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ARTS WATCH : NEW CURATOR HAS CONTEMPORARY IDEAS

San Diego County Arts Editor

Ronald Onorato had defined himself strictly as “a Northeasterner"--until he served as a visiting scholar at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art. Now, Onorato is preparing to leave his ivory tower at the Rhode Island School of Design to assume the duties of senior curator of the La Jolla museum on Sept. 1.

At an informal reception with the press on Friday, Onorato outlined his plans for the museum: “I’d like us to keep as flexible and open to new ideas as possible. I’m going to set up a small area as an Options Gallery--a place where we can mount a small show very quickly. If a young artist doesn’t have enough for a full show, or a local collector has a very interesting piece that we don’t want to build a show around, this would be a way to handle it. It would give us a little spontaneity.

“I’m also interested in the way visual arts affect our culture, and I’d like to pay some attention to architecture. I’m planning to do something with these crossovers. I’m also looking at acquisitions such as figurative painting and new realism/new expressionism, along with photography. I’d like to maintain the high quality of our collection and extend it as well.”

STARLIGHT PLIGHT: Supporters of the San Diego Civic Light Opera helped fill the coffers of the “Help Save Starlight Bowl” project Saturday night and received a sneak preview of the Starlight’s summer roster. Because of an 11th-hour illness, they also saw the popular show business maxim “the show must go on” in action.

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Starlight’s co-artistic director, Don Ward, stepped in on a moment’s notice to save the day when one of the scheduled performers lost his voice--and proved to a delighted audience that the old trouper is still a consummate showman. Unfortunately, the turnout for this annual bash was disappointing (although ticket sales for Starlight shows are at an all-time high), and the future of the $2-million Starlight Bowl fund-raising drive is very much in question.

So far, about $800,000 has been raised, which will make it possible to build a new box office and concession stands at the top of the facility, and to provide better access for the handicapped and build restrooms inside the bowl itself.

But $1.2 million more is needed to refurbish the stage housing. The stage flooring is weak and supported by temporary beams, the dressing rooms are in disrepair, and there are no modern facilities such as a fly loft, which would permit the scenery to be lowered from above instead of being slid in from the sides, as is the case now.

According to Starlight volunteer Roger Conlee, the city owns the Starlight Bowl (Starlight is its lessee) but has so far declined to allocate money for the stage repairs. Starlight officials are hoping that the forthcoming season, which climaxes with a special production of “A Chorus Line” in September, will help generate the needed financial support.

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AFTERGLOW: There was only triumph for the Broadway version of “Big River"--the Huck Finn musical that got its start last summer at the La Jolla Playhouse--as it garnered seven Tony Awards Sunday night at the Shubert Theater in New York. Playhouse artistic director Des McAnuff, who won the best director Tony, reported from New York that the post-Tony celebration was “the greatest party I’ve ever been to. We partied until 6 a.m.” But for the Broadway cast of “Big River,” the sweet scent of victory proved a little more difficult to savor.

It seems that the cast was still in costume and waiting outside the Eugene O’Neill Theatre on Sunday night for a shuttle bus to take them to the Shubert for the ceremonies. But the bus didn’t arrive on time, so the cast resigned themselves to a long walk. When they got to the corner of 46th Street and 8th Avenue, firefighters at a nearby firehouse spotted the 19th-Century costumes and asked them where they were headed. “To the Tony Awards,” they replied, then broke into an impromptu chorus of a “Big River” song, “Waitin’ for the Light to Shine,” amending the lyrics to “waitin’ for the bus to show . . . .”

They were still waiting for the shuttle bus to show after the Tony Awards. When it failed again, the cast headed back on foot toward the O’Neill. As they walked past the firehouse on their return trip, the firemen broke into a rousing cheer. They had been watching the Tony Awards on their TV set.

ARTBEATS: Like father, like son? Lawrence Welk Village Theater-goers will soon see Jack Klugman and his son Adam team up for “Tribute,” a comedy-drama about a father and son. Klugman is now traveling with the South East Celebrity Tennis Tour on behalf of programs for battered children and drug abusers, but he’s due to begin rehearsing for his Welk date in August.

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