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ENTERTAINMENT NEWS : Staging Another Comeback : Last year the Northridge quake halted reopening of El Portal. After more repairs, a June debut has been set.


In August, 1993, Actors Alley theater company began the herculean task of renovating El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood to convert it into a live performance space. A grand reopening was planned for Feb. 5, 1994, but the Northridge earthquake intervened. The temblor caused extensive damage to the venue, which opened originally in 1926 as a vaudeville and silent movie house.

Actors Alley was faced with a decision: either start all over again at a new location, or start all over again at El Portal.

"We started looking at the options; we decided to go with the El Portal," says Bob Caine, Actors Alley managing director. "Just to give it up wasn't in our natures. We're a dedicated group of people who didn't want to let go."

Actors Alley began a second round of red tape and renovations soon after the quake and has now slated June 2 as the gala opening of its first production, "The Puppetmaster of Lodz," at the El Portal complex.

Under the management and supervision of Tishman Construction Corp., in conjunction with R.F. McCann & Co. Architects of Pasadena, the $2.1-million renovation and seismic retrofit project will convert the Lankershim Boulevard theater into three venues: a 49-seat proscenium theater called the Storefront Theatre, a 99-seat circle forum theater and a 360-seat main-stage theater. The Storefront Theatre will open in June, while the two others are expected to be finished in the fall.

Actors Alley plans to stage its entire summer / fall season at the Storefront Theater. "The Puppetmaster of Lodz," written by Gilles Segal and described as a comic drama that questions the existence of God, will have its West Coast premiere when it opens at the El Portal complex in June. It will be followed by "The Killing of Sister George" in August and "Orphans" in October.

Actors Alley at the El Portal Center, 5216 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Call (818) 508-4200.


KID STUFF: Soon after the birth of their son, Barbara and Lloyd Schwartz wrote, produced and directed a musical version of "Little Red Riding Hood," which was staged in a rented auditorium near their home. The show was aimed at young children, and the couple asked some actor-friends to perform in it. After a good reception, the show was later presented at Theatre West in Universal City. The Schwartzes' Storybook Theatre eventually became the children's theater wing of the Theatre West company.

Now, nine years and 11 productions later, Storybook Theatre is the only resident Equity children's theater company in Los Angeles. Its latest production, "Jack and the Beanstalk," opens April 8.

Storybook Theatre's musicals have entertained more than 75,000 children, according to the Schwartzes. Each of the productions, written by Lloyd with collaborators, is based on a well-known story. Barbara Schwartz says their productions are the first theater experience that many children have, and she and Lloyd are careful to make their stories gentle and funny, with lots of audience participation. Kids are encouraged to cheer the heroes and boo the villains.

"If there's a bad guy," she says, "it's a silly bad guy." Some of the children are invited onstage to become part of the play.

The Schwartzes say they are proud that their plays are nonviolent and have a theme of kindness.

"It drives us crazy that we see all this violence in films and television that we feel is not appropriate for young kids," Barbara says. "The main thing is for the kids to have fun. If anything, we err on the side of gentleness."

Both of the Schwartzes have extensive backgrounds in entertainment. Lloyd worked with his father, Sherwood Schwartz, on television's "The Brady Bunch" and "Gilligan's Island." Lloyd produced "The Brady Bunch Movie," currently in release, and is working on a "Brady Bunch" sequel as well as "Gilligan's Island: The Motion Picture."

Barbara is a children's theater veteran, having begun her theatrical career with the Minneapolis Children's Theatre Company in the late 1960s. She's a member of Theatre West and has appeared in several films.

"Jack and the Beanstalk" will open at 1 p.m. April 8 at Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Universal City. Tickets are $7. Call (818) 761-2203.


GUITAR MUSIC: Every adult knows that April is income tax month, and also when the Major League baseball season begins--most years. But did you know that April is International Guitar Month?

Since 1987, the Guitar and Accessories Music Marketing Assn. has designated April as International Guitar Month. The idea is to promote (i.e., sell) guitars and music in general.

Big Valley Music in Northridge has been staging special guitar month events since 1990.

"Every year, we try to get the best possible events," says Buffy Jo Fitch, the music store's spokeswoman. "To be honest, it's a really good promotion for music and for the store. We like to support the amateur musician."

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