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Theater Notes

Father's Death Turns Exec to Life in Show Biz

April 27, 2002|MIKE BOEHM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A little more than a year ago, Lisa Richard was cruising along, happily leading a double life as a corporate vice president by day and a singer-actress and recording artist the rest of the time.

"But life," she says, "has a very interesting way of throwing you curveballs."

It was more like a sucker-punch. Her father, Charles, a perennially healthy dairy farmer she describes as "a bull of a man, bigger than life," became sick with cancer, deteriorated rapidly, and died in April 2001 at age 66.

Richard left her job at Toshiba in Irvine to care for him back in her hometown of Herkimer, N.Y. After he died, she came home to Laguna Beach, but couldn't go on as before. "I was so broken up, I went through several months of not wanting to do anything."

But Richard had a prior engagement to fill: before her father fell ill, she had agreed to sing in the Pageant of the Masters in Laguna. Starting with rehearsals in June, and on through the summer, she was occupied every night, singing a couple of old Edith Piaf numbers to go with a living montage of French Impressionist paintings.

"It really pulled me out of being miserable," Richard says. "I started to live the life of a performer. It brought me back from the land of the dead, I guess."

For the first time in this MBA holder's life, she decided that there would be no business but show business. She dived into roles in musicals and performed guest duets at concerts by her friend, Broadway star Susan Egan. Recently, Richard officially turned pro--at age 41--by joining the union, Actors' Equity. Her first Equity job was a Southern California tour of the Rodgers and Hart revue, "Beguiled Again."

On Tuesday she opens as Corine, a saucy, comical and sexy maidservant in the musical "Triumph of Love" at International City Theatre in Long Beach. She also has a new CD, "Virgin Tracks," her second release for LML Music, a Los Angeles label that specializes in cabaret- and theater-based singers.

The album (available through her Web site, www.lisarichard.com) shows Richard's varied interests. It has some big Broadway-style ballads with full orchestra. But there are also some pop songs, including a number with Latin salsa rhythms and a dreamy Caribbean-flavored tune. "Don't You Be Shakin' Your Faith in Me" finds Richard and Egan dueting like soul-sisters on an upbeat R&B number about enduring friendship. Richard varies her approach from song to song, sometimes laying on the big Broadway crescendos, but often taking a more nuanced tone.

The songs, by an assortment of composers including John Bucchino and Stephen Schwartz, never had been recorded before; Richard's concept was to sing only previously unheard material.

Egan's performance on Richard's album returns a favor. Last summer, Richard took a four-day break from the Pageant of the Masters to join her friend at Abbey Road Studio in London, where Egan recorded her first solo CD, "So Far ..." It includes their duet on "I Know Him So Well" from "Chess" (music by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus of the group ABBA, lyrics by Tim Rice).

Richard says she doesn't regret waiting until midlife to become single-minded about show business. "I know there are people who say if you're 41 and just starting to do it, it can't work. Well, I've gotten two [Equity] jobs already, and in my current job I get to be sexy. How great is that, to be 41 and get to be sexy?"

"Triumph of Love," Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd. Previews Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m., opens Friday. Regular performances, Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends May 26. $23-$35. (562) 436-4610.

The Rude Guerrilla Theater Company's landlord troubles are over, because leaders of the Santa Ana storefront troupe finally got to meet their landlord.

Due to rising rent, a lack of air-conditioning and cramped quarters, the respected, risk-taking Rude Guerrilla had declared that after this year it would abandon its home, the Empire Theater at 200 N. Broadway in the downtown Artist Village. Enter Al Shankle, property owner and theater buff. Rude Guerrilla had dealt with a building manager, but after that employee quit recently, Shankle became more hands-on. Checking out the property last month on a visit from his home in Genoa, Nev., Shankle ran into Rude Guerrilla production director Don Hess, who politely detailed the space's shortcomings. Shankle cut the theater a break on its rent, agreed to help it install air-conditioning by the summer, and approved remodeling that will expand the Empire's seating capacity from 50 to 60. Now he hopes to sign Rude Guerrilla to a five-to 10-year lease.

Shankle and his wife then attended the current show, Yasmina Reza's "Art," and loved it. The landlord became a patron, sending in "a little contribution because I think they're doing good work."

With the improvements and rent break, Shankle said, "I hope that will set the stage [for great things], and some of the actors will make it all the way to Broadway." He meant the other Broadway.

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