L.A.’s Ahmanson Theatre pushes reopening to Nov. 30; ‘Jamie’ joins the lineup
Twenty months. That’s how long the Ahmanson will have been dark when, if all goes as hoped, Center Theatre Group finally reopens its doors Nov. 30.
The company is expected to announce Tuesday revised plans for a 2021-22 season that launches later than many theatergoers may expect, especially given California’s recent announcement targeting June 15 for businesses and venues to reopen fully. But given scheduling, casting, rehearsing and all the other complexities of theater, not to mention a pandemic that is not entirely over, Center Theatre Group plans to restart not in August with director Daniel Fish’s Tony Award-winning revival of “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!,” as had been previously announced, but in the holiday season with “A Christmas Carol.”
The company’s highly anticipated return has been pushed back several times because of swiftly changing pandemic conditions and shifting health and safety rules. Last June, CTG projected it would remain dark through spring 2021. Then in November it had to push Aaron Sorkin’s blockbuster adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird” out of the season lineup and instead set the August reopening date with “Oklahoma!” — which now will be the season closer rather than its splashy opener.
Five shows that were announced pre-pandemic in February 2020 remain on the 54th season schedule: “Hadestown” and “Dear Evan Hansen,” which won Tony Awards for best musical in 2019 and 2017, respectively; as well as “Come From Away,” “The Lehman Trilogy” and “The Prom,” the last of which is familiar to Netflix viewers who have seen Ryan Murphy’s screen adaptation starring Meryl Streep and James Corden.
After a canceled season in 2020 — the first in 98 years — the Bowl will reopen with free shows for healthcare, grocery and other essential workers.
New to the lineup: the West End hit musical “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,” about a teenager who overcomes all manner of obstacles and prejudice to become a drag queen.
Now that the company, at long last, seems to have a feasible reopening date, CTG Artistic Director Michael Ritchie was asked what he was most excited about. “Every single performance of every single show!” he said emphatically, laughing and asking for that statement to appear in all caps.
The pandemic has been devastating on CTG. The company was forced to lay off two-thirds of its staff, and remaining employees took significant pay cuts. CTG estimates that the historic closures across its three venues — the Ahmanson and the Mark Taper Forum downtown and the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City — will result in the loss of $45 million to $55 million in box office revenue.
Ritchie characterized the company’s finances as stable and credited donor support. In February, CTG raised $700,000 in a single night through a fundraising event hosted by the RWQuarantunes program, which was launched last year by WME partner Richard Weitz and his teenage daughter, Demi. Their digital shows have raised money for groups devastated by coronavirus shutdowns.
What will the first shows at the Music Center look like? Imagine family pods, outdoors, with masks. Lineup includes ABT, Paul Taylor and Alonzo King.
The goal for reopening, Ritchie said, is to rehire employees and to ensure a safe return to the theater for staff, artists and guests.
Throughout the pandemic, CTG has been planning in three-month increments, Ritchie said, noting the challenging logistics of scheduling touring shows while so many other theaters in the country also were competing for slots on a schedule. In the case of “Oklahoma!,” show producers and CTG decided some time ago that late August might be unrealistically early to come back, so the L.A. run was pushed.
“We’d rather be right opening two months later than wrong opening two months earlier,” Ritchie said, echoing the predicament of arts leaders trying to predict COVID-19 infection rates and the rollout of vaccines.
Buoyed by news that vaccines in California were being made available to residents 16 and older this week, the mood at CTG after so many setbacks, Ritchie said, was “anticipatory.” Here’s the latest Ahmanson schedule in chronological order.
“A Christmas Carol”
Written by Charles Dickens, adapted by Jack Thorne, directed by Matthew Warchus
Nov. 30-Jan. 2
“Everbody’s Talking About Jamie”
Music by Dan Gillespie Sells, book and lyrics by Tom MacRae, from an idea by Jonathan Butterell, directed by Jonathan Butterell
Jan. 16-Feb. 20
“The Lehman Trilogy”
Written by Stefano Massini, adapted by Ben Power, directed by Sam Mendes
March 3-April 10
“Come From Away”
Book, music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, directed by Christopher Ashley
May 31, 2022-June 12, 2022
“Dear Evan Hansen”
Book by Steven Levenson, score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, directed by Michael Greif
June 29, 2022-July 31, 2022
Book by Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin, music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin, directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw
Aug. 9,2022-Sept. 11, 2022
“Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!”
Music by Richard Rodgers, book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein, directed by Daniel Fish
Sept. 13, 2022-Oct. 16, 2022
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