Pasadena Playhouse announces additions to new season


As it gradually works its way back to solid financial ground, the Pasadena Playhouse has added two more productions to its lineup for the upcoming season.

Ed Asner will star in the solo show “FDR” (Oct. 12 to Nov. 7), a drama that follows the life of President Franklin D. Roosevelt from inauguration to World War II. The production is based on Dore Schary’s Tony-winning play “Sunrise at Campobello” that ran on Broadway in 1958 and was made into a film in 1960. “Uptown, Downtown” (Nov. 16 to Dec. 12) is a musical in which actress Leslie Uggams traces her career on stage and screen. The production ran earlier this year at New York City’s Jazz at Lincoln Center. Uggams appeared at the Pasadena Playhouse last year in “Stormy Weather,” a musical about the life of the late Lena Horne. This time she’ll be retracing her own career’s path, backed by a live band that playhouse artistic director Sheldon Epps said will number between five and eight musicians.

The upcoming 2010-11 season will also feature a previously announced January production of the new musical “Dangerous Beauty,” based on the 1998 movie, that will open in January. Epps said a fourth show, a nonmusical play, is planned for next spring.

The playhouse announced in July that it had emerged from bankruptcy after a financial crisis that shut down its main stage in February. Epps said that Asner has been touring the “FDR” show, and representatives of the production put out feelers as to whether the resuscitated playhouse would be interested. Epps said that he approached Uggams and Michael Bush, who devised and staged “Uptown, Downtown,” about bringing it to the playhouse for its West Coast premiere.

Epps said that because of the playhouse engagement of “FDR,” Asner’s scheduled performance Oct. 9 at Cal State Northridge’s Plaza del Sol Performance Hall will be pushed back until later in the university performance series’ season.

Asner, 80, has won seven Emmy Awards for his work on the television series “ Mary Tyler Moore,” “Lou Grant,” “Roots” and others. He provided the voice for the lead character of Carl in the 2009 Pixar animated film “Up.”

While Asner and Uggams will receive their customary performing fees, Epps said, he credits them with making an important contribution to the playhouse’s prospects as it tries to reestablish itself. “What they’re contributing is their belief in this theater’s sustenance, the belief that this is a great theater for great artists. I couldn’t be happier that we’re starting again with artists of this caliber,” Epps said.

A cornerstone of the playhouse’s rebirth is a $1-million anonymous donation announced in July, in which the couple who pledged the money will match each additional dollar up to $1 million that the theater can raise from other sources. Epps said gifts toward the match are coming in at a rate that will meet the offer before its two-year deadline.

The playhouse laid off 37 people when it went dark in February, paring back to a staff of four during its restructuring period, including Epps and executive director Stephen Eich. Epps said it now has 12 regular employees and plans to hire others on an as-needed, per-production basis to stage its shows.