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Reprise musical series tries again to conquer L.A.'s tough theater world

Reprise musical series tries again to conquer L.A.'s tough theater world
Producer Marcia Seligson will try to bring back from the dead, again, her "Reprise!" series of stage musicals, starting with "Sweet Charity" directed by Kathleen Marshall. (Tom Drucker)

Reprise Theatre Company will try for an encore when founder Marcia Seligson brings it back as Reprise 2.0 in June with "Sweet Charity," directed by Kathleen Marshall.

The company, which specialized in producing rarely staged musical theater, ceased operations in 2013 because of a lack of funding.

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"Seinfeld" alum Jason Alexander served as artistic director at the time, having taken over for Seligson in 2007. Many saw a big-name star's difficulty in mustering financial support as proof of the inherent difficulties with growing the theater scene in Los Angeles.

At the height of its popularity, Reprise featured Broadway stars including Alice Ripley, Rachel York, Judy Kaye and Kelli O'Hara in productions such as, "Promises, Promises," "Finian's Rainbow" and "Anything Goes." Most shows were staged at UCLA's Freud Playhouse, which will again serve as home base for the Reprise comeback. This time the university will partner with the company on an internship program for students.

The same people who came to see ‘Hamilton’ will also come to see ‘Grand Hotel’ or ‘Sweet Charity.’ I think there’s a serious appetite for this in Los Angeles.


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"Victor/Victoria," directed by Richard Israel, and "Grand Hotel," directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman, will round out Reprise 2.0's first season, which will follow a model similar to the original, Seligson said: quality productions mounted for limited runs with stripped down sets and costumes.

The Times caught up with Seligson to ask why this kind of musical theater is needed here and how she plans to overcome the problems that plagued Reprise the first time around. The conversation has been edited for space and clarity.

Why did you decide to relaunch Reprise?

I started thinking about it four years ago. I really felt like I missed Reprise. People kept coming up to me at Disney Hall, the Philharmonic restaurant, everywhere — saying, "We miss it so much, it was the best thing in L.A. and the theater community, can't you bring it back?" So it was always there in the back of my mind. I was so passionate about it and had so much fun doing it, and I think we did really terrific work. People were really sad when it went out of business.

Do you think it went out of business because sustaining theater in L.A. is a challenging proposition?

I don't know, I wasn't there. I remember reading about it when I was on a hiking vacation in Switzerland. I saw something online and I was surprised.

How did you marshal the support you needed this time around?

One night we were having a dinner party [for theater people] and we started talking about Reprise coming back, and I said, "I'll send out an email asking people to come to my house at the beach," and 26 people came over on a Saturday morning — directors, stage managers, sound guys, tech guys. I thought it's possible that this will be about coming to the beach and having a bagel and going home, but at the end of that meeting Reprise 2.0 was born.

Was it really that easy?

I wouldn't say it's ever easy. It's taken a year and a half to get where we are now. There seemed to be such a committed audience from the early days. There was something about Reprise and what we created that people really missed — this sense of a Reprise family that people just loved. And they loved it for years.

Subscribers are coming back?

We had a very devoted subscriber base, and we're finding the same thing now.

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Since we launched on March 1, there's been an assumption that the world is really ready for Reprise — the city was ready for Reprise, and so far the numbers have carried it out. The same people who came to see "Hamilton" will also come to see "Grand Hotel" or "Sweet Charity." I think there's a serious appetite for this in Los Angeles.

And you're going back to the way you did things in the beginning?

Yes, to the original vision of a very simple set, the band on the stage and very simple costumes. We're doing shows that are rarely revived, that people haven't seen in years or that they haven't seen at all. But our audience came to trust that when we're doing our version of a 20th century classic Reprise show, they'll see a great cast and hear a beautiful score.

Are you expecting to attract the same level of talent this time around?

Yes. For actors it's a one-month commitment — two weeks of rehearsal and 15 performances. We got lots and lots of stars because it was a monthlong commitment, and now we've got Kathleen Marshall, an amazing director from New York who is coming out for auditions and rehearsals. If this were a normal thing, where it was going to last four or five months, she probably wouldn't be able to do it. In terms of casting, we're expecting to get a lot of stars from L.A. and New York who love to do musical theater and this is their opportunity to do it without committing their lives away.

Twitter: @jessicagelt

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UPDATES:

11 a.m. This article has been updated to reflect a directorial change. Richard Israel, not Peggy Hickey, will direct "Victor/Victoria."

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