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The Dolby Theatre’s encore: Now that the Oscars are over, Broadway moves in

A view from above the audience of the Oscars, looking toward the Dolby Theatre stage.
The Dolby Theatre, which hosts the Academy Awards, is welcoming national Broadway tours.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The Dolby Theatre has famously been home to the Academy Awards for 18 years, during which it also has hosted the ESPYs, the Daytime Emmys and the BET Awards, not to mention the season finales of “America’s Got Talent.”

But once upon a time, when it was called the Kodak Theatre from 2001 to 2012, the building opened its doors for national Broadway tours too — musicals including “The Full Monty,” “Oliver!” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” (In 2004 audiences witnessed the musical adaptation of “The Ten Commandments,” starring Val Kilmer as Moses and a then-unknown Adam Lambert as Joshua.)

Now, Broadway is back. This month, the Dolby welcomes its first national tour, the Jimmy Buffett jukebox musical “Escape to Margaritaville” (running through March 8). Following that engagement will be “The SpongeBob Musical” (March 24-April 12), “Mean Girls” (April 28-June 7), “My Fair Lady” (June 12-July 5) and “The Band’s Visit” (July 7-26).

The Dolby is serving as a second stage to the Hollywood Pantages Theatre, and together the extended lineup has been dubbed Broadway in Hollywood. The Pantages’ owner, the Nederlander Organization, recently announced that next season the Dolby will welcome “Oklahoma!” (Nov. 3–22), “The Cher Show” (March 23–April 11, 2021), “Tootsie” (April 13–May 2, 2021), “Pretty Woman: The Musical” (June 8–27, 2021) and “Aida” (May 13–June 5, 2021).

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Clockwise from left: "Escape to Margaritaville," "Mean Girls," "The SpongeBob Musical" and "My Fair Lady" are playing at the Dolby this season.
(Matthew Murphy/Joan Marcus/Jeremy Daniel/Joan Marcus)

The arrangement lets Los Angeles audiences see additional shows at the Dolby while blockbuster musicals play lengthier engagements at the Pantages. In March, “Hamilton” begins a run that will last for at least six months; next season, “The Lion King” and “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” each will play for more than two months.

“We like to think about the 41 theaters on Broadway and how having a second venue, less than a mile down the boulevard, allows us to consider presenting more nights of theater,” said Jeff Loeb, general manager of Broadway in Hollywood. “We can offer both longer runs for some titles and at the same time bring as many titles as possible to Hollywood every year.”

The Dolby, part of the Hollywood & Highland shopping and entertainment complex, was built to accommodate the technical specifications of the Oscars. Between awards telecasts, however, the theater also has housed movie premieres, PaleyFest presentations, concerts, comedy acts and family-friendly fare. Shen Yun and the American Ballet Theatre have used the space. Cirque du Soleil’s “Iris” had aimed for an ambitious 10-year run but closed in early 2013 after less than 18 months.

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A view at an Oscars ceremony at the Dolby, looking across the stage toward the audience.
The venue was built in 2001, specifically to accommodate the Academy Awards.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Though Loeb said the Dolby Theatre seating footprint is “nearly identical” to the Pantages’ footprint, the viewing experience will inevitably differ. The Pantages has a deep orchestra level, single mezzanine and two opera boxes (just for show); the Dolby has a steep, four-level opera house-style interior with 20 opera boxes.

But Dolby theatergoers also get to revel in a grand entrance designed by David Rockwell, with its sweeping staircase and “awards walk” of plaques listing films that have won the best picture Oscar. The lobby is outfitted with shots of Grace Kelly, Marlon Brando, Halle Berry and more.

The film-theater convergence is fitting given that most of the musicals scheduled to play at the Dolby have been adapted from or into movies.

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“We would like to say to anyone who has any concerns about having a different experience — trust us,” Loeb said. “We care deeply about our patrons, and wouldn’t have added the Dolby Theatre into our presenting mix if we didn’t think we could present a great night of theater.”

“The Lehman Trilogy” joins “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Hadestown” in the Ahmanson lineup, along with quick returns for “Evan Hansen,” “Come From Away” and “Ain’t Too Proud.”


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