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Starlight Dances Into New Era of Musical Stagings

When Starlight moves indoors to the Civic Theatre Thursday evening with its Broadway-sized production of “42nd Street,” it will herald a new era for San Diego’s Civic Light Opera Assn., one that links the troupe directly to the vanguard of musical theater.

“We will continue to preserve our musical theater tradition, and we will never abandon the Starlight Bowl,” said co-artistic director Bonnie Ward. “But originating new scripts is a favorite dream of ours, and we expect to be doing some new musicals in the future. Everybody thinks all we like to do is revive old musicals, but that’s not true.”

Don Ward, who shares directorial duties with his wife, agrees. “It’s time for us to do some original pieces. We get so many submissions of new scripts, and by the end of 1989, we’ll be ready to announce a new musical. We’re looking at other indoor theaters, like the Lyceum, which is dark between January and March, and we haven’t ruled out the Spreckels.”

The Wards, who are also fine-tuning plans to mount “Peter Pan” next Spring, chose Jon Engstrom as choreographer of “42nd Street.”

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“The temptation to choreograph it ourselves was great,” said Don, a former dancer whose career was launched on a Starlight stage back in the ‘50s. “But ‘42nd Street’ has never played San Diego.”

When reminded that two other local organizations produced the Broadway fable earlier this year, Don Ward said, “We’ve only seen a modicum of what it’s really like. One of the shows wasn’t complete. They cut out about 15 minutes of the dancing, and the dancing is everything in this show. The other had the cast cut way down, so San Diegans haven’t seen the show.”

“Jon was with ‘42nd Street’ on Broadway,” Bonnie Ward said. “He knows Gower Champion’s original choreography, and we wanted that intact. You know Gower’s dances were meticulously detailed.”

“In some shows, the choreography is not so integral to the show,” Don Ward said. “But this is a show about the chorus.”

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“It’s an early ‘Chorus Line,’ ” Bonnie Ward said.

The Wards broke a Starlight tradition by hiring their son Kirby for a pivotal role.

“We had to get special permission,” Don said, referring to Starlight’s policy of not hiring relatives. “But Kirby has played Billy Lawlor four times, and he’s gotten rave reviews. In fact, when we tried to hire Cathy Wydner (another veteran of the Broadway production), she asked who was playing Billy. And, when I said Kirby, she said, ‘I’ll do it.’ ”

“42nd Street,” packaged with David Merrick’s portable set and original costume designs, will run through Oct. 30.

NOTES AND QUOTES: Music at tonight’s dress rehearsal of “42nd Street” at the Civic Theatre will be interpreted for the hearing impaired. This first for Starlight is quite a breakthrough, according to interpreter Holly Boursier. “Musicals are the most difficult live theater to interpret because you’re not only signing the words, but also the mood and tempo of the music,” said Boursier, who will sign the Saturday matinee performance as well. A special two-for-one discount will be offered to the hearing impaired for the Saturday matinee.

Sushi’s dance series continues this week with Elizabeth Streb Ringside’s “Airwork,” a gravity-defying collection of dances that explore the New York-based dancer’s fascination with flying. Athleticism and daring are part and parcel of Streb’s bag of tricks. However, as the Washington Post noted, “Streb is an artist, and she explores ultimate possibilities, physical and spiritual, for their own sake.” These offbeat performances are slated for Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at Sushi’s downtown studio.

The dancers of Black Mountain Dance Foundation rarely take to the limelight, except for local recitals. A lucky seven, however, were showcased in the San Francisco Ballet’s recent production of “Swan Lake” at the San Diego Civic Theatre. Torrey Hyman, Jeanine Jenkins, Sharlene Jenkins, Kammy LaForme, Tara Smith, Vanessa Tipon, and Heather Trocha danced at all three performances.

The San Francisco Ballet auditioned local kids for its upcoming “Nutcracker” recently, and the turnout was overwhelming. When the tryouts were over, 146 of the 310 aspiring dancers who showed up were tagged for roles in the multiple casts of this lavish production. Spokeswoman Marlene Gerber said more than 30 area dance schools will be represented, and the kids will be working every weekend with San Francisco Ballet’s Tomm Ruud to prepare for the performances. The results will be seen when the production bows at the Civic Theatre on Nov. 23.

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When the Moscow Classical Ballet danced at the Orange County Performing Arts Center last week, San Diego ballet fans may have recognized one familiar face in the repertory program, lead danseur Stanislav Isaaev. The California Ballet broke ground for glasnost by importing this Soviet star in 1986--for his first American appearance--and then again in the Spring of ’87. Isaaev also appeared with the Moscow-based ballet troupe during its run at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.

Former Martha Graham dancer Ellen Segal will get back on the boards Nov. 4-5 with an evening of new dance works titled “Garage Dances.” This all-female concert, slated for the Westminster Presbyterian Church, will show Segal’s serious side, and her debt to the guru. Erling Sunde, formerly of the Royal and the San Diego ballets, will team up with Segal in this pair of performances.


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