Going From Reviews to Revues

Daryl H. Miller is a Los Angeles-based theater writer

Asked what he has learned as one of Los Angeles' busiest stage directors, David Galligan goes silent for a moment and looks into the distance.

Then a smile creeps across his face.

"The Golden Rule," he says. "Do unto others. . . ."

Galligan has lived that maxim from both sides now, having switched from doer to done-unto.

Until 1990, he was a prominent Los Angeles theater critic who, as he dryly recalls, could be "a tough little bird." Writing for the entertainment trade publication DramaLogue, he dished out such zingers as "a first-rate comedy being given a third-rate production" and "there is nothing in this stage situation that rises above the mundane."

Now he's on the receiving end, and although he has received sparkling notices for such shows as "Blame It on the Movies" and the recent "Lullaby of Broadway," he keeps quoting the bad ones--such as " 'Gifts of Magi' Is Better Left Unopened," the headline accompanying The Times' review of one of his early efforts, a holiday staging of O. Henry's classic tale.

Yet even as he grumbles, he can't help but laugh, for that's just life taking its revenge on "the mean critic."

Galligan sits in an empty common room in the Pasadena Playhouse, having just finished the day's rehearsal of "Blame It on the Movies." His revival staging of the movie music revue opens there next Sunday.

A hit when it premiered at the Coast Playhouse in 1988, "Blame It on the Movies" uses movie songs from the late 1930s through the mid-'80s to recall some of film history's sexiest love scenes, revisit the thrill of Saturday matinees and generally marvel at that larger-than-life world up on the silver screen.

Galligan, who helped create the piece, is teaming once again with choreographer Yehuda Hyman, and they have asked original cast members Bill Hutton and Christine Kellogg to return.

"I had no idea that I would be a director," says Galligan, 57. Just as he'd had no writing experience when he stumbled upon his first reviewing opportunity, he had no directing experience when he staged his first show. "It just fell into my lap.

"I don't know if there's anybody up there," he adds, looking toward the rafters, "but I like to believe there is. And if there is, please keep doing it some more."

Since staging his first show in 1984, Galligan has become--along with Ron Link and Jules Aaron--one of Los Angeles' most ubiquitous directors. His hits--staged mostly in small theaters--include the Leonard Bernstein chamber musical "Trouble in Tahiti"; the wacky punk-rock musical "Angry Housewives"; the tribute to songwriters Harold Adamson and Jimmy McHugh "A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening"; the prison drama "Fortune and Men's Eyes"; the gay and lesbian-themed "The Gay '90s Musical"; and, of course, "Blame It on the Movies" and "Blame It II."

This is his fourth show at the Pasadena Playhouse (one of the largest venues he's worked at), after "Alone Together," "The Lion in Winter" and "Lettice & Lovage."

In addition, Galligan has directed a number of local AIDS fund-raisers--most notably, all 14 of the star-studded Southland Theatre Artists Goodwill Events, which have grossed an estimated $2.4 million for local AIDS organizations.

"Blame It on the Movies" cast member Hutton says that, in Galligan's hands, a cast becomes not just a family, but one "that listens to one another; families don't always do that."

Though Hutton (a Tony nominee for the title role in the original "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat") himself suffered the slings and arrows of Galligan's reviews, he has since performed in many of the director's shows, and he unhesitatingly names "sensitivity" as Galligan's overriding attribute.

"Everybody feels their input is as valuable as [David's] and as valuable as the actor next to them. He is open to any and all suggestions."

Linda Purl--best known as a stage ("The Baby Dance") and television ("Happy Days," "Matlock") actress--has turned to Galligan to direct all her nightclub acts. "One thing that has always been true about David is that he is deeply concerned with the human condition," she says. "He brings you to what is simplest and truest in the material you're working on."

"You get to try anything with me," Galligan says, "as long as I get to try anything with you."

Though he claims to once have been shy, Galligan chats easily in the quiet of the empty playhouse. He is a master of dry observation, which he frequently turns against himself--as when he describes occasional twinges of regret about his reviewing days.

"Actors remember all the bad reviews; they don't remember the raves. I'll be working with someone, and they'll say, 'Do you remember the time you said such and such about me?' And I'll say, 'No, I don't.' 'Well, you said that I was blah, blah, blah.' Oh, my god!"

Most of the time, those old reviews don't get in the way, Galligan says. But he suspects that one recently did. The leading actress balked when he became attached to a show at the Pasadena Playhouse, so the theater staged "Blame It on the Movies" instead.

Galligan grew up in San Francisco, where he memorized Burns Mantle books of plays, caught performances by such musical theater stars as Mary Martin and John Raitt and tried his own hand at acting with local theater groups. At 17, he moved to Los Angeles, where he landed more stage roles as well as small parts on such television shows as "Margie" and "The Lieutenant." "I'm sure my entire film career would take about three minutes' of film," he cracks.

Galligan became socially acquainted with the owners of Fashion Week, a publication covering the West Coast apparel trade, and one of them blurted out: "You're such a bitch. Why don't you write for us?"

"I thought they were serious," Galligan says, "but it turned out they were only kidding. I went home and wrote something and sent it to them--and they hired me." In 1972, he began hitting print with a column of theater and movie reviews, as well as profiles of actors and fashion trade movers and shakers.

In 1977, Galligan moved over to Drama-Logue, where he wrote theater and film reviews as well as personality profiles and a theater news column.

Reviewing opened the door to directing.

Galligan was a member of the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle when Jack Viertel, then critic of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner and president of the circle, asked Galligan to take charge of the presentation of the group's 1984 awards for outstanding achievement in local theater.

Hesitant at first, Galligan finally accepted--refashioning what had been a haphazard trophy give-away into a glittery stage production. "Lo and behold, the curtain went up," Galligan says, "and it went off without a hitch."

Later that year, actor Michael Kearns approached Galligan about organizing a fund-raiser to combat the mysterious new illness attacking gay men and others. That was the birth of the STAGE benefits.

A few years later, Galligan had established a working relationship with producer Franklin R. Levy at the Coast Playhouse in West Hollywood. Levy suggested a show based on movie music, and Galligan asked Ron Abel, a local musical arranger-director, and Billy Barnes, the songwriter responsible for the famous old Billy Barnes revues, to help create it.

Galligan believes a person can pinpoint just about any event in life by the movie music of the time. "Do you remember where your first kiss was? Was it at the movies? It probably was."

As Galligan and Hyman revisit the show, they are making just a few adjustments--the most notable of which is the addition of a segment in which Charlie Chaplin invites the cast to become part of an on-screen adventure.

Galligan gave up theater reviewing in 1990 because "it was confusing, especially for me" to work on both sides of the footlights.

"The more I learned about the [staging] process, the more sensitive I was becoming toward it--and toward the theater artist," Galligan says. "Boy, did I think I knew it all as a theater critic. Whew--was I wrong."

"BLAME IT ON THE MOVIES," Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. Dates: Opens next Sunday, 5 p.m. Regular schedule: Tuesdays to Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 5 and 9 p.m.; Sundays, 2 and 7 p.m. Ends April 26. Prices: $13.50-$42.50. Phone: (800) 233-3123.

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