Culture Spotlight: La Jolla Playhouse
Posted on May 10, 2017
Long a local star, the La Jolla Playhouse has also influenced the world of theater far and wide for decades. Just this year, the group sent two of its fledgling productions, Indecent and Come From Away, to New York’s famous Broadway theater district. That makes 28 plays given flight to Broadway from the nurturing process that only the Playhouse can provide. You could say if it weren’t for the La Jolla Playhouse, Broadway might not be quite as spectacular.
The Playhouse’s influence began a long time ago. Back in 1947, film legend Gregory Peck founded the Playhouse with movie star partners Dorothy McGuire and Mel Ferrer. Designed as a summer stock theater, the company played to eager crowds and delivered top entertainment until 1959, when a financial deficit forced it to shut its doors for nearly 25 years.
Thankfully, the Playhouse re-emerged in 1983 under artistic director Des McAnuff, with the vision that the company should be a proving ground for new and undeveloped plays. Since then, their productions have gone on to win nearly 40 Tony Awards, including a 1993 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre for the Playhouse itself. Scores of world premieres have been hatched at this La Jolla institution, including hits like Little Miss Sunshine, Cry-Baby, The Grapes of Wrath, and Jersey Boys.
The Playhouse also hosts many community programs, including the lauded “Without Walls.” The initiative stages productions outside of traditional theater spaces at locations like the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas, in the Hillcrest and Little Italy neighborhoods, and even the Playhouse’s own parking lot. The signature “Page to Stage” program gives audiences a sneak peek into readings, rehearsals, and workshops. Focusing on youngsters, the Playhouse’s “POP Tour” reaches more than 21,000 children each year, putting a creative team in a traveling van that visits schools across the country.
There are three different performance venues in La Jolla, including the 492-seat Mandell Weiss Theatre, the 400-seat Mandell Weiss Forum, and the Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre — a flexible black box theatre that seats up to 450 patrons. All are housed in the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Center.
This year marks a decade at the helm for current artistic director, Christopher Ashley. Productions will range from family-friendly musicals to darker language-based plays with deep philosophical tones. They include Escape to Margaritaville, featuring the songs of Jimmy Buffett; At the Old Place, about a professor who returns to her childhood home to find people camped out on her lawn; Kill Local, a black comedy about family, revenge, and assassins; Wild Goose Dreams, a love story about a North Korean defector and South Korean father; The Cake, an introspective tale of a same-sex marriage; and Summer: The Donna Summer Musical. 858.550.1010, lajollaplayhouse.org Ryan Thomas