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LA stage has stars in plays, and plays about stars

By Staff
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LOS ANGELES, Feb 24: It may not be Broadway, but live theatre in Los Angeles offers audiences plenty of entertainment, from seeing stars in stage classics to even a musical about their favourite local celebrity scandal.

In a city abuzz about movies ahead of the March 5 Oscars, Los Angeles audiences are packing theatres to see actors known for their film and television work in action.

They can enjoy stage performances by past Oscar-nominated actress Annette Bening in Anton Chekhov's ''The Cherry Orchard'' or Lynn Redgrave, another previous Oscar-nominee, in ''The Importance of Being Earnest.'' Oscar-winner Mary Steenburgen stars along with Rebecca Pigeon and Alicia Silverstone in David Mamet's ''Boston Marriage,'' while sitcom star Annie Potts recently took bows in ''Diva'' a scathing behind-the-scenes look at TV production.

Emmy-winner Mariette Hartley, best known for Polaroid commercials, is currently starring through Feb. 26 in ''If You Get to Bethlehem, You've Gone Too Far,'' based on her 1990 memoir.

And not long ago, audiences were packing the house to see ''Blake ... da Musical!,'' a runaway success about former television star Robert Blake, who was accused and acquitted in 2005 for the March 2001 murder of his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley.

Blake was found liable in November 2005 for her slaying in a wrongful death civil suit brought by her children and was ordered to pay 30 million dollars in damages.

Not only was ''Blake...da Musical!'' a hit, but the play, set at the restaurant where Blake and Bakley dined right before she was shot in a car nearby, won an Ovation Award Los Angeles' version of a Tony in 2005 and has already attracted interest from New York's theatre community.

SMALL THEATRES

 ''It's very funny, but it's also got an incredibly touching underbelly,'' said Charles Johanson, who produced the show with Kevin Cochran, and plans to take it to Manhattan this year.

''Yes, it's a musical about the murder of Robert Blake's wife, but it pokes fun at Los Angeles, which is why it will be incredibly successful in New York,'' he said.

Don Shirley, theatre critic for LA CityBeat, credited the abundant theatre offerings to the proliferation of theatres with 99 or fewer seats. ''The theatre scene here is enormous,'' he said.

These small theatres operate under unique Actors' Equity rules that enable companies to hire professional actors at little salary, enabling more shows to be produced.

Critics credit the Los Angeles 99 Seat Theater Plan with encouraging a wide variety of experimental, political and edgy shows, making the film capital of the United States into a theatre showcase as well.

''There's a staggeringly large talent pool here and many of the people want to act on stage at any cost. Many see it as a way to advance their careers and to keep their artistic juices flowing,'' said Shirley.

The Actors' Equity Association, a New York based-guild, which represents more than 45,000 actors and stage managers in the United States, has about 7,500 members in Los Angeles.

Steven Mikulan, the theatre critic of LA Weekly, has a less forgiving view of Los Angeles theatre.

''If you go to New York, you probably won't see numerically the same amount of plays out there, but they're new,'' he said, adding that much of the theatre in Los Angeles acts simply as a vehicle for actors to be seen.

''A lot of the shows are very old plays and recent revivals.

They're usually showcases to serve as an entree to get into television and movies,'' he said.

''I think the last few seasons are all blurring into one long grey line of undistinguished productions. They (theatres and production companies) tend to stick with very safe classics, especially in the big theatres,'' he said.

REUTERS

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