a star for the leading role because, among other reasons, it would lend instant credibility to the first-person format of the play. "Songs" is about a successful performer who is looking back on his life.

If either Hirsch or Landesberg--or any other "name," for that matter--takes the role, it would virtually guarantee that the play is headed elsewhere after its run at the Gem. Since the Grove can't pay a star salary, the key attraction would be a potential ride to Broadway.

P.S.: Whoever gets the role has to be able to sing. The "Songs" of the title are real.

In the meantime, Bradac is putting the finishing touches to "Tomfoolery," a musical revue of Tom Lehrer's songs from the '50s and '60s that opens Friday at the Gem. Previews continue through Thursday.

"I approached this differently from any other musical I've ever done by picking actors as opposed to singers," Bradac says. "And I wanted people who, first of all, look like they would know who Tom Lehrer is."

Lehrer, a former Harvard math professor, used to sing his witty, satirical songs about everything from nuclear proliferation to sexually transmitted diseases in the hip clubs of the '50s. "No place I ever worked is still standing," says Lehrer, 61, recalling the Interlude in Hollywood and the hungry i in San Francisco.

Though he continued to record his songs, he quit performing during the '60s and went on to write political satire for TV's "That Was the Week That Was," a precursor to "Saturday Night Live." The show was considered daring for its time, but it "invariably vitiated my material," he says. "That's why I recorded it."

Lehrer, who now teaches math and musical theater at UC Santa Cruz, maintains in "Tomfoolery" that he also quit writing political satire because he believes that it became obsolete when Henry Kissinger won the Nobel peace prize. "Only partly true," says Lehrer. "But it's a good line."

The sexy news coming out of the Laguna Playhouse is that less than 1% of its 8,017 subscribers have a problem with seeing frontal nudity in "Manet," the original new musical by Mark Turnbull opening at the Moulton Theatre on May 18.

The community theater company in Laguna Beach offered subscribers the option of exchanging their "Manet" tickets for "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" next season, in case they objected to seeing a nude female model in two of the living tableaux designed for the "Manet" set by former Laguna Festival of Arts designers Don and Douglas Williamson.

"Only 40 couples returned their tickets," says general manager Jody Davidson. Given so few requests for exchanges, did the theater overreact?

"I don't think so," she says. "People ought to know what they're buying. My mother once took me to 'Psycho' because she didn't know what it was, and for a year after that I didn't take a shower."

Does that mean anyone who sees "Manet" without warning might never undress again?

Sexier news, Davidson adds, is that negotiations to lease the General Telephone Building in downtown Laguna Beach for expanded theater facilities have become "negotiations to buy."

"Until now, the phone company was only willing to give us a long-term lease," Davidson says. "But their plans have changed. They want to sell, and we will be able to buy. It's really wonderful for us because it will give us absolute security."

Not that there is any threat to the Playhouse's lease on the Moulton Theatre, which "runs well into the 21st Century," she says. The Moulton was built by the community theater company in 1968 and given to the city for lease-back so as to alleviate the financial pressure of property taxes.

Davidson would not disclose the price being discussed for the telephone building (at 480 Mermaid St.). Moreover, there won't be any purchase until the building can be occupied. And that is actually no closer today than it has been for more than a year because of a series of unforeseen obstacles.

The Playhouse initially expected to occupy the building in the spring of 1988 so that renovations could proceed for launching a professional troupe there in September. That was delayed by the discovery of asbestos in the building and a subsequent cleanup.

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