Center REP and CCMT announces their 2012-13 killer season

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Every year, Michael Butler spends days at a time living with a play he has read as he considers it for production by Center REPertory Company.

He spends many waking hours imagining the actors to cast, or how a set would look in Lesher Center’s theaters. Butler, Center REP’s artistic director, wonders whether an audience will like it and whether it would be exciting for the company to produce.

The 2012-2013 season is a result of all that consideration, flavored with shots of inspiration. Center REP will partner with Contra Costa Musical Theatre to present a lineup of shows that emphasize variety and entertainment. There is the beloved The Sound of Music, the sizzling Sweet Charity, a charming Steve Martin play and a Hitchcock-inspired spy caper. For its Off-Center productions, Rep presents two new comedies that encourage us to laugh at our plugged-in lives and appreciate cultural diversity.  

Lucky Stiff (Aug. 31—Oct. 7) Center REPertory Company always hits its season running – or rather, singing and dancing – with a musical. Lucky Stiff is a farce set in Monte Carlo that features a Weekend at Bernie’s component. The words and music for Lucky Stiff come from the Tony Award-winning team behind Ragtime.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Fall): Joseph marked the first major success of the blockbuster duo of Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice. Based on the biblical story of Joseph, this CCMT production will celebrate Weber and Rice’s catchy songs and universal themes.

The Underpants: (Oct. 19-Nov. 17): Away from popular Hollywood movies, Steve Martin demonstrates his brainy humor in New Yorker stories and plays that wed slapstick comedy and high-brown cultural references. With The Underpants, Martin adapted a 1910 German farce that satirizes bourgeois conformity by showing what happens to a proper young couple when the wife’s bloomers fall down in public.

Status Update (Nov. 1 – Nov. 18):  If you worry you spend too much time on Facebook, this world premiere production of a new work could put your anxiety into context.  Annabel goes on a modern-day trip to web Wonderland when she literally gets sucked into the Internet.

A Christmas Carol (Dec. 6-16):  Center REP’s version of Dickens’ holiday tale has become a Bay Area favorite. It features a talented cast, sets, costumes, music and special effects that winningly capture Dickens’ London and his story’s heart.

Old Wicked Songs (Feb. 1—March 2): Hoping shatter the artistic block that’s plagued his career, a young American piano prodigy ventures to Vienna to work with elderly vocal teacher who assigns him to play Schumann’s “Dichterliebe” song cycle. In this Center REP production, two very different men form a friendship with music as their common bond.

The 39 Steps (March 29—April 27): Take a Hitchcock spy thriller, add lots of Monty Python, and you have The 39 Steps. This Tony and Drama Desk Award-winning play pays homage to lightening-paced spy capers and theater’s use of wit and ingenuity to create spectacular moments.  Four four actors will play 150 characters in  Center REP’s version of a hero eluding assassins on a speeding train, through a plane crash and around the streets of London.

The Sound of Music (spring): Many of us grew up either wanting to be the Liesl of the 1965 movie or having a crush on her. Liesl of “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” renown is the oldest daughter of the Von Trapp family whose lives are transformed by Maria, the singing nun. CCMT brings to life all the Rodgers and Hammerstein songs that make Sound of Music one an enduring favorite.

Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World (April 25 – May 12):  Center REP’s second Off-Center production is a Bay Area premiere about the romance between an Egyptian immigrant and a white waitress. While negotiating the twists and turns of any relationship, the couple also face assumptions that divide cultures

Sweet Charity (May 17 – June 22): This musical has a killer pedigree, and Butler is very excited that this will be Center REP’s season finale. The plot, about a dance hall girl looking for love, is based on a Fellini film. Neil Simon wrote the stage adaptation and the legendary Bob Fosse directed and choreographed the Broadway show to multiple Tony Award wins. The song and dance numbers, including “Hey, Big Spender” and “If My Friends Could See Me Now,” are among Broadway’s best.

 For information and tickets, call (925) 943-SHOW (7469) or visit http://www.lesherartscenter.org.

This weekend at the Lesher: Rachmaninoff and impersonating royalty

Coming up Sunday, Alastair Willis conducts the California Symphony in Glinka’s Russian and Ludmilla Overture. That masterwork is followed by the towering and technically challenging Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3, performed by celebrated American pianist John Novacek.

The California Symphony musicians then take center stage as their virtuosity shines in Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra.

Thursday through Sunday: Fantasy Forum Actors Ensemble presents The Princess and the Pauper, a delightful family-friendly update on the classic tale. This production allows the kids in the audience to imagine what it would be like to come face to face with someone who looks just like them and then, for the fun of it, switch places.

For tickets to the California Symphony concert or Fantasy Forum Actors Ensemble, call (925) 943-SHOW (7469) or visit www.lesherartscenter.org.

Billy Beane, Condoleeza Rice among Lesher speakers coming to Walnut Creek in 2012-13

Lesher Speakers Series producer Steve Lesher has announced the lineup of political figures, celebrated authors and media personalities who will be coming to the Lesher Center in 2012-13. Lesher says that sales of subscriptions and renewals will be announced in the near future. Keep an eye on his Newsmakers: Lesher Speakers Series blog for the details.

They are:

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Capt. Mark Kelly

Capt. Mark Kelly, Sept. 4: Kelly is the commander of the Space Shuttle Endeavour and husband of former U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

David Gergen, Oct. 24: Gergen is a CNN political analyst and aide to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton.


Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta, Nov. 12: The two general managers for, respectively, the Oakland A’s and the New York Mets were subjects of the book and film, Moneyball.

Condoleeza Rice, Feb. 25, 2013. The former U.S. secretary of state under George W. Bush is now a political science professor at Stanford University and director of the Stanford Graduate School of Business’ Global Center for Business and the Economy.

Lara Logan, March 4, 2013: Logan is the CBS chief foreign affairs correspondent and correspondent for 60 Minutes.  In February 2011, she was covering celebrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square during the fall of Hosni Mubarak when she was attacked by a mob and sexually assaulted.

James Bradlley, April 3, 2013: The author of historical nonfiction wrote Fly Boys and Imperial Cruise. His first best seller, Flags of Our Fathers, tells the story of five U.S. Marines and his father, a Navy corpsman, raising the American flag during the Battle of Iwo Jima.


What you can learn from a blonde

Were you in a sorority? I wasn’t.  I rushed during my first weeks in college. I was curious to see what all this Pan-Hellenic business was all about but quickly realized that I wasn’t the sorority type.

What is the sorority type? If it’s not me, then it certainly is Elle Woods.

Elle is the heroine of the 2001 film comedy Legally Blonde, starring Reese Witherspoon, and a Broadway show, Legally Blonde, the Musical, inspired by the movie. Walnut Creek-based Diablo Theatre Company is bringing the show to the Lesher Center for the Arts, starting Friday, and is very excited to have Bailey Hanks playing Elle Woods.

Hanks starred as Elle on Broadway, filling the stiletto pumps of a heroine who represents all the stereotypes of the sorority girl. Elle is blonde, pretty, loves the color pink and is fanatical about fashion.

To the wicked delight of some of us non-sorority types – who envy Elle’s seemingly perky life — she gets something of a comeuppance early in the show. She gets dumped by her Harvard Law-bound boyfriend who proclaims that she’s not “serious” enough.

The show is about Elle proving to her boyfriend, all the rest of us, and ultimately herself that she is anything but a stereotype. She nails the LSATs, gains admission to Harvard Law and emerges as a star student.

Legally Blonde’s Elle belongs in that American tradition of golden-haired leading ladies – Jean Harlow, Marilyn Monroe, Born Yesterday’s Billie Dawn — who defy the label of “dumb blonde” and demonstrate cores of brains, heart and moxie.

“Life is full of tough times, so just toss the hair, gloss the lips, and put on your best shoes and snap back up.” So says Elle, explaining her motto of “Bend and Snap” in response to life’s challenges. Elle also believes that a confident smile can help a girl face any situation with grace and style.

You can read Elle’s “Tips for Being Totally Fabulous” on the Diablo Theatre Company website. And, yes, she really does believe everyone can look pretty in pink and advises people to follow their instincts. “I’m not saying that your instincts will always be right, but more often than not, they are. Trust me. When it comes to taking risks, don’t go all crazy (avoid 2-in-1 shampoo/conditioners at all cost).”

During the run of Legally Blonde, the Musical through March 3, Hanks will do audience Q&As following the following shows: Friday, Feb. 10; Thursday, Feb. 23, and Thursday, March 1.

For tickets and showtimes, call (925) 943-SHOW (7469) or visit www.lesherartscenter.org.

Martha Ross, former editor of Walnut Creek Patch, provides PR for the Lesher Center for the Arts and the Diablo Regional Arts Associaiton.

Center REP’s “hilarious,” “watershed production” of Arms and the Man

What sort of work would George Bernard Shaw be doing today? That’s the question Bay Area News Group’s Pat Craig asks at the start of his shining review of Center REPertory Company’s production of Arms and the Man.

Craig imagines that Shaw would probably be doing much of what he was doing a century ago, using humor and satire to challenge society’s dearly held conventions. In the 21st century, the Nobel Prize-winning playwright Shaw would be giving the greenlight to a company like Center REP turning one of his plays into a hilarious, entertaining romance.

The conventions that Shaw pokes in Arms and the Man are the ideas that war and patriotism are always noble and glorious. “At its heart, Arms is an anti-war play, preaching, with laughter, the idea that war with all its guts, glory and heroism has just as much cowardice and misplaced self-aggrandizement,” Craig writes.

Center REP’s production, directed by Nancy Carlin, features “a wonderful cast.” With inspiration from Mel Brooks and  inspiration from “Mel Brooks and even Saturday Night Live.” The result, says Craig, is “a rollicking comedy that would stand head-and-shoulders above any comedy you could catch at the multiplex.”

The show continues through Feb. 25. For tickets, call he Lesher Center Box office at (925) 943-SHOW (7469) or visit www.lesherartscenter.org.

What George said

Beauty is all very well at first sight; but who ever looks at it when it has been in the house three days?

George Bernard Shaw had lots to say and almost always said it very well.The Irish playwright and music and literary critic was one of the English language’s  most prolific and visionary thinkers, using his insight and famous humor to address contemporary social issues, from marriage and women’s rights to education, war, social equality and human dignity in the age of the industrial revolution.
The Nobel Prize winner and co-founder of the London School of Economics may be best known for his play Pygmalion (1912), which was adapted into the beloved musical My Fair Lady.  His other great plays are the sophisticated comedies about romance and the state of society: Arms and the Man (1894). Caesar and Cleopatra (1898), Man and Superman (1903), Major Barbara (1905).
Center REPertory Company is presenting Arms and the Man, which is a light-hearted romantic comedy that, in true Shaw fashion, has fun skewering the modern conventions of marriage as well people’s romantic ideals about love and war. Center REP’s production is directed by Bay Area stage veteran Nancy Carlin and features a stellar cast.
The show opens Friday and continues through Feb. 25. For tickets, call he Lesher Center Box office at (925) 943-SHOW (7469) or visit www.lesherartscenter.org.

New Jazz Series at the Lesher Center Comes Out Swinging

A brand new jazz series will come out swinging when “Jazz at the Lesher Center” is unveiled this summer. The stunning line-up of exceptional jazz artists for the inaugural season was announced today, leading off July 7, 2012 with legendary trumpet player Arturo Sandoval, winner of four Grammys and an Emmy.

Other headliners in the four-concert series, produced by the Diablo Regional Arts Association, will include the brilliant guitarist and vocalist John Pizzarelli (July 28), hard-swinging trombonist Wycliffe Gordon (August 4), and the internationally-acclaimed vocalist Jane Monheit (August 11).

The Saturday evening concerts, all beginning at 8 p.m., will be held in the 300-seat Margaret Lesher Theater, an ideal setting for this highly personal art form.

The series marks the debut of the DRAA as a presenter.  For more than 20 years the DRAA has been committed to elevating the quality and professionalism of the performing arts in Contra Costa County. 

“This series will fill a gap,” said Peggy White, DRAA executive director. “Jazz, as performed by artists of the very top rank, has been missing from the area’s arts scene.”

The DRAA has engaged Daniel Levenstein to manage the inaugural 2012 season.  Levenstein was the founding director of Smuin Ballet and is currently director of the esteemed classical series Chamber Music San Francisco which presents five concerts from February to May in the LCA’s Lesher Theater.

Subscriptions to all four concerts are available at a special inaugural price of $99 and may be obtained online at www.lesherjazz.org, by calling 925-943-7469, or at the LCA box office, 1601 Civic Dr., Walnut Creek