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Faces To Watch 2008

December 30, 2007|Diane Haithman

TRACY LETTS

Playwright who might catch pulitzer's eye

Despite delays caused by the stagehands strike in New York, Letts' tragicomedy "August: Osage County" finally opened on Broadway this month to some especially favorable reviews. New York Times critic Charles Isherwood called the portrait of a dysfunctional Oklahoma family "probably the most exciting new American play Broadway has seen in years," adding: "Oh, forget probably: It is." Now it appears that the playwright -- who grew up in Oklahoma and is a longtime ensemble member of Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company -- is the odds-on favorite for a Pulitzer for the play, first staged at Steppenwolf.

Audiences may be familiar with Letts' work from this year's Ashley Judd film version of the 2004 off-Broadway hit "Bug" as well as a production at the Coast Playhouse in Hollywood. Times reviewer F. Kathleen Foley found that play about a crew of down-and-outers "rife with blood, nudity and creepy-crawlies" and "not for the squeamish." Now most critics have applauded his apparent new trend away from gore.

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MEGAN HILTY

Actress who'll swap her witching hours for a '9 to 5' job

Those hordes of tween-age girls who have made the musical "Wicked" -- the pre-"Wizard of Oz" story of the childhood friendship of Glinda the Good Witch and the Wicked Witch of the West -- into a Broadway megahit fall into two categories: those who want to emulate Elphaba, the strong-willed, green-skinned Wicked Witch (who, aw, shucks, actually isn't so wicked after all) and those who see themselves as the super-duper-popular Galinda (she shortened the name to "Glinda" when she grew up and started traveling by bubble).

In Los Angeles, Galinda wannabes are inspired by Hilty's giggly, flirty, over-the-top performance in the production of "Wicked" at the Pantages Theatre. But Hilty is soon to switch gears to take on the role of Doralee Rhodes in the new musical "9 to 5," which will have its pre-Broadway run at the Ahmanson Theatre, Sept. 21-Oct. 29. Doralee is the part played by Dolly Parton in the 1980 movie. Another "Wicked" veteran, Orange County native Stephanie J. Block -- an L.A. and Broadway Elphaba -- will also join the "9 to 5" cast as Judy Bernly, Jane Fonda's role in the film.

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DAVID SEFTON

Impresario brings the world to UCLA

Not long after his arrival in 2000 to take over as director of UCLA Performing Arts at age 37, Liverpool native Sefton -- now with a new title but basically the same job, as executive and artistic director of UCLA Live -- launched the ambitious UCLA Live International Theatre Festival. Since then, he has continued to seek out the kind of envelope-pushing performers and events he had championed in his previous position as chief of contemporary culture at South Bank Centre/Royal Festival Hall in London.

The local festival, noted for scoring frequent programming coups -- including many U.S., West Coast and Los Angeles debuts -- is enjoying what can only be called a smash sixth season. Its offerings have included the U.S. premiere of the critically acclaimed "Black Watch," Gregory Burke's Iraq war theater piece performed by the National Theatre of Scotland, and Ian McKellen in Shakespeare's "King Lear" and Chekhov's "The Seagull." (The feeding frenzy over "Lear" seats led to tickets being peddled by scalpers for more than $1,000 a pop.) The question is: Regardless of ticket prices, will Sefton be able to keep the artistic momentum of 2007-08 going?

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MORLAN HIGGINS

Actor will return with fugard tie intact

Higgins, who can count multiple Ovation and Los Angeles Drama Critics awards among his many local accolades, has a history with playwright Athol Fugard: He starred to critical acclaim as Andre, an insecure middle-aged actor struggling with both his physical decline and gnawing regrets about long hiding his homosexuality, in the 2004 world premiere of Fugard's "Exits and Entrances" at the Fountain Theatre.

In 2008, Higgins will come back to the Fountain in the U.S. premiere of Fugard's new play, "Victory," which details an explosive confrontation between two young black men who attempt to burglarize the home of an elderly white man, played by Higgins. The production, due to open Jan. 25, is being directed by Fountain co-founder and co-artistic director Stephen Sachs, who also directed "Exits and Entrances."

-- Diane Haithman

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