On Theater: Open season in September

September is with us and so are a number of new stage productions either opening tonight (as in two cases) or waiting in the wings.

Tonight's opener is "The Rainmaker" at the Newport Theater Arts Center. This is an oldie by N. Richard Nash that inspired a movie of the same name with Burt Lancaster and Katharine Hepburn (don't confuse it with the John Grisham novel/movie of the same name).

This "Rainmaker" centers on the spinster daughter of a ranching family in the drought-stricken Southwest of the 1930s and the smooth-talking con man who promises to bring much-needed rainfall and sweeps the lady off her feet. The show runs weekends through Oct. 10.

Orange Coast College also opens its season tonight with a one-weekend-only show titled "2 by Gurney" — a pair of A.R. Gurney plays, "The Golden Fleece" and "The Guest Lecturer," directed by OCC students. They'll be on the Studio Theater stage tonight through Sunday.

Fans of Mel Brooks fans will be lining up for "Young Frankenstein" at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. The comic musical based on the hit movie will be in residence from Sunday through Sept. 25.

Another oldie, this one updated and set to music, is "Alice" at Vanguard University, opening Sept. 17 for three weekends. The show is based on Lewis Carroll's classic children's story "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and will be staged Fridays through Sundays until Oct. 3.

Witty comedy "Misalliance," by George Bernard Shaw, returns to South Coast Repertory. The play about the generation gap opens Sept. 18 on the Segerstrom Stage after a week of previews and continues through Oct. 10.

No sooner does "Young Frankenstein" "walk this way" off the center stage than "Peter Pan" flies onto it. This is a new theatrical production of J.M. Barrie's classic story performed in a state-of-the-art 1,350-seat theater pavilion.

Billed as the world's first 360-degree video projection for live theater, the show flies both cast and audience over Edwardian London in an extended engagement through Nov. 21.

South Coast Repertory is back in action Sept. 26 through Oct. 17 with Sarah Ruhl's "In the Next Room (or, the vibrator play)." This one centers on a Victorian age doctor who finds a way to release women from their inhibitions and will be presented on the Julianne Argyros Stage.

Rodgers and Hammerstein's ageless classic "South Pacific" comes to the center for a revival from Oct. 12 to 24, running in tandem with "Peter Pan." Set in wartime on a faraway Pacific island, the show has been an audience favorite since 1949 when it won the Pulitzer Prize and an unprecedented four Tony awards for its top performers.

OCC has another brief engagement scheduled, the absurdist satire "Ubu Roi" by Alfred Jarry. It'll be on the Drama Lab stage Oct. 13 to 17 and is described as "based on 'Macbeth' and 'Hamlet' as might be played by the Three Stooges and the Marx Brothers."

The Costa Mesa Playhouse opens its new season Oct. 15 with "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," the first of three local productions this season of the musical comedy about a group of dissimilar kids competing for top honors in a spelldown. The show runs through Nov. 14.

Vanguard University is back in the spotlight Oct. 29 with a show it scheduled last year but had to cancel, Thornton Wilder's "Our Town." This classic drama about life in the New England community of Grover's Corners will run through Nov. 7.

Finally, while the new season is under way, it won't be quite the same with the recent passing of Tony Grande, one of the most active actors/directors in local theater. Tony died of esophageal cancer Aug. 28.

Tony worked with most of the local theater groups and refused to slow down after he was diagnosed. He was directing a production of the comedy "Cheaters" for the Westminster Community Theater and was midway through rehearsals when he died. The show will go on under the direction of his longtime partner Beth Titus (yes, my ex-wife), opening today.

Tony and Beth crossed paths frequently at theatrical and familial events with me and my lady friend, Jurine Landoe. The four of us saw a few new years in together and Tony and I worked on several shows including my last directorial effort, "The Diary of Anne Frank," in 2007, in which he played the dentist, Mr. Dussel.

Tony's passing will be felt at the many local theaters he worked with and I'll miss a talented collaborator and a worthy Trivial Pursuit opponent. Bon voyage, old friend.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.

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