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Looking Beyond the Mane Event

September 17, 2000|MICHAEL PHILLIPS | Michael Phillips is The Times' theater critic

Allow me to feed L.A.'s gnawing insecurity by opening this with a reference to New York.

This fall on Broadway, two of the more conspicuous hopefuls are Neil Simon's "The Dinner Party" (opening Oct. 19) and the musical version of "The Full Monty" (opening a week later). Simon's play, substantially revised in recent months, tried out at the Mark Taper Forum before a Washington, D.C., engagement. "Monty" worked out some kinks in a heavily subsidized debut at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre. (Another major fall Broadway offering, the Dr. Seuss musical "Seussical," turned down an Ahmanson Theatre slot in favor of a Boston tryout. It opens Nov. 9 in New York.)

Our bright decentered corner of the universe offers more to the adventurous playgoer than the obvious imports and the obvious exports. Even so, this fall a little thing called "The Lion King" (Oct. 19, Pantages Theatre) dominates the calendar. A Disney animated title theatricalized and improved, startlingly so, by director and co-designer Julie Taymor, this particular phenom raises a question: Can any other stage enterprise in this state make itself heard in the coming months amid Disney's marketing thunder?

Hundreds of shows will attempt to answer that one, including the highly pedigreed "Dinner With Friends." Last year's Pulitzer Prize-winning Donald Margulies play opens the Geffen Playhouse season Oct. 4. It is a show without any Elton John and Tim Rice songs whatsoever, and hardly any giraffes at all.

Later this fall at the Geffen, an acclaimed Italian comic/dress-up artiste, Ennio Marchetto, brings his sight gaggery to the Geffen (opening Nov. 30). Marchetto will sing no "Lion King" songs, for the record.

Up the coast, a new Sam Shepard play--"The Late Henry Moss"--opens in a Magic Theatre production Nov. 14 at Theatre on the Square in San Francisco. Shepard directs an extremely starry cast of Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, Woody Harrelson, Cheech Marin, Jim Gammon and Sheila Tawsey. None of the play's characters are named Pumbaa or Scar.

From Dublin, the Gate Theater brings a "Waiting for Godot" that won over a fair share of the Beckett-weary. It's part of the fall UCLA performance series (Oct. 25-29). The original Elton John-Tim Rice score remains intact.

Finally, "Thoroughly Modern Millie," the latest screen-to-stage tuner to try out in these parts, opens at the La Jolla Playhouse Oct. 15.

Early reports indicate a wildebeest stampede even more impressive than the one in "The Lion King."

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