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Send In the Sondheim : Musical Theatre Company Debuts With 'Night Music' at the Gem

March 25, 1994|MARK CHALON SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

GARDEN GROVE — The idea began percolating about six years ago, when "Forbidden Broadway" was playing at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo. George Quick and Beth Hansen had mounted the wild lampoon of mainstream musicals and were thinking about their futures.

Eventually, they started into the practical stuff--demographics, finding a pool of actors--determining the basic feasibility of the dream. But it wasn't until recently that the long-time local stage veterans (who continued with their Saddleback ventures, including the praised "Sweeney Todd" and "Christmas With Sal & Amanda Gecko") finally put their plans for a troupe into dress rehearsal.

Now, their fledgling Costa Mesa-based Musical Theatre Company is about to unveil its first production, Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music." It opens at the Gem Theatre in Garden Grove tonight and will continue for three weekends.

"The decision to do musical theater was foremost a personal choice; it's something we love," said Quick, who is directing. "We also realize that musical theater is popular, so we're optimistic we can succeed." Still, he stressed, they want to do more than "just commercial, vapid entertainment. We want theater that is really immediate and alive."

He and Hansen also want the Gem for their home base, and if they get it, it would fill a gap created when GroveShakespeare folded last year and left the playhouse without a full-time occupant. Quick said officials of the City of Garden Grove, which owns the building, are evaluating the Musical Theatre Company's proposal, which is still in the vague, initial stages.

"We like Garden Grove because it's centrally located," Quick said. "The demographics say it would be good. We want to attract people from L.A. (County) as well as O.C." He said the company has been developing a mailing list that currently includes about 18,500 residents of the two counties.

Their plans for the Gem might include bringing in various groups with different specialties, Quick said, "like a classics company, a children's theater group, maybe modern drama. We'd probably look at new and existing groups for the Gem"--and perhaps for the nearby Festival Amphitheatre, also owned by the city.

*

If the city doesn't accept their proposal, Quick said he and Hansen would be willing to keep renting the Gem on a show-to-show basis. Actually, Quick and Hansen's plans for the company itself are pretty fluid. Although they plan to do four shows this season, they haven't set dates or even decided which shows they will be. Among those being considered: "Man of La Mancha," "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" and "Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris."

In coming seasons, though, the company--which would like to cast a mix of professional and amateur actors in its productions--expects to focus on Sondheim, a personal favorite of Quick and Hansen's. The choice of "A Little Night Music" as their maiden offering reflects their goal, Quick said: "It has uplift, so it's good for spring, but it's also thought-provoking."

Hansen plays Desiree, a Swedish actress at the center of the musical's plot line. Her tricky relationship with the already-married Fredrik gives Sondheim the opportunity to explore, as is his custom, the checkered aspects of love.

"A Little Night Music" was inspired by Ingmar Bergman's moody comedy "Smiles of a Summer Night."

"There was much more of a dark undercurrent in the film," said Quick. "As a musical, it's definitely lighter, but there's a rumbling about what's going on. There's a darkness below the surface.

"I'm certainly aware (of the film) and use it to inform me as a backdrop, but I approach the musical as a separate piece."

The show is further distinguished, he noted, by music written entirely in three-quarter time or variations thereof. Among the songs is one of Sondheim's most popular, "Send in the Clowns," which is sung by Desiree.

"What I really like about Sondheim tends to be more complex" than "Send in the Clowns," Quick said. "But as it fits into (the history of) the musical theater, it's one of the best, most elegant ballads ever written. It's certainly his best known, and it does surprise you when it comes up."

* The Musical Theatre Company's production of "A Little Night Music" by Stephen Sondheim opens tonight at 8 at the Gem Theatre, 12852 Main St., Garden Grove, and will continue through April 10, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. $18-$24. (714) 636-7213 or (714) 668-9284.

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