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Going From Reviews to Revues

David Galligan was once a barb-slinging critic. Now a target for pans and praise, he's restaging the musical romp 'Blame It on the Movies.'

March 15, 1998|Daryl H. Miller | Daryl H. Miller is a Los Angeles-based theater writer

Asked what he has learned as one of Los Angeles' busiest stage directors, David Galligan goes silent for a moment and looks into the distance.

Then a smile creeps across his face.

"The Golden Rule," he says. "Do unto others. . . ."

Galligan has lived that maxim from both sides now, having switched from doer to done-unto.

Until 1990, he was a prominent Los Angeles theater critic who, as he dryly recalls, could be "a tough little bird." Writing for the entertainment trade publication DramaLogue, he dished out such zingers as "a first-rate comedy being given a third-rate production" and "there is nothing in this stage situation that rises above the mundane."

Now he's on the receiving end, and although he has received sparkling notices for such shows as "Blame It on the Movies" and the recent "Lullaby of Broadway," he keeps quoting the bad ones--such as " 'Gifts of Magi' Is Better Left Unopened," the headline accompanying The Times' review of one of his early efforts, a holiday staging of O. Henry's classic tale.

Yet even as he grumbles, he can't help but laugh, for that's just life taking its revenge on "the mean critic."

Galligan sits in an empty common room in the Pasadena Playhouse, having just finished the day's rehearsal of "Blame It on the Movies." His revival staging of the movie music revue opens there next Sunday.

A hit when it premiered at the Coast Playhouse in 1988, "Blame It on the Movies" uses movie songs from the late 1930s through the mid-'80s to recall some of film history's sexiest love scenes, revisit the thrill of Saturday matinees and generally marvel at that larger-than-life world up on the silver screen.

Galligan, who helped create the piece, is teaming once again with choreographer Yehuda Hyman, and they have asked original cast members Bill Hutton and Christine Kellogg to return.

"I had no idea that I would be a director," says Galligan, 57. Just as he'd had no writing experience when he stumbled upon his first reviewing opportunity, he had no directing experience when he staged his first show. "It just fell into my lap.

"I don't know if there's anybody up there," he adds, looking toward the rafters, "but I like to believe there is. And if there is, please keep doing it some more."

Since staging his first show in 1984, Galligan has become--along with Ron Link and Jules Aaron--one of Los Angeles' most ubiquitous directors. His hits--staged mostly in small theaters--include the Leonard Bernstein chamber musical "Trouble in Tahiti"; the wacky punk-rock musical "Angry Housewives"; the tribute to songwriters Harold Adamson and Jimmy McHugh "A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening"; the prison drama "Fortune and Men's Eyes"; the gay and lesbian-themed "The Gay '90s Musical"; and, of course, "Blame It on the Movies" and "Blame It II."

This is his fourth show at the Pasadena Playhouse (one of the largest venues he's worked at), after "Alone Together," "The Lion in Winter" and "Lettice & Lovage."

In addition, Galligan has directed a number of local AIDS fund-raisers--most notably, all 14 of the star-studded Southland Theatre Artists Goodwill Events, which have grossed an estimated $2.4 million for local AIDS organizations.

"Blame It on the Movies" cast member Hutton says that, in Galligan's hands, a cast becomes not just a family, but one "that listens to one another; families don't always do that."

Though Hutton (a Tony nominee for the title role in the original "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat") himself suffered the slings and arrows of Galligan's reviews, he has since performed in many of the director's shows, and he unhesitatingly names "sensitivity" as Galligan's overriding attribute.

"Everybody feels their input is as valuable as [David's] and as valuable as the actor next to them. He is open to any and all suggestions."

Linda Purl--best known as a stage ("The Baby Dance") and television ("Happy Days," "Matlock") actress--has turned to Galligan to direct all her nightclub acts. "One thing that has always been true about David is that he is deeply concerned with the human condition," she says. "He brings you to what is simplest and truest in the material you're working on."

"You get to try anything with me," Galligan says, "as long as I get to try anything with you."

Though he claims to once have been shy, Galligan chats easily in the quiet of the empty playhouse. He is a master of dry observation, which he frequently turns against himself--as when he describes occasional twinges of regret about his reviewing days.

"Actors remember all the bad reviews; they don't remember the raves. I'll be working with someone, and they'll say, 'Do you remember the time you said such and such about me?' And I'll say, 'No, I don't.' 'Well, you said that I was blah, blah, blah.' Oh, my god!"

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