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The Warring Men of ‘La Mancha’

The joust between two of the creators of “Man of La Mancha” has resumed.

Thrusting verbal lances at each other are the musical’s book writer, Dale Wasserman, and its composer and current producer, Mitch Leigh. Their latest remarks end a recent “no comment” period about their conflict, which centers on whether the show should remain true to its original staging--and who has the right to make that decision. The dispute has already reached a federal courtroom in New York.

Speaking at the Pantages, where his revival plays through Dec. 22 before moving to Orange County Performing Arts Center for a Dec. 23-Jan. 5 run, Leigh referred to Wasserman as “a foolish man” for pursuing his opposition to Leigh’s revival.

Leigh is using the original director, Albert Marre, and most of his staging from 1965, as well as the rationale: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

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But Wasserman referred to this line as “a sad cliche. My own cliche is: Make it better.”

Wasserman cited the “hundreds of productions” the show’s creators have seen since the original. “I’d love to take advantage of what we’ve seen. I’d love to give it a new spark of vitality.”

He wouldn’t specify what that spark might look like. But he did recall “an astonishing production” that he liked in Australia and added: “We wouldn’t rewrite it. But it needs freshening in design and direction.” He was on the verge of arranging an innovative production, he said. But then Leigh came up with his own package--and persuaded the third collaborator, lyricist Joe Darion, to side with him.

Leigh questions what “freshening” might mean: “Are you going to do it as a gangster show in the ‘20s?”

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From Leigh’s perspective, Wasserman is refusing to abide by the results of a vote among the three collaborators. Leigh himself didn’t approve of the deal that resulted in a widely panned movie version in 1972, he claimed, “but I didn’t say anything about it"--and he thinks Wasserman should do the same.

“None of us are babies,” said Leigh. “Forget it--do the show.”

Far from forgetting it, Wasserman filed a lawsuit to “stop this usurping of control over rights and licenses.” He’s not trying to stop the show, but rather “to establish my rights” and to obtain “compensation for any abuse of them.”

He has no plans to see the Leigh revival. And don’t look for his bio in the program--at his request, it’s not there.

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ON THE MOVE: The acclaimed Pacific Theatre Ensemble must leave its Venice storefront digs by the end of the year. City inspectors say expensive renovations must be made if the space remains in use as a theater. One of the renovations--the addition of a second restroom--would reduce the seating capacity of the tiny theater. The Pacificans chose to move instead.

Although their initial goal was to remain in Venice, they have now expanded their horizons to include possible sites in Culver City, Sherman Oaks and Santa Monica. They’re looking for a developer or an organization that would give them a break on rent in recognition of the foot traffic and tax breaks that might accompany a resettled nonprofit theater.

“We need some pillars of the community to stand alongside us and help hold up this wonderful tent we’ve created,” said artistic director Stephanie Shroyer.

LATC REMNANT REPORT: When Los Angeles Theatre Center’s resident company collapsed in October, it was about to present “The Night of the Iguana” in special daytime performances to 3,700 high school students as part of LATC’s Theatre as a Learning Tool program.

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In an attempt to salvage a fragment of that program, the city council authorized spending $7,000 to show some of the same students a production at the Mark Taper Forum. So, last Wednesday at noon, 700 of the students saw “Henceforward . . . " there.

Keren Goldberg, director of the program, hopes to accommodate the remaining 3,000 students--and others--at performances by other theater groups.

PAY WHAT YOU CAN: You may choose your own ticket price for the Thursday matinee of “The Most Happy Fella” at the Doolittle Theatre in Hollywood. The cash-only offer is subject to availability and is limited to two tickets per person. Sales begin at the box office at 10 a.m. Thursday.


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