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Entertainment & Arts

Ahmanson 2019-20 season: ‘Once on This Island,’ Bourne’s ‘Swan Lake’ and Mike Birbiglia

Brigadoon Rehearsal
Alex Newell, left, Lea Salonga and Merle Dandridge in the Broadway production of “Once on This Island” at the Circle in the Square Theatre.
(Joan Marcus)

“Once on This Island,” the underdog Tony Award winner last year for best musical revival, will lend some Caribbean sunshine to the 2019-20 Ahmanson Theatre season to be announced Friday by Center Theatre Group, which also is highlighting the return of Matthew Bourne’s “Swan Lake” and comedian Mike Birbiglia’s solo show “The New One.”

Three additional shows round off the announcement: Sting in “The Last Ship,” John Leguizamo in “Latin History for Morons” and the return to L.A. of “The Book of Mormon.” A seventh show has yet to be announced.

“Once on This Island” was a surprise winner at the Tonys, beating out critically acclaimed revivals of “My Fair Lady” and “Carousel.” The musical, with book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty, originally opened on Broadway in 1990 and was revived at the Circle in the Square Theatre in 2017, a vibrant crowd pleaser complete with cameo appearances by a live chicken and a goat. It takes place in the French Antilles in the Caribbean and tells the story of a peasant girl in search of true love.

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The Ahmanson production is directed by Michael Arden, who was nominated for a Tony for “Once on This Island” as well as his earlier revival of “Spring Awakening,” and it’s choreographed by Camille A. Brown (NBC’s “Jesus Christ Superstar Live”).

Twenty-two years have passed since Matthew Bourne’s version of “Swan Lake” staged its American premiere at the Ahmanson in a production that introduced the acclaimed British choreographer to the city. He is now a fixture at the Music Center, with his production of “Cinderella” running at the Ahmanson through March 10, following the U.S. premiere of “The Red Shoes” in 2017.

When “Swan Lake” arrived in Los Angeles in 1997, it was considered a groundbreaking work of art, with critic Lewis Segal writing in The Times: “Bourne’s secret weapon is intensity, and in its first three minutes alone his uniquely audacious and unforgettable reinterpretation delivers more of it than most traditional stagings generate in their whole first hour.”

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Mike Birbiglia is perhaps best known for his contributions to “This American Life and “The Moth,” as well as for his reoccurring role in the Netflix prison comedy “Orange Is the New Black.” Birbiglia has written and performed in three plays (all nominated for best solo show at the Lucille Lortel Awards for off-Broadway productions, with “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend” taking the prize in 2011). His fourth play, “The New One,” about how the birth of his daughter changed his life, was Birbiglia’s Broadway debut.

“Latin History for Morons” marks John Leguizamo’s return to Southern California with his Tony-nominated one-man show after an early version of the play ran at La Jolla Playhouse in 2016. A later version of the show, which was inspired by Leguizamo’s dismay at the lack of Latinos in his son’s American history books, premiered at the Public Theater in 2017 and moved to Studio 54.

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Los Angeles has hosted “The Book of Mormon” before, but never at the Ahmanson. The comedy with music and lyrics by “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, along with “Frozen” and “Coco” songwriter Robert Lopez, premiered on Broadway in 2011 and went on to win nine Tony Awards including best musical, book and original score.

“The Last Ship” is an original musical with music and lyrics by former Police frontman Sting. The show was inspired by his 1991 solo album, “The Soul Cages,” and it deals with his childhood growing up near the Swan Hunter shipyard in Wallsend, England. It premiered on Broadway in 2014.

Here’s the Ahmanson schedule in chronological order:

“Latin History for Morons”

Written and performed by John Leguizamo, directed by Tony Taccone

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Sept. 5-Oct. 20

“The New One”

Written and performed by Mike Birbiglia, directed by Seth Barrish

Oct. 23-Nov. 24

Matthew Bourne’s “Swan Lake”

Music by Tchaikovsky, directed and choreographed by Matthew Bourne

Dec. 3-Jan. 5, 2020

“The Last Ship”

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New book by Lorne Campbell, original book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey, music and lyrics by Sting, directed by Campbell

Jan. 14, 2020-Feb. 16, 2020

“The Book of Mormon”

Book, music and lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone, choreographed by Casey Nicholaw, directed by Nicholaw and Parker

Feb. 18, 2020-March 29, 2020

“Once on This Island”

Book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, music by Stephen Flaherty, choreographed by Camille A. Brown, directed by Michael Arden

April 7, 2020-May 10, 2020


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