'Express' Heads for San Diego, Los Angeles

Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Starlight Express" will chug into the Southland at the end of the year, opening at the San Diego Civic Theatre Dec. 26 and playing the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood for six weeks, beginning in February.

The weeklong San Diego engagement will open the national tour for the musical, a high-tech extravaganza featuring roller skaters who portray trains. In between San Diego and Hollywood, the show will stop in San Francisco.

The tour will cost approximately $4.5 million to mount, in comparison with the $8-million price tag reported for the New York production. Stan Seiden, West Coast president of Nederlander Inc., which owns the national touring rights, said the touring production "has been simplified but not cut down." For example, he said the train tracks will extend over the orchestra but not up to the balcony.

"Starlight Express" will be offered as the star attraction of the next Los Angeles Civic Light Opera subscription season, said Seiden. The other shows have not been selected.

Seiden, who doubles as president of the LACLO, defended the decision to close the current season with Barbara Rush in "Steel Magnolias," a non-musical that played in Pasadena last fall, as the replacement for Cole Porter's "Anything Goes." "Steel Magnolias" will be the LACLO's second non-musical offering in a row, following the ongoing "Driving Miss Daisy."

"There aren't any musicals around," said Seiden. "You just can't afford to produce them like they used to." He added that most of those musicals which do get produced can't sustain a six-week run in Los Angeles, which is necessary to accommodate all of the LACLO's subscribers. He declined to say how large that subscription audience is.

Mailings about "Magnolias" went out to subscribers last week, he said, and only one complaint has been received--from a subscriber who had seen the play in Pasadena. He offered that subscriber a choice of a refund or two extra tickets to one of next year's attractions, and he said he would do the same for any subscriber who saw the Pasadena production and who complains about the duplication.

In the absence of enough musicals, why not change the name of Los Angeles Civic Light Opera? "It has been talked about," said Seiden. "We've considered augmenting the name."

Augmenting? How about shortening it--and removing that musty musical connotation with one stroke?

We humbly suggest: "Los Angeles Civic Lite."

FACE THE MUSIC: Musicals continue to be produced, despite Seiden's comments. Some of the latest evidence:

-- "Harlem Suite," a new dance musical conceived, choreographed and directed by Maurice Hines, starring Melba Moore as well as Hines, will open May 11 at the Pantages (which is owned and operated by the Nederlander company) for an open-ended run. This will be a revised version of a show that played in five Eastern and Southern cities last fall and winter. Moore has replaced Stephanie Mills, who replaced Jennifer Holliday.

-- Preceding "Harlem Suite" at the Pantages is "Don't Get God Started," a revival of the gospel musical by Ron Milner (book) and Marvin Winans (music), who stars with his wife, Vicki Winans. It opens Wednesday and plays through May 7.

-- The Long Beach Civic Light Opera has announced its 1989-90 season: "Sophisticated Ladies" (Oct. 5-22), "Follies" (March 1-18, using the original script as opposed to the revised version recently seen in London), "Jesus Christ, Superstar" (May 3-20) and "1776" (July 12-29, 1990). LBCLO may later add a new musical version of "Our Town," which is expected to feature Mary Martin as the Stage Manager; Long Beach was one of the five original investors in it.

-- The California Music Theatre continues its revivals at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium--including "Kiss Me, Kate," opening Saturday. George Hearn has bowed out of the role of Pseudolus in the CMT's upcoming "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" (June 14-July 2). He has been replaced by E.E. Bell. The "Forum" cast also will feature Jack Carter, Lu Leonard, Barney Martin and Michael Tucci.

-- As announced Wednesday, the Music Center will present two musicals in two-week runs this summer: "Gypsy" with Tyne Daly and "Fiddler on the Roof" with Topol. "We feel dedicated to the genre," said Music Center Operating Company president Sandra Kimberling, "because it's obviously what people want to see." She hopes more time will open up for musicals in the existing Music Center halls after the new Disney Hall opens in 1993.

On the debit side, Angelenos shouldn't expect to see LACLO's canceled "Anything Goes" any time soon. The touring company closed prematurely. "The physical production was too heavy to travel and make all those one-week dates on time," said a spokesman for the show. A leaner "Anything Goes" may be revived in time to make its scheduled Sept. 19 opening at Orange County Performing Arts Center, but Los Angeles won't see it until 1990 at the earliest.

AWARDS: The Theatre League Alliance (Theatre LA) will present its newly created Governors Awards to 15 recipients "who have contributed significantly to the excellence of live theater in Los Angeles."

The honorees: composer-lyricist Billy Barnes, producer-actress Marla Gibbs, LACLO founder Edwin Lester, East West Players founder Mako, writer-director Luis Valdez, Music Center creator Dorothy Chandler, critic Dick Lochte, Los Angeles Endowment for the Arts architect (and Los Angeles City Councilman) Joel Wachs, and actors Charlton Heston, Jack Lemmon, Lu Leonard and Mary Martin. Awards will be presented in memoriam to actor-director John Allison, Pasadena Playhouse founder Gilmor Brown and actor Henry Fonda.

The awards, designed by artist Robert Graham, will be presented at a Nov. 20 ceremony at the Pasadena Playhouse. The event is intended to become an annual affair.

THE CALLBOARD Theatre will be busy in the next three months. First up is Project III doing Bertolt Brecht's "Baal," opening May 12 for three weeks. Then the newly formed Strike Theatre will present three plays in repertory: Don DeLillo's "The Day Room," the Jacobean thriller "The Revengers," and the premiere of Harry Kondoleon's "The Fairy Garden."

A MEMORIAL for actor Merritt Butrick, who played the hustler in "Kingfish" at Los Angeles Theatre Center last year, will be held Monday at 8 p.m. in the LATC lobby. Butrick died last month of undisclosed causes. Contributions may be made in his memory to the Actors Fund of America.

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