Gordon Davidson's final season at the helm of the Ahmanson Theatre will include the U.S. premiere of a dance-theater production from Matthew Bourne, a Shakespeare comedy staged by Sir Peter Hall and revivals of two musicals.
In describing his swan song season, Davidson also announced two bonus productions: a Christmastime run of Bourne's "Nutcracker!" at UCLA's Royce Hall in a co-production with UCLA Live and a return of the sign language-permeated "Big River" to the Music Center, at the 1,600-seat Ahmanson. The Huck Finn musical, first seen in the tiny Deaf West Theatre space in North Hollywood in 2001, played at the 750-seat Mark Taper Forum in 2002.
The booking of "Big River" (Jan. 12-23, 2005) raises the question of whether its intricate sign language will be clearly visible in a large theater.
"Don't prejudge it," Davidson said. "The challenge will be paid attention to and dealt with."
Nick Manos of Theater of the Stars in Atlanta, lead producer of the $2-million "Big River" tour, said the set will be moved closer to the audience, signing movements will be emphasized and there will be 24 actors instead of the 20 on Broadway last year.
The only way local presenters could break even "or even make a little money" on "Big River" is by using large venues with subscription audiences, Manos said. His company's Fox Theater in Atlanta, where "Big River" will play, has 4,518 seats.
It would have been difficult to retain the original Broadway company in scattered individual productions at smaller nonprofit theaters, he said. The signing is a challenging skill to teach to new companies, he added.
Davidson said he wanted to include a homegrown production in his final Ahmanson season. After staging an all-star benefit reading of "All About Eve" last year, he tried to get the rights for a full production. "It would have been a great send-off," he said.
The season will open with "Wonderful Town" (Oct. 29 to Dec. 19), a touring version of the current Broadway revival of the 1953 musical about two small-town sisters in New York. Leonard Bernstein wrote the music, with lyrics by Adolph Green and Betty Comden. Kathleen Marshall directed and choreographed the revival, which originated in New York's Encores! series in 2000.
Hall's staging of "As You Like It" (Feb. 7 to March 27, 2005), first seen at England's Theatre Royal Bath last summer, features the director's daughter, Rebecca Hall, as Rosalind. Despite the appearance of nepotism, the younger Hall drew praise in the British production and in Boston last fall.
Hall's Shakespearean productions at the Ahmanson in 1999 and 2001 were generally not well received. Last year, Hall told The Times that the Ahmanson isn't ideal for Shakespeare, "who needs at the most 800 or 900 seats. You have to be able to whisper as well as shout." But to eliminate Shakespeare from the Ahmanson, Hall added, "would be like saying you can't reproduce great paintings on paper."
"The idea of Shakespeare in the Ahmanson is important," said Davidson, who defended 1999's "Measure for Measure."
Bourne's "Play Without Words" (April 11 to May 29, 2005), winner of a 2003 Olivier Award, is based on the 1963 movie "The Servant," which was directed by Joseph Losey, from a novel by Robin Maugham. Bourne's version, set in the Chelsea section of London in 1965, features a jazz score by Terry Davies and design by Lez Brotherston. It was Bourne's first production for his new company New Adventures.
Bourne's "Swan Lake," "Cinderella" and "The Car Man" previously played at the Ahmanson.
Trevor Nunn will restage his Royal National Theatre production of Cole Porter's "Anything Goes" (July 6 to Sept. 4, 2005), which won the 2003 Olivier Award for outstanding musical. The revival of the 1934 shipboard musical comedy is expected to then tour, although further engagements have not yet been set.
Bourne's "Nutcracker!" (Dec. 16 to Jan. 2) will appear at UCLA following a run at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.