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Broadway bound, first stop La Jolla

San Diego playhouse's new musical, 'Zhivago,' and a revival of 'The Wiz' have enough to get producers' attention.

January 14, 2006|Mike Boehm | Times Staff Writer

The La Jolla-to-Broadway connection is being revved up again this year at the La Jolla Playhouse, where artistic director Des McAnuff will stage premieres of a new musical, "Zhivago," and a revival, "The Wiz," that figure to get close looks from New York producers.

Another new play, "Culture Clash's Zorro in Hell," co-commissioned and co-produced with the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, finds the Latino comedy trio plumbing the legend, the showbiz legacy and the social and historical implications of the masked Mexican swordsman. It plays first in Berkeley. Also coming to La Jolla are a revival of "Mother Courage," Bertolt Brecht's story of a woman trying to survive -- and profit -- during wartime, and "all wear bowlers," the modern vaudeville-duo show that recently played at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.

McAnuff also will direct a workshop production of "The Farnsworth Invention," a new historical play by "The West Wing" creator Aaron Sorkin based on the struggle between Philo Farnsworth, the Idaho farmboy who invented television in the 1920s, and RCA, which mounted a rival patent claim worth millions. It's a collaboration with the Abbey Theatre of Dublin, Ireland, which plans to produce the show in 2007.

McAnuff has been a regular supplier of Broadway content. Billy Crystal first developed his hit one-man show, "700 Sundays," at La Jolla's Page to Stage workshop series, which also has featured the first public staging of Doug Wright's Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play, "I Am My Own Wife." "The Who's Tommy" is the most renowned musical to have come out of La Jolla, and more recently there was a La Jolla-to-Broadway misfire, "Dracula, the Musical."

"It's always an honor to see our work performed elsewhere," McAnuff said Friday through a La Jolla Playhouse spokeswoman. "However, our goal is always presenting the most original theater right here in San Diego."

McAnuff said he is excited about "Zhivago," based on "Doctor Zhivago," the epic Boris Pasternak novel set against the Russian Revolution that spawned the 1965 film starring Omar Sharif and Julie Christie. Last summer's workshop offered unusually somber material for a musical, with ardor-filled ballads between star-crossed lovers Zhivago and Lara, along with irony-dripping numbers lampooning czarist and Soviet powers who turn regular folks into cannon fodder and totalitarian puppets. The book is by veteran playwright Michael Weller, with music by Lucy Simon (Carly's sister, whose stage composing credits include "The Secret Garden") and lyrics by Michael Korie and Amy Powers.

"The Wiz" was a hit on Broadway in 1975. McAnuff promises an updated "The Wiz" that creates "a modern Oz, with a modern look and modern sounds."

The new season's schedule: "Zhivago," May 24-June 25; "Mother Courage," June 28-July 23; "all wear bowlers," Aug. 9-Sept. 3; "Culture Clash's Zorro in Hell," Oct. 4-29; Dates will be announced for "The Wiz" and the workshop of "The Farnsworth Invention."

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