Beauty — fragile but resilient — figures into each of the shows in this week’s 99-Seat Beat exploration of Los Angeles’ smaller theaters. It’s evident among the friends-as-family of “Bronco Billy: The Musical,” in the relationships in “The End of Beauty,” in the searing songs of “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” and in the flickering illusions of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
‘Bronco Billy’ by Skylight Theatre
The essentials: A Wild West show travels the roads in 1979, led by a guy who bills himself as the fastest gunman in the West. This ragtag collection of ex-cons and dreamers is struggling to hold on when it collides with an heiress on the run. The 1980 Clint Eastwood-Sondra Locke movie “Bronco Billy” is now a musical.
Why this? The story has always been special to the movie’s writer, Dennis Hackin, who’s behind this adaptation. He meant it as a tribute to his parents, “city slickers in Chicago,” he says, who “wanted to be cowboys and cowgirls.” So they moved to a ranch in Arizona. Their lives — and, consequently, Bronco Billy’s — show that “you can live out your dreams,” Hackin says, and adhere to “the rules of what a cowboy is: treating people right, never letting your partners down.” The score — a mix of country-western, jazz and even disco — is by Chip Rosenbloom (the former Rams co-owner and a movie, TV and play producer) and John Torres, with additional lyrics by Michele Brourman. The Skylight Theatre has been helping to develop the show for 2½ years.
Details: Skylight Theatre, 1816½ N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz. 8:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through June 30. $20-$55. (866) 811-4111, skylighttheatre.org
‘End of Beauty’ by Playwrights’ Arena
The essentials: Married college art professors host a former student, a fast-rising painter, for dinner. The three talk a lot about beauty, which surrounds them in an art-filled Wichita, Kan., home. But there’s a reason Cory Hinkle’s play is called “The End of Beauty.”
Why this? These sparklingly articulate intellectuals might be talking about art, but the beauty that’s truly studied here is relationships. Jon Lawrence Rivera, who chose the play for Playwrights’ Arena, sees a timeless adage emerge: “Sometimes when you strive for beauty or perfection,” he says, “you’re setting yourself up for failure.” L.A. writer Hinkle offered a very different relationship study two years ago in the post-apocalyptic cannibal comedy “Apocalypse Play.” The acting trio includes former “Grimm” costar Silas Weir Mitchell, who was game after participating in a developmental reading.
Details: Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., L.A. Opens Saturday. Performances 8 p.m. Saturdays and Mondays, 4 p.m. Sundays, through June 17. $20-$40. (800) 838-3006, playwrightsarena.org
‘Lady Day’ at the Garry Marshall
The essentials: It’s March 1959, and Emerson’s, a down-at-heels South Philadelphia bar, is presenting the incomparable Billie Holiday. What brought her this low? Answers emerge in every heartbreaking note of “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.”
Why this? The rasp in Holiday’s voice, the weary fall-off in her phrasing, seemed to capture all the beauty and pain in her life. (Think: “God Bless the Child.”) She found numbness in alcohol and drugs, dying at just 44 — four months after the night imagined in Lanie Robertson’s play with music. Racism was part and parcel of Holiday’s demons, says Deidrie Henry, who portrays her at the Garry Marshall Theatre. The singer’s hard life was compounded by segregated performing conditions and being hounded, like other jazz artists, by Harry J. Anslinger’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Henry, familiar from Center Theatre Group’s “A Raisin in the Sun” and “Parade,” appears here with Abdul Hamid Royal (Broadway music director of “Five Guys Named Moe”) on piano and noted jazz bassist James Leary.
Details: Garry Marshall Theatre, 4252 W. Riverside Drive, Burbank. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays; ends June 9. $25-$100. (818) 955-8101, garrymarshalltheatre.org
‘Streetcar Named Desire’ at the Odyssey
The essentials: Blanche DuBois, from a once-wealthy Southern family, seeks refuge with her younger sister, Stella, who defied family convention by marrying a working-class husband. Stanley takes a quick dislike to Blanche as two ways of life collide in Tennessee Williams’ towering drama “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
Why this? Fans of Williams’ work might be familiar with Jack Heller, who memorably portrayed the playwright in the biographical “Tennessee in the Summer” (in 2002 and 2012) and staged and performed the author’s work as part of the short-play compilation “The Lost Plays of Tennessee Williams” (2008). He’s sticking to tradition — no contemporary overlays — in staging “Streetcar” as a visiting production at the Odyssey Theatre, he says. He sees the 1947 play as “the death of the old South and the beginning of the new,” with Blanche as the former — “the aristocracy” — and Stanley as “the realistic, practical South where people were not waited on but had to work hard for their money.”
Details: Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A. Opens Saturday. Performances 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through July 7. $20-$40. (310) 477-2055, Ext. 2, odysseytheatre.com
The 99-Seat Beat appears every Friday. Our writers shortlist offerings with an emphasis on smaller venues. Some recommendations are shows we’ve seen; others are based on the track record of the company, playwright, director or cast.
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