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Theater | Theater Notes

'80s Warhorse Is Again in the Running

October 01, 2000|DON SHIRLEY | Don Shirley is The Times' theater writer

When the Ovation Award nominations were announced last week, one of the more honored shows was "Les Miserables." It received nominations in five categories.

Yes, that's the same "Les Miserables" that first arrived in the Southland in 1988 at the Shubert Theatre and later played the Pantages Theatre (twice), Orange County Performing Arts Center (twice), Pasadena Civic Auditorium, Long Beach Terrace Theater and Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. All of these were incarnations of producer Cameron Mackintosh's original. Known for the consistency of his worldwide productions, Mackintosh has yet to release the rights for independent productions of the show.

So why is "Les Miz" only now being considered for Ovation Awards?

Because no one ever registered it for consideration in the competitive Ovations until this year, said Lars Hansen, president of Theatre LA, which sponsors the Ovations. This year, it was nominated by Center Theatre Group, which hosted its run at the CTG-operated Ahmanson Theatre last winter.

In fact, since the competitive Ovations were launched in 1994, the Ahmanson run of the show was probably the only engagement of the show that was long enough to attract a lot of Ovation voters. And certainly the actors in this rendition deserve a chance to win an Ovation--few, if any, of them were part of the production's earlier visits.

However, the actors weren't nominated. The nominations were for the production itself, the co-directors and three of the designers. Most of these people did the bulk of their work on the show in the mid-'80s.

Hansen acknowledged that because only five nominations are allowed for each award, "obviously somebody got aced out" by the nominations that went to the "Les Miz" team. Exactly who those somebodies were is a secret inside the Ovation computers that tally the votes of 130 representatives of Theatre LA and its members.

However, to cite one example, it's a reasonable guess that Michael Michetti came close to being nominated for his inventive staging of "Sweeney Todd" last winter; the production itself did receive a best-musical nomination.

It's probable that most of the sixth-place, could-have-been contenders did their work during the past year, not the mid-'80s. It's also likely that many of these sixth-placers also did their work in Southern California. Because the Ovations are generally intended to recognize the high-quality theater that's done here during the past year, is this goal served by the five nominations for "Les Miz"?

Hansen acknowledged that this topic might merit some review: "We're about ready to make a list of recommendations for changes in the rules," and he invites "open discourse" on this or other Ovations-related issues.

SISTER ACT: The Ovation nominations were announced last week in a ceremony presided over by Maripat Donovan, whose "Late Nite Catechism" solo is a long-running hit at the Coronet Theatre. Donovan herself was among the nominees for lead actress in a play.

Dressed in full "Late Nite" nun regalia, Donovan treated the audience like, yes, Catholic school students. Advising the women to select modest dresses for the Ovation ceremony, she told them to ask themselves, "Would Mary, the mother of God, have chosen this outfit?"

When the boisterous James Blackman expressed his joy over nominations for his South Bay company's "Dreamgirls" with loud shouts, Donovan made him repeat his full name--James Arthur Blackman--and advised him of "a little term we like to kick around in the Catholic school system called self-control."

When a nominations reader asked if it was OK to refer to the nominations in the smaller theater categories by their new name--"intimate theaters" has officially replaced "small theaters"--Donovan said it was, "as long as they leave room for the holy spirit."

Later Hansen was asked the reason for the switch from "small" to "intimate."

"People don't like being called 'small,' "he replied.

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