Profiles in Theater: Producer Dana Leach

Ken Knight

OnStage Los Angeles Columnist

Profiles In Theater will be a semi-regular column focusing on specific theater professionals who are both on and off the stage. It will primarily focus those working in southern California. There are multiple large theater markets in places such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco etc. However outsiders often consider those productions located in the Los Angeles/Southern California area to be of a lesser quality. This illusion comes from the stereotype that actors are killing time with theater until Hollywood comes calling. The truth is there is quality work being done. The unique environment supports a multitude of smaller, more intimate theater spaces. Theater producer Dana Leach is one of those producing quality theater with passion and extensive show business experience.

Early Years:

On February 1st, 2017 I interviewed Dana at her home in Long Beach. She was born in Lakewood, California which is not too far from Long Beach. In her early years she mainly focused on developing her skills as a singer, dancer and actress: 

Ken: “What was your first show business memory?”

Dana: “I was a member of Evelyn Dupont’s swimming babies at age one. [Who was an Olympic swimmer.] She taught baby survival swimming… [One day] They put a microphone up to me and I thought…This is Good! I remember that very clearly.”

Over the next sixteen years Dana focused on her performance skills. She began dance lessons at age five, voice lessons by age twelve, and was singing musical theater numbers in night clubs by age thirteen. At age sixteen, after obtaining her driver’s license, she began auditioning more for Hollywood work. To make extra money she also worked delivering singing telegrams for a company called Livewire.

Dana: “By high school I was already doing things to make money…Teaching dance lessons…Doing singing telegrams... I started as a Cupid for Valentine’s Day…And a singing and tapdancing fruitcake for Christmas…”

Dana was fortunate enough to have parents who were supportive of her artistic ambitions. She and several friends were planning to spend the summer before college in New York City to audition for Broadway shows. Unfortunately, Dana fell down a flight of stairs her senior year of high school and was in a cast for six months. According to her doctors, “You are not going to dance anymore, and you should probably get a new plan.” 

While some might have given up at this point or fall into some sort of depression, Dana came up with a new plan. She enrolled in Long Beach City College and then eventually transferred to California State University Long Beach. She completed her theater degree and continued to add to her skill set which included learning theater management, working in a costume shop as well lighting and other technical skills. Dana was still pursuing acting as well, landing small roles in various Hollywood projects, but found herself being more drawn to the production side. 

Dana: “I had had a few acting jobs on a series and few other small things but once I got the job at the studio I started production coordinating…and I found that I really liked the behind the scenes stuff…” 

Planning for a Life in Show Business

In addition to this Dana met her future husband Tim met at CSULB. He is also in show business and works as a Hollywood makeup effects artist for film and television. From the beginning of their relationship Dana was well aware of the various challenges they would face going into their careers. From early on, as a good producer does, she was problem solving.

Dana: “[The] Production side was more satisfying and I was getting ready to get married…to a guy involved in all this. I asked myself: How are we going to balance all this if we were freelance all the time? There were more opportunities as a production coordinator with a production company instead of being freelance all the time.”

Many of Dana’s experiences have involved being in the right place at the right time and having the skills required for the job. Her first full time job after college started out with her applying to be a secretary for Valley Production Center. From the beginning she showed how versatile she was: 

Dana: “Right after college I got a job at a small studio [as a receptionist] and was given a tour.”  She could easily identify the various lighting instruments on the grid above the studio. The man giving the tour asked,  “Can you hang a light? I said sure…I hung the light and they said, So…you can have the job…”

Going Into Business For Herself:

Dana worked for several companies including Sunbreak and Dick Clark productions. In 1991 she started Pivotal Productions for which lasted for thirteen years. Their first project, and the one she is most proud of, was working with eighty six at risk Long Beach/Compton middle school students on a project called “Say Yes To Life.” Many of these students had little to no access to extracurricular activities because they were required to take remedial classes. Many of these students were bored and not engaged and, “Needed a reason to go to school.” 

Their teachers wanted to do something different with them and give them a creative outlet. In 1991 Rap music was becoming more widespread and teachers were beginning to show students how it was related to poetry. This in turn could help the students make more connections to language arts and improve their reading skills. In fall of 1991 Dana and the rest of Pivotal productions began work on a documentary on the middle school kids as they developed a song called “Say Yes To Life.” She then took a number of students to a composer who worked for Hollywood pictures/Disney, and into to recording studio. 

After that a music video was shot in January of 1992. Dana reached out to all her Hollywood connections and asked for them to volunteer their time. Each kid was paired up with a professional in the industry which included a director of photography, camera men, choreographers, etc. The middle schoolers were also were interviewed by the various local press. 

Dana: “[For many this was] …a life changing event…Every news channel in town showed up…We had a camera go down and this was before cell phones…so I knew every phone number in my head…having those plans…knowing who you could call. Who could trust or who maybe owed you a favor…The smaller the budget the more plan plans you need.”

Click the following Youtube Link to see the “Just Say Yes To Life” documentary and music video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ktzggAsEww

Dana and Pivotal continued until 2006. They were often hired by companies for their marketing, instructional and corporate video needs. “We did everything from concept to packaging and distribution.” Dana eventually closed the company because, “[The] industry changed because Avid came out with nonlinear editing…Super VHS-people began doing production work in a different way and much cheaper.”

A New Career.

In 2005 Dana began writing curriculum as a volunteer at the school her children attended in the Long Beach Unified school system. Based on her production experience she helped to integrate technology into the core curriculum. Her son produced a short documentary around the history of the bow and arrow, with Dana’s help. “All the other kids said…That’s really cool.” Dana thought at the time that: “I should be writing this up for other teachers.” Her son was then competing with college kids in film festivals, there was no age category for a ten year old. The following year Dana worked with kids in the school’s computer lab:

Dana: “[I helped the students produce] Short iMovies... I started demoing the curriculum at the school.” 

Eventually Dana did a presentation for Lakewood Christian School for a science class which was composed of 8th graders. The Principal then offered her a job with video and teaching drama because she had a degree in theater. She has been there since 2005. She continues to teach teachers on using technology and helped students integrate video into their projects. ¬¬¬
Theater Producer Who Was “Only Going to Stay Two Months”

Between 2006 and 2012 Dana was aware of a local classical theater company originally know¬n as Bard In The Yard. This eventually evolved into the current company known as The Long Beach Shakespeare Company. She would bring students to performances and over time became friends with Helen Borgers, LBSC’s artistic director and director of all the stage productions. In addition to attending performances, the theater would also visit classes and even Dana’s son’s Cub Scout troupe. The scouts were working on their showman badge. Helen arranged for several actors to work with the scouts. Dana was so impressed that she wanted to get more involved with the company. She says about the experience:

Dana: “These 3rd grade kids, I never saw them so still in all their lives…they were in awe…”

LBSC's "Measure For Measure

LBSC's "Measure For Measure

In June 2012 Dana, on her summer vacation from teaching, decided to help the company as a producer. “I was going to give them two months…[They were] Getting ready to close their doors. I decided to rewrite their marketing plan. [I had a]background in marketing and advertising from a job in college.” She also had studied on how to manage a theater company at Cal State Long Beach. She started to draft a five year plan.

Producing Theater: A Family Affair

By December 2012 LBSC was in good hands. Dana’s husband Tim eventually became more involved after he attended the company’s Christmas show. While observing a particular special effect he said, “I could do this so much better.” Dana immediately responded, “Honey maybe we should do this together.” After that Tim has been involved in various capacities including scene design, scene painting, prop making etc. Dana credits their working together as a great outlet for their marriage.

Dana: “We need something we can do together because our boys are grown…so many people we know were getting divorced because your kids grow up and your life changes. Now you are back to where you started…and after 26 years of marriage we are not necessarily the same people we were then…You have to find things that you can do together…we both met in the theater department. We should be doing theater together.”

The Producer/Director Relationship.

After five seasons together Dana and LBSC’s artistic director Helen Borgers have a well-developed producer/director relationship. They are also on board when focusing on their creative mission. All the full stage Shakespeare productions, which consists of three full shows with a four week run each, are done in a more traditional Elizabethan style. When Dana was asked about this she said: 

Dana: “We consider ourselves a classic theater…its done on purpose…There are few places where…people can see Shakespeare being done in classical time period, in a classical format…It’s very expensive… We try to] have that classical feel….I’ve seen productions like Hamlet where everyone is dressed in black or with masks, and I get that. It’s a lot cheaper to do…Part of our mission is literacy…We want people to pick up the books…We have had kids come and say “We like the words.” We want them to read.”

In addition to this the producer/director relationship created at LBSC is a very solid one. 

Dana: “Helen and I have a very good system. First of all she’s a great director…I trust her to do what she needs to do, and also she trusts me to do what I need to do...Helen says we don’t have principals, we have ensembles…It’s a team effort to get the show up and running and successful…”

What Makes A Good Producer?

As the interview concluded I asked Dana: What makes a good producer?

Dana: “A good producer is someone who knows who to hire…You do not have to know how to do everything about the jobs but enough so you know who to hire…and have faith in those people…The producer is a kind of umbrella overseeing stuff and making sure all the pieces of machinery are moving smoothly…Also having plan A, B, C, D, E and F for all the things that will go wrong. So that when it does go wrong half the problem solving is already done in your head…It seems so negative…Its not that you want things to go wrong, but you know they are going to. There is no such thing as a production that is flawless…stuff happens.”

Conclusion

After interviewing Dana I was glad to know a bit more about the history of the company and gain tips on producing my own theater in the future. A special thanks to Dana, Tim, and everyone else at the Long Beach Shakespeare Company. It is a great place for a person to grow as a performer and be a part of something special. LBSC is always looking for performers and crew. Feel free to contact them directly or keep an eye out for casting notices in Backstage. 

Long Beach Shakespeare’s production of Measure For Measure opens February 24th and runs until March 18th with four weekends Friday through Saturdays at 8pm, and Sunday Matinees at 2pm. (No Friday Performance on Friday March 3rd). The company is located at 4250 Atlantic Avenue in Long Beach. Tickets can be purchased though their website: lbshakespeare.om

One Actor in Search of a Theater Company: Prologue

Ken Knight

OnStage Los Angeles Columnist

Many artistic endeavors begin with someone declaring: “I could do that. I could that better.” There are many reasons one may launch a new theater company. This can include one’s ego, a frustration with local theater companies and their politics, or creating opportunities for oneself. Most actors tend to audition and then hope to be part of someone else’s creative vision.

However there often comes a point where just being included is not enough. 

This column, “One Actor in Search of a Theater Company,” will be monthly chronicle of the relaunch of a previously existing theater company, but within a new city. It will document the various steps and hopefully give readers some insight on how to do this successfully.

Producing quality theater requires a team and the ability to be flexible when obstacles arise. It will center around the relaunch of the Knights of Allentown West production company in the Los Angeles area. The first project will be a production of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus in the summer of 2017. The goal is to have this be a part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival, and then a 2-3 week run in a rented space. 

The Brief History of Knights of Allentown:

Many secondary artistic markets, places other than Los Angeles or New York, are found throughout the United States. The number of theater opportunities can vary, depending upon the population. However the talent pool and the existing theater community often have a similar structure. This often includes a number of community theaters (unpaid), a number of semi-professional companies without permanent homes (sometimes paid) and maybe one or two Equity theaters (paid less than a larger market).  The local group of actors form a community where everyone knows one another. From this one might gravitate to working with the same people because they have a specific connection and chemistry together. Over time the hope is that the local theater patrons will want to follow you as you build your reputation.

It is not uncommon for theater companies to work together and share resources to reach as large an audience as possible. Asheville, North Carolina is definitely a small city with plenty of creativity. Knights of Allentown seemed like it would be a good it in this environment.

Knights of Allentown was initially launched in the summer of 2013. I met Bonnie Allen a year the summer of 2012 when she was stage managing and acting in the Montford Park Players, the third longest running Shakespeare festival in the United States, productions of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Merry Wives of Windsor in Asheville, North Carolina. We were drawn to one another because of our love of theater. In addition to this we had a similar work ethic and shared similar frustrations with the local theater scene. We both felt that good work was being done locally, but many of these institutions were bogged down by too many people trying to come to consensus. There was too much time and energy being spent on reputation and not offending local artists because, for the most part, they were not being paid. This in turn made the process slower and less efficient than it could have been.

The following summer Bonnie and I worked together again with Montford on a production of Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost. I found myself in the director’s chair and Bonnie was once again acting as stage manager. The show was set in a John Hughes 80’s style high school.

People either loved or hated this show but once again the experience reinforced the professional and artistic bond between us. Bonnie was, and still is, incredibly smart and well organized. A true professional that I could see working with long into the future. In addition to this, the actress who played Costard in Love’s Labour’s Lost, Lauren Rivas, motivated KOA’s first passion project which was Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. I knew that I needed to get her on stage to play Viola.

Bonnie and I decided to launch KOA for two reasons: 1) to keep politics to a minimum by having a two-person administration. 2) To put into motion our passion projects as well as the passion projects of others. We hoped to create opportunities for local talented artists which could include acting, directing, designing etc. The first two shows to be produced would be Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and Beckett’s Waiting For Godot. Two ambitious projects with a minimal budget and a rough performance space. 

The Twelfth Night Rehearsal Process

After a brief read through at the end of 2013, the rehearsal process for Twelfth Night officially began in the January of 2014. Various members of the local theater community were offered roles. Bonnie and I were familiar with their work and various levels of professionalism. We wanted to work with those performers who we knew would deliver the goods and make a good first impression on the local theater scene. Little did we know that a drafting process, not uncommon in a larger market, would cause the ruffling of feathers. Many felt that it was our obligation to go through the appearance of the production being open for anyone to audition. Why this is fine in theory, and may be the preference by some companies, I believed this would be more direct and efficient. The show was also being co-directed by me and another talented local named Robert Edwards. I was playing Malvolio, and Robert was brought in to direct scenes that I was in, which was about half the show. 

The end result was an entertaining show that was financially successful. The process that led to the show was far from easy. There were creative clashes in the approach to directing, multiple illnesses during the rehearsal process and two weeks of blizzard-like conditions in Asheville. All in all, we lost about ten days of rehearsal in a six-week rehearsal process. In total, there were five performances in March of 2014 at the Toy Boat performing arts collective. And as with most short runs, I felt that the show became stronger with each performance. We were also, for our first show, $600 in the black. 

By having success with a first production it certainly can be a blessing and a curse. While success builds confidence, it always good to keep certain limitations financially until a larger fan base is built. Also, establishing certain creative boundaries with a co-director is essential. When co directors are not on the same page from the beginning, this leads to confusion and frustration for the actors. On the producing side, the bond between the “Wonder Twins” of Bonnie Allen and Ken Knight became stronger. The money made from this was then put towards our second production, Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot.

Six Months Planning for Godot and the Official First Season

Knights of Allentown, as stated before, was and is about passion projects and creating challenges for everyone involved. I am a character actor which can be sometimes limiting. Mounting a passion project, whether one admits it to themselves or not, is often about ego and ambition. Godot was no exception but we still also kept in the mind that the audience still deserved to see something engaging and entertaining. Bonnie and I hired a talented local director named Adam Arthur, who’s passion project was to direct this show. Again, to the grumbling of the local theater scene, we drafted several talented performers. The plan was to have nine performances in the month of October, again at Toy Boat. We also planned, for the first time, to pay our designer, stage manager and director. By the third KOA show we planned on paying our actors.

In addition to the second show, KOA started to plan a larger season of six shows for the coming year. In retrospect, our motto was “Go big or go home.” We also began to talk to other performers and directors about their passion projects and making those creative ambitions a reality. Unfortunately, this was not to pass due to circumstances that would arise during the run of Godot.

The Godot Rehearsal Process, Performances and the End of a Marriage

Godot rehearsals began in late August 2014, mostly in my garage. As fate would have it, the actor who played Didi lived next door of my apartment complex. We found time to run lines and blocking when our unusual schedules would allow. Like Twelfth Night, the enlisted performers worked hard with the non-conventional material over five weeks. By the last ten days the show was being drilled for speed and became a well-oiled machine. What was especially challenging was the thought that I and Jeff Cantenese, who played Didi, would be the focal point for over two and a half hours of stage time. In addition to this Adam, Jeff and I embraced this loose aspect and agreed that a certain level of improvisation would be acceptable. Also we agreed that we would acknowledge the audience if the occasion presented itself.

Waiting For Godot opened in October of 2014 for nine performances. Going into the run Bonnie and I, as well as the rest of the crew, were aware how difficult it would be to market such a challenging show. Bonnie and I pursued the usual outlets for promotion which included posters, radio interviews and notifications in the local weekly free press. We were prepared to lose money, or at least break even. The first weekend averaged about ten to fifteen audience members. However we were not too concerned at that point because we were confident that word of mouth would prevail.

By the end of the first weekend my then wife told me she no longer wanted to be with me. This was a great shock to say the least. As many readers who are theater artists themselves know, an opening weekend can be quite the endurance test straining both sanity and relationships. The endurance test that was already Godot became more difficult. That being said, the commitment to the show increased and did my best to stay focused and do the best work I could.

Looking back on the last six performances, they are a bit of a blur. The audience numbers remained about the same, although we did have twenty-two at one performance. I remember making more connections with the audience and not being afraid to interact. It became a hybrid of both Beckett and Second City. We also had one Beckett purist who walked out at intermission. By the end of the run I was exhausted emotionally and physically. However Beckett’s surreal and challenging script kept me focused and engaged despite the end of a marriage. 
    
Unfinished Business, the Return of KOA and Lessons Learned

On October 30th 2014 I left Asheville and relocated to Los Angeles. In the two years that have passed I have been consumed by the unfinished business. Despite the challenges and heartbreak, the ambition to pursue passion projects continues. Knights of Allentown West is the new production company title, although this may change. Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus will be the first show produced for the Hollywood Fringe Festival in the summer of 2017. I am currently assembling a new team to make this passion project a reality. 

There are still many lessons to learn as a theater producer and artist. I believe some of the best training is on the job. That being said, if you are thinking of starting your own theater venture keep these things in mind:

1)    Make sure you have a partner/partners that share your artistic vision and ambitions. Do not take on all the logistics on your own. 

2)    Start small and do not let early success lead you to biting off more than you can chew later.

3)    No matter how stressful things get, always show your crew and artists love and respect. Choosing to be an artist is in and of itself an act of bravery. If you cannot pay them currency, then let them know how much they are appreciated. 

4)    Keep your performances accessible and affordable. Nobody will want to spend $20, or more, on a company with little to no track record. For the first set of shows, make sure there are butts in the seats. The company’s reputation will build over time and money will come later.

5)    Stick to your method of casting. If you want to build a core company and avoid open auditions, you have the right to do so.

6)    Have fun doing all of this. As artists, we all have different motivations for producing theater, or other various forms of art. However these do not start and stop with one individual.

Those volunteering their energy and time should want to return into the future. 

Next month’s column will begin the chronicle of the rebirth of a theater company and the various challenges with developing a project with limited resources. Feel free to follow along and make comments, make suggestions or share your experiences. Come join us.

Photo: “Twelfth Night” produced by the Seattle Shakespeare Company

Frequently Asked Questions of My Theatre Geekiness

Erin Conley

  • OnStage Los Angeles Columnist
  • Twitter: @Erinsk8

In my decade of loving theater, I’ve learned it’s not an obsession people always readily understand. Television? Absolutely, everybody watches TV. Same with movies, books, and music. Theater, however, is often met with some raised eyebrows. Sure, a lot of people enjoy seeing a show or two a year, but that doesn’t mean they understand my level of obsession, which involves seeing most shows that come through my home in LA as well as my theater-packed annual trips to New York.

Here are some of the questions I’ve received most often over the years, as well as my answers.

But theater is so expensive. How do you afford it?

I truly think this is one of the biggest misconceptions about theater. If you know where to look, and especially if you’re a student, there are opportunities for affordable theater everywhere. The website Broadway for Broke People is a fantastic resource that cross-references all of the options to find the cheapest price for each show currently on Broadway. New York also has TDF, TKTS, TodayTix, and more. If you’re in LA or another market, there’s Goldstar and good old-fashioned discount codes, which Theatermania and BroadwayBox do a great job keeping track of. The summer I lived in New York City while I was in college, I saw multiple shows a week and my average price paid per show for the entire summer was $21. The highest I paid for anything was $41.50, which turned out to be a huge mistake since it was The Addams Family. Bottom line, If you’re willing to put in a little research and perhaps some time waiting in a rush or TKTS line to find the good deals, theater can absolutely be affordable.

Why do you see the same shows multiple times?

There are around 25 shows I have seen more than once, ranging from twice to 29 times (I never said I wasn’t a little crazy). What I love about theater is that each performance is a unique moment that will never be replicated, and this also applies to individual performances of the same show. When I really love a show, I enjoy returning to see new cast members or understudies, and more often than not I notice something new. It’s similar to re-watching a favorite TV show or film or re-reading a favorite book, but also more precious because every theater performance is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Did you do theater in high school?

No. My involvement in the theater community has only been as a fan, a street team employee for a while in college to promote local shows, and now as an amateur theater blogger and critic. I was, however, a member of my high school choir, which took an annual field trip to New York to see a show. Those trips introduced me to theater.

What’s your favorite show?

I always struggle to answer this question because my personal, sentimental favorite shows and the shows I objectively find to be the best are very often two different things. The two shows that have personally meant the most to me in terms of impact on my life are Spring Awakening and American Idiot, both of which I readily admit are flawed musicals that are not for everyone. In terms of objectively great shows whose brilliance I greatly admire, I’d name Sweeney Todd and A Chorus Line. The one show that fits both categories for me is Next to Normal, which I both adore and find to be the greatest wholly original musical theater achievement of the past decade.

I’m going to New York/any other city with theater. What should I see? 

This is my favorite question to receive, and I always try to gear my answer towards the sensibilities of the person asking. For people relatively well-versed in theater, my current New York recommendation is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which I saw on my last trip and loved. For the person who sees a show or two a year, An American in Paris or The King and I might be a better bet. In LA, I love pointing people towards Center Theatre Group’s productions, which represent a nice range from commercial touring shows to more intimate pieces.

Why do you love theater so much?

I first fell in love with theater at my second Broadway show, Wicked, when I was a sophomore in high school. I remember being so, so mesmerized, and from then on, I began seeking out theater every chance I got. Over time, I realized a big part of why I love theater so much is that it requires you to be totally present. It can’t be rewound or paused; you experience it as it’s happening and that’s it. As a self-proclaimed champion multitasker and chronic overthinker, that feeling is rare for me. Since that performance of Wicked, theater has led me to some of my closest friends and some of my most treasured life experiences, both of which I wouldn’t trade for the world. 

The Post Show Blues: Maybe It’s Just Me

Christian Jost

  • OnStage DC/LA Columnist

Whenever a show ends people always have that “post show slump” when they realize the stage is empty, the wings are clear, and the cast is gone. Whether you enjoyed the cast or not you still have spent months working with each other and now you probably won’t see most of them ever again. That can be very tough, especially if you’re like me and have over-attachment issues. When a show completes its run there is still so much energy flying around and no way to get rid of it. We can try to satisfy ourselves but nothing will let us reach the same satisfaction as performing.

When I finish a show it hits me harder than most people. I’m often asked why this happens to me and usually I just brush it off with an “I don’t know” or an “I guess I’m just emotional like that” but today I thought I’d share the real reason why with you. In retrospect this could have been just an angst-y Facebook post but OnStage is such a great outlet for people to read and discuss and I thought maybe there are others who feel the same way and are looking for something to relate to. God knows I’d love someone to say “exactly” or “I thought it was just” after reading this.

Anyway, the reason it hits me the way it does is simply this: I have nothing else. Theatre is all I’ve got. I don’t have a day job that I work at because I know I’ll never put as much into anything the way I do performing. I don’t have a big family where we can go on vacation or have family dinners every week. I don’t have friends that I hang out with every week or even once a month because I’m not good at opening up to people. Performing is what I do, when I’m not performing I’m scrolling through audition groups to see is there’s anything coming up soon to perform in. Theatre isn’t a hobby that I do in my free time; it’s what I do to survive. It’s like oxygen to me. I know that’s a cliché people use quite often but it’s completely true for me. Theatre is life.

I’m really good at being a character; I’m not good at being myself.

Of course I know that theatre is a hard business to pursue and there will be times, sometimes very long, where I won’t be performing/able to perform and I’ve accepted that. Believe me, I’ve accepted that. However I’d rather spend my life trying to do what I love and failing than living a life as a failure because I stopped trying. I also know at some point I’ve gotta find out who I am myself, without a script by my side but that’s not gonna happen overnight. Trust me, I’ve tried. The way I see it is that I’ve made a huge step today by opening up to you and telling you something about me that not even the people I consider my closest friends know. Progress is progress.

Thank you for listening to me and I hope there are people out there who know now that it’s not just them. That other people need the stage just as much as they do. That they’re not alone.

Top 10 Reasons Why Disney’s THE LION KING Is Still Worth Seeing

Michael L. Quintos

When it first debuted to much fanfare on Broadway in 1997, Disney Theatricals' gargantuan musical THE LION KING was a bona fide hit from the get-go, eventually dominating the 1998 Tony Awards with six wins (out of a total 11 nominations). Not only did the show win Best Musical, its director and chief creative mastermind Julie Taymor was also bestowed with the Tony for Best Director of a Musical (Taymor, of course, will later find equal notoriety for initially helming the troubled SPIDER-MAN musical). 

Today, 18 years and billions of box office receipts later, the show still packs them in---so much so that it currently stands as Broadway's fourth longest-running show ever and last year even surpassed THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA as the biggest top-earning show in box-office history. And, yes, the show continues to awe and amaze audiences worldwide, earning fresh fans out of a new generation just now experiencing this theatrical phenomenon for the first time.

The show's continued success isn't really that much of a surprise. 

First, the stage musical is based on an already massively popular 1994 Disney Animated hit film, so the stage adaptation already had a rabid, well-established fan base before the curtain (or, in this case, the fabric Pride Rock sun) even went up. Secondly, even those who've never experienced THE LION KING musical live already know (via word-of-mouth, the internet, or simply 18 years worth of media saturation) about the show's clever and creative staging---a re-imagining of the animated film for the stage that utilizes an innovative combination of jaw-dropping puppetry, authentic African sounds (musically and sonically), beautifully crafted masks and make-up, eye-popping costumes and sets, and beautifully lyrical choreographic movements. Kids love the family-friendly antics, while adults are fascinated by the show's clever artistry, witty humor, and not-so-subtle Shakespearean overtones.

And, of course, THE LION KING stage musical, like the film that inspired it, contains plenty of familiar music compositions, created by global pop star Elton John and his frequent lyricist partner Tim Rice. Even the sweeping, lush orchestral score of Hans Zimmer in the original animated film has been rebooted and refreshed in the Broadway iteration, flavored and reoriented even deeper with authentic African rhythms and choral voices courtesy of Lebo M., Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, and Taymor herself. In a brave but ultimately smart departure from the film, the stage version's musical leanings are much more in keeping with the geographic roots of the story which greatly enhances the show's overall vibe and grand design.

Currently, the hit phenomenon has once again returned to Orange County's Segerstrom Center for the Arts finishing up its much-anticipated four-week return engagement through November 1 in Costa Mesa. Though the tour has visited OC multiple times since the show went on the road, the musical hasn't had a visiting production at the Center since 2010.

Boy, what a spectacular way to open Segerstrom's new Broadway season! If you're like me, this will probably be your umpteenth time seeing the stage musical, perhaps because it's just the kind of grandiose stage show where you feel like you're actually getting your money's worth. 

My first experience with THE LION KING stage show dates back to when it made its triumphant debut at the then newly-refurbished Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. Back then, I thought, wow... I have never seen a stage musical like this ever in my entire life! With its glorious pageantry and gorgeously creative technical wonders, it certainly helped further my already overwhelming love of musical theater. I was (and am) a Disney nut to boot, so to have Disney green-light such a seismic departure from its cartoon beginnings was both shocking and inspiring. 

But admittedly, at the time, I wasn't as bowled over by the show as everyone else seems to be (I had a much more fervent affection for RAGTIME, the sweeping, epic musical that was beat out of the Best Musical Tony by THE LION KING). But I do remember feeling how breathtaking and grandiose much of it was---and that I was definitely witnessing something groundbreaking.

By and large, THE LION KING, under Taymor's creative guidance, ushered in a modern kind of imaginative staging---a well-orchestrated, well-choreographed symphony of graceful, culturally authentic dance, ingenious puppetry, infectious music, and its very unique Disney-esque theatrical ability to inspire dropped jaws of wonder. Taymor fashions all of these elements to come together in mesmerizing harmony, not only for the audience to suspend its preconceived notions of theater, but to also suspend any prior belief that so-called "children's entertainment" is pretty much void of any artistry or creative integrity. One cannot deny the influence the show has had on other Broadway shows that came after---its legacy and influence seems arguably present in shows as disparate as WICKED all the way to the recent "new" production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's CINDERELLA.

While, sure, admittedly it is not my favorite of the Disney Broadway shows (I am much more of a fan of the rousing NEWSIES with the original Disney-sanctioned BEAUTY & THE BEAST and MARY POPPINS not too far behind), overall, THE LION KING is undeniably one of the most creatively-realized stage shows ever---a shining example of a successful marriage between sheer, innovative artistry with sheer, unflappable commercialism. Despite a few narrative hiccups and some minor pacing issues, the show continues to be a genuinely entertaining e-ticket musical.

So... 18 years later---shown in a slightly edited version that is still pretty close to the original, except for a cut song and a few cost-saving production initiatives---is THE LION KING still worth seeing these days? 

Absolutely! And here are 10 reasons why...

1. That Opening Number!

No matter how old or how cynical you get, seeing THE LION KING opener still gives chills. Witnessing the incredible menagerie of African wildlife enter the theater down the aisles---whether for the first time ever or for the zillionth time---remains a wonder to behold. I am not ashamed to divulge that I got a little teary-eyed when I first saw that glorious sunrise on stage for the first time more than a decade ago. I didn't shed any tears this time around, but yet hearing the show's all-seeing, all-knowing Rafiki (here played by the superb Mukelisiwe Goba) sing the ubiquitous "Circle of Life" backed by this incredible company did fill me with musical joy. Seeing the animal residents of the prideland in eye-popping jubilation is still one of the best opening numbers of any musical, period. (Note: for THE LION KING, Segerstrom Center has actually cut through its normal orchestra seating layout to provide ad hoc aisles for the parade of animals to enter in the midst of the audience. Kids and adults will love it!)

2. It's a familiar... yet different, more sophisticated take on the animated classic.

Whether you enjoyed Disney's animated movie or not, the stage show takes everything entertaining about the hit feature film and re-envisions it with remarkable creativity, adult humor, and, sometimes even emotional poignancy. The show re-imagines many of the film's significant plot points in clever, theatrically exceptional ways, particularly the wildebeest stampede---itself the show's true testament to Taymor's inventiveness.

Story-wise, this stage iteration of THE LION KING follows the movie's plot quite faithfully, which tracks the maturation of Simba from an adventurous, mischievous young lion cub (played by Tré Jones on Opening Night) to an adult lion (played by Aaron Nelson) grappling with his position within the Circle of Life. Within the kingdom of Pride Rock, though, Simba is the son of King Mufasa (Gerald Ramsey) and his Queen, Sarabi (Tryphena Wade). Under Mufasa's rule, the Pridelands are a beacon of natural beauty, symbiotic richness, and animal harmony. 

This, of course, infuriates Scar (Patrick R. Brown), Mufasa's evil, ne'er-do-well brother who wants, more than anything, to rule over the kingdom himself.

Guided by jealousy and his insatiable lust for ultimate power, Scar---with the aid of his Hyena pals Shenzi (Tiffany Denise Hobbs), Banzai (Keith Bennett), and Ed (Robbie Swift)---initiate a murderous plan to kill off gullible, young lion cub Simba. When that plan is foiled by Mufasa's timely intervention (alerted by Mufasa's avian "executive secretary" Zazu, puppeteered/voiced by Drew Hirschfield), Scar later schemes an even more elaborate plan: to not only kill his brother the King, but to also pin the blame for the death squarely on Mufasa's own son---thus thrusting Simba's wicked uncle to the throne once and for all.

Featuring a Tony-nominated book adapted by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi, the stage musical frequently lifts entire passages of dialogue directly from the film's screenplay (a smart move considering how quotable the film has become). It does, however, incorporate one glaring, fun update: Zazu opts for a very au courant, ubiquitous, utterly inescapable Disney tune as his jail-house/bird-cage song (hint: princesses normally sing it in frigid, colder environments than the one in this musical).

3. The show still has plenty of laugh-out-loud funny moments.

As Shakespearean serious as it is, THE LION KING does retain much of its dark, snarky humor courtesy of Scar's deliciously devilish one-liners as well as from his pun-loving, sassy Hyena collaborators. Of course, the real comedy team can be found in meerkat Timon (Nick Cordileone) and his portly warthog pal Pumbaa (Ben Lipitz), who befriend Simba upon his mysterious arrival, and introduce him to their problem-free philosophy "Hakuna Matata." The two BFF's also later help Simba take back Pride Rock from Scar who has---since Simba's sudden "disappearance"---turned Mufasa's once rich kingdom into a drought-stricken, resource-depleted wasteland.

4. It emphasizes musical and geographical authenticity.

In its admirable, continuous pursuit for cultural authenticity (as much as you can with a musical about talking/singing/dancing animals), the production wisely incorporates the music and sounds of the region, resulting in some of the most heavenly, gorgeous-sounding African choral harmonies you'll hear outside of the continent itself. THE LION KING achieves this by wisely casting many acting/musical talent from the region with great forethought---performing the terrific vocal arrangements by Lebo M.---which ensures that the beautiful, jubilant musical sounds of the continent are well-represented within this musical story. Aside from the rousing opening number, songs like "One By One," "Shadowland," and "He Lives In You" ("They Live In You") reiterate this motif. Fortunately, these newer songs written for the stage production seamlessly work well alongside the more pop-sounding tunes Elton John and Tim Rice originally wrote for the film, elevating the music part of this musical into a much higher plane of sophistication most probably did not expect from an adaptation of a cartoon originally intended for children.

5. The visuals are still just unbelievable!

Don't be fooled by the fact that this is a national tour production of a show that's been around for almost two decades. THE LION KING's dazzling artistry and technicolor brilliance is still very much on display despite a few economic and running-time trims here and there. The true excellence of this stage musical is that it does not merely replicate the same bright hues of the movie. Rather, Taymor and her team---which include scenic designer Richard Hudson and lighting designer Donald Holder---have conceived a wholly fresh visual palette that is a thoughtful hybrid of Disney-esque art direction with the splendor of the African environment. Here, even patches of grass are alive, and not because many of the ensemble members actually portray these patches of grass.

6. The costumes and masks are striking and incredible!

Like its sets and backdrops, THE LION KING's costumes help transport you to the savannas and jungles of the story. There is no denying that all these characters are brought to life by an incredible company of actors. But in THE LION KING in particular, Taylor and her team have found an exceptional balance between theater and functionality with how each of these actors are outfitted to play their character---enough to encourage the suspension of reality and for the audience to believe that, yes, despite the human dancing and leaping across the stage, they are indeed majestic creatures of the animal kingdom.... that happen to sing like talented thespians. And in a masterstroke of pure genius, Taymor doesn't merely slap on a form-fitting area rug on the actors, they don manipulated fabrics and natural objects to suggest animal forms, and for the audience to practice some imagination to fill in the rest.

And speaking of...

Beautiful, carved masks and elaborate puppets complete the illusion for the actors. There are times when the masks, headpieces, and puppets actually grab our attention, allowing the actor to somewhat disappear, and to let the performance itself become front and center. Particularly striking: the masks/headpieces worn atop all the adult lions, especially Mufasa and Scar, which stunningly ascend or descend depending on what the drama requires. And, of course, the animal puppets---which include flying birds, insanely tall giraffes, massive elephants, and even galloping gazelles---add to the jaw-dropping excitement. 

7. The cast moves with thoughtful, majestic purpose.

Together with the stunning work of Tony-winning choreographer Garth Fagan, Taymor's staging of THE LION KING adds to the overall splendor of the production, incorporating lyrical movements that make for beautiful modern dance pieces. One small grievance, though: I do believe it's time to retire that oddly out-of-place dance club-inspired dance break that features a swarm of hyenas suddenly getting down and funky to a thumping remix.  

8. Hakuna Matata. Can You Feel The Love Tonight. I Just Can't Wait To Be King.

You may know the songs and score from the movie, but you haven't heard their true potential until you hear them in this stage musical, performed and sung live with great gusto and a backing orchestra conducted by musical director Rick Snyder. And sandwiched in between them are some additional songs crafted mostly by Lebo M., Mark Mancina, and Jay Rifkin that enrich the show with more ear candy.

9. The current cast is just outstanding.

Goba's opening song will give you chills, and later, she provides some chuckles as the wise baboon Rafiki. Cordileone and Lipitz, as Timon and Pumbaa respectively, are wonderfully hilarious, acting out and puppeteering their technically-complex character costume rigs with admirable pep. Ramsey's Mufasa and Wade's Sarabi are elegantly regal and good-hearted while, by contrast, Brown's take on the stage version of villain Scar is both sinister and sassy. The Hyena trio played by Hobbs, Bennett, and Swift are effective as sarcastic scene-stealers. The show's young twosome---Simba played by Tré Jones and Nala played by Mikari Tarpley during the Opening Night performance---have fantastic voices paired with their buoyant, youthful energy. Naturally, the actors tasked with playing the two roles as older adults are also quite exceptional. Nelson winningly leads the show's second act as the redemption-seeking adult Simba, while Nia Holloway floored me with her marvelous singing voice as adult Nala, a character that has been smartly expanded here compared to the original film. 

10. It's still one of the best ways to introduce the wonders of musical theater to young children.

What better way can you think of to dazzle a young kid exposed to countless mind-numbing hours of tv, movies, and the internet? Take them to a live theatrical experience... like this show. THE LION KING is a great, palatable segue, considering it's got familiar animated classic roots, is family-friendly, and yet has a pretty cool factor thanks to its awesome visuals and theater magic. 

So, whether you're a 5-year-old first-time theater-goer or a 75-year-old with lots of Playbills at home, THE LION KING is still---almost two decades later---a pretty great bet for an entertaining evening. If it's been a while since you've seen it or have not experienced it ever, now is a good time to check out this global phenomenon.


** Follow this reviewer on Twitter: @cre8ivemlq 

Photos from the current National Tour of Disney's THE LION KING by Joan Marcus. Review originally published for OnStage.

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Performances of the national tour of DISNEY'S THE LION KING at Segerstrom Center for the Arts continue through Sunday, November 1, 2015. Tickets can be purchased online at www.SCFTA.org, by phone at 714-556-2787 or in person at the SCFTA box office (open daily at 10 am). Segerstrom Center for the Arts is located at 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa. For tickets or more information, visit SCFTA.org

Interview with Hugo Medina and Sofia Yepes, Stars of LA Theatre Center’s Danny and the Deep Blue Sea

Erin Conley

Hugo Medina and Sofia Yepes are currently starring in John Patrick Shanley’s Danny and the Deep Blue Sea at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. The play, which takes place over less than a 24 hour period, is the story of two damaged strangers who meet at a bar in the Bronx. Over the course of the night, they confess past sins, fight (both physically and verbally), and ultimately find some semblance of the comfort they’ve been so desperately seeking. I had the opportunity to speak with Medina and Yepes about how the production came to be, the toll of performing such an intense piece, and what they think would happen in a sequel to the play.

Erin Conley, On Stage: How did you come to be involved with the production?

Hugo Medina (Danny): I’ve wanted to do this play for a very long time, since grad school. Oneday Sofia and I just kind of read the play, sitting on a couch, just to get a feel for it, and it naturally dropped in and felt crazy awesome, authentic, and connected in a way that was very
surprising to both of us. We started hitting up directors and theaters that we knew and we came across Fidel (Gonez), our director, and he seemed to be the only person more excited than I was about this play. We just knew we had to put our minds together to make this happen.

EC: Sofia, were you also familiar with the play beforehand?

Sofia Yepes (Roberta): No, I had never read the play before Hugo brought it to my attention. I read it first at home and I was kind of blown away. I’m sure you know Shanley’s work; he’s kind of intense. So yes, it was my first introduction, not to Shanley, but to Danny and the Deep Blue Sea.

The cast of Danny and the Deep Blue Sea

The cast of Danny and the Deep Blue Sea

EC: The play is obviously very intense, and I can imagine it must be very exhausting to perform. How do you handle that intensity from performance to performance?

SY: With lots of laughter, I think. Finding ways to laugh in between. With the physical stuff, we’re lucky that we had a great fight choreographer (Edgar Landa) so it’s not as bad as it looks, and with the mentally draining part about it, there’s not much that we can do except try to let it go at the end of the night and try to enjoy ourselves and the people who came to support and forget all about it Monday through Wednesday.

HM: There’s no way around the exhaustion, I think. I mean, it’s definitely draining for me physically and mentally, but because it’s been such an exciting journey, the exhaustion just ends up feeling really good. There’s an immense satisfaction that comes with it even if we are
exhausted and sweaty and bruised.

EC: While the play is very dark and dramatic, there are also moments of near-comedy. Do you have a favorite moment?

SY: My favorite moment in the play actually had a technical difficulty last night! When I go to the radio to set the mood for us to be romantic with each other, Taylor Swift was supposed to come on, and that’s my ultimate moment because I just turn around kind of like “yeah, you know this song.” I just love the pause in the intensity and really kind of sinking into that okay, we’re going to go into romance now, and just have fun with it. That’s my favorite part for sure.

EC: I didn’t even notice anything went wrong, you covered very well.

SY: That’s when I started singing!

HM: There’s a part where she says “you have such beautiful eyes” and he blushes and says “shut up!” It’s really the first time in the play where he kind of sheds a layer and it’s also the first comedic moment that’s supposed to be funny, because I think there’s some parts in the first scene that are funny without meaning to be. I just really have fun with that moment.

EC: The production is very immersive, with the audience right there in the middle of the action. Have you found that the energy of each specific audience affects the show?

Both: Absolutely.

HM: I feel like depending on who’s there—you know, when it’s family, it’s a whole other thing, but more than anything it’s just how engaged and connected the audience is that really makes a difference because we can feel it. We can feel the dead silence when it’s intimate and serious and we can feel the humor when they’re cracking up, and even when they’re feeling empathy or compassion for us that is completely felt.

EC: The play has a bit of an ambiguous ending, and Roberta and Danny’s future is left uncertain. What do you think happens to these characters after the end of the play?

SY: I had some friends come with their 18-year-old son. I was very interested to hear what he thought about the play. After the play they were discussing it and the parents and the grandmother loved it and were really into it and here comes their son and he says, “I hated it! It was too dark, it was depressing, it was horrible!” His family was like “what are you talking about? There’s hope at the end! It’s great, it gives us all hope!” He said “they’re not gonna make it!” I think for me sometimes I feel like we are and sometimes I feel like we’re not, like who are we kidding? I think it changes for me every night, to be honest.

HM: I think the beauty of the relationship and the ending is not so much if there’s going to be a happy ending or if they’re going to end up together, I think it’s just that for the first time in their lives they have a glimpse of hope. They start off being extremely violent and extremely
ashamed of who they are and in less than 24 hours they make a 360 degree shift where there are now possibilities in their lives. I think that’s the hope we kind of hope to leave the audience with, but along with that comes the reality of how messed up these characters are.

EC: Is there anything else we haven’t discussed that you’d like to mention?

HM: We were discussing what the sequel would be if we were to write what the relationship would look like a year from then, assuming they did get married, and how dysfunctional would that be but how full of love would it still be. And I think perhaps it’s that dynamic of dysfunction within love that perhaps a lot of families relate to that makes it such a unique relationship for the characters. I also just wanted to say this is the first time I worked with Sofia and it’s been such a joy. We allowed ourselves to surprise ourselves constantly and be vulnerable. I was saying yesterday how in order for this play to work you really have to allow yourselves to be really vulnerable with each other on stage.

SY: And trust each other.

HM: And trust each other, yeah. It’s taken a lot of courage on our end to just see ourselves be vulnerable on stage and commit so hard with the emotions and the violence and with our bodies and our hearts, and that’s been great.

This production of Danny and the Deep Blue Sea plays its final performance this Saturday, August 1st. For more information on LA Theatre Center’s upcoming productions, please visit theLATC.org.

Everything you need to know about Spring Awakening’s potential return to Broadway

Erin Conley

This morning, theater fans around the world rejoiced at the news that Spring Awakening is poised for a Broadway revival. First reported by Deadline, rumor is, the acclaimed production recently presented in Los Angeles by Deaf West Theatre and director Michael Arden’s Forest of Arden will transfer to Broadway this fall, as soon as producer Ken Davenport is able to secure a theater. 

While many fans are ecstatic, others seem to think this revival is happening perhaps too soon, considering the original production, which won 8 Tony Awards including Best Musical and launched the careers of Jonathan Groff, Lea Michele, John Gallagher Jr, Skylar Astin, and more, opened in 2006, just under a decade ago. This turnaround would be much quicker than that of most musical revivals, but there are a few important things to know about what would make this production very different from the Spring Awakening most fans know and love. 

The Deaf West production is presented simultaneously in English and American Sign Language. 

Deaf West is an LA-based theater company whose mission is to produce theater that is fully accessible to both communities. Their Spring Awakening has been produced twice in LA, first at Inner-City Arts’ 99-seat Rosenthal Theater in the fall of 2014 and more recently at the significantly larger 500-seat Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills. Both runs were critically acclaimed and financially successful, and there has been buzz about a possible NY transfer since the Annenberg run concluded less than a month ago. 

The cast, which remained largely consistent for both runs, was comprised of half hearing actors and half deaf or hard-of-hearing actors. While every member of the cast used ASL, the characters portrayed by deaf actors (characters very intentionally chosen by Arden) were paired with a hearing actor who portrayed their “voice,” mirroring them, playing an instrument, singing the songs, and delivering the dialogue in English while their deaf counterpart did so in ASL. The production also featured new choreography by Spencer Liff, who seamlessly wove ASL into the movement to great effect.

This would not be the first time a Deaf West production transferred to Broadway. 

Their acclaimed production of Big River opened on Broadway in 2003, where it ran for 28 previews and 67 performances. The role of Tom Sawyer was played by a young Michael Arden in his Broadway debut.  About half the characters, including the leading role of Huck, were played by deaf or hard-of-hearing performers. All dialogue and lyrics in the production were both spoken or sung and signed, making the production equally accessible to hearing and deaf audiences. The character of Mark Twain (portrayed by Daniel H. Jenkins, who portrayed the role of Huck in the original Broadway cast) was expanded, so that that actor also provided the voice of Huck, portrayed by Tyrone Giordano, who is deaf. The production would be nominated for two Tony Awards and won a Tony Honors for Excellence in Theatre. 

Original Broadway cast member Krysta Rodriguez and 1st National Tour cast member Andy Mientus appeared in the most recent iteration. 

Among the cast changes for the 2015 Annenberg production were the addition of two well-known Spring Awakening alums. Rodriguez, who was a swing in the original Broadway production, played Ilse, a role she used to understudy. Mientus reprised the role of Hanschen, which he previously played on the 1st National Tour. There is currently no news on casting for the potential Broadway production. 

Michael Arden’s backstory for the concept is fascinating. 

Back in September, Arden told Theatermania about his concept for the production, which he initially developed with Mientus, who happens to be his fiancé. He imagines this version of the small German town where the show takes place has been hit by an epidemic that left many people without hearing. What makes Spring Awakening different from Deaf West’s prior productions is that for the first time, the fact that some characters are deaf and some are hearing is commented on and incorporated into the plot. Moritz and Wendla are among the characters played by deaf actors, which adds even more depth to their already tragic arcs. 

It would be Spring Awakening as you’ve never seen it before, in the best way possible. 

I was fortunate enough to see both iterations of the Deaf West production in LA. Having seen the Broadway production and national tours around a dozen times combined over the years, I couldn’t believe how much this stunning iteration of the show opened my eyes to aspects of the story I’d never considered before. It truly felt like seeing it for the first time, which is impressive for a work I felt so familiar with. I have never believed Spring Awakening to be a perfect show as written, but this production succeeded in finding an answer for many of the moments I once found lacking in character development or depth. I truly believe this is Spring Awakening the way it was always meant to be staged, and I hope the Broadway transfer rumors are true so more audience members can experience its magic. 

Click here to read OnStage's review of Deaf West Theatre's production of Spring Awakening:

10 Must-Know Locations for LA Theater Fans

Erin Conley

When I first moved to LA four years ago, I was nervous about the theater situation. Having spent the first 22 years of my life living within 3 hours of New York City, I was concerned I’d be disappointed by the quantity, quality, or accessibility of theater. Luckily, LA has proved me wrong. While no other city can ever compare to New York, I now truly believe LA has the second best theater scene in the country.

Sure, seeing theater is not always as simple here. While in New York I would often spontaneously get tickets to a show day of, LA life requires a bit more planning. Between traffic and the fact that runs are usually more limited and therefore often more difficult to get a ticket to,  I almost always plan my theater excursions in advance now (with occasional exceptions). Whether you’re looking for the biggest national tours or more intimate, local shows, the LA theater scene has a lot to offer even the most discerning theatergoer.

Here are 10 places any LA theater fan should familiarize themselves with. In no particular order:

1)    The Pantages Theater

Owned by the Nederlanders, this massive 2,703 seat venue is the number one stop for national touring productions when they come through LA. Their 2015-2016 season includes If/Then, Bullets Over Broadway, 42nd Street, and Beautiful. If you’re on a budget, keep an eye out for pre-show lotteries that some productions will hold, as well as Ticketmaster for cheap seats (often as low as $25) on the very edges of the orchestra.

2)    Center Theatre Group 

Their three non-profit theaters, the Ahmanson, the Mark Taper Forum, and the Kirk Douglas Theater feature a combination of large touring productions, exclusive limited runs, and new works. The Ahmanson is currently home to the kick-off stop on the Matilda tour and will feature The Sound of Music, The Bridges of Madison County, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, and Titanic later in the season. Meanwhile, the Taper will host Martin Sherman’s Bent and the Kirk Douglas the new musical Girlfriend this summer.

3)    The Geffen Playhouse

What I love about the Geffen is their frequent pre and post show events, which include “Talk Back Tuesdays,” a “Girls Night Out” event for each production, “Lounge Fridays,” and “Wine Down Sundays,” featuring a complimentary wine tasting in the lobby. This fall they will host the west coast premiere of These Paper Bullets, which features music and lyrics by Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong.

4)    Rockwell Table & Stage

I find this fun cabaret-style venue to be LA’s answer to New York’s Joe’s Pub and 54 Below. Home to the “For the Record” concert series for years, you can currently take in either Cruel Intentions: The Unauthorized Musical Parody (which I highly recommend) or Romeo & Juliet: Love is a Battlefield while enjoying cocktails and food.

5)    North Hollywood Arts District 

This neighborhood is actually home to the highest concentration of operating theaters in a single square mile in the country, outside of New York. With some tickets as low as $15 and a great selection of nearby restaurants and bars, it’s the perfect choice for a theater night out.

6)    LA Theatre Works

This non-profit hosts an annual “radio theatre series,” where they combine audio theater, technology, and celebrities to produce various classic and contemporary plays, usually for one weekend only. Their 2015-2016 season is set to include Steel Magnolias, Jane Eyre, American Buffalo, God of Carnage, and more. Actors already scheduled to appear include Richard Dreyfuss, Kate Burton, and Jane Kaczmarek.

7)    Deaf West Theatre

This incredibly unique theater company produces plays and musicals in American Sign Language and English simultaneously to make the works fully accessible to both communities. They are currently coming off an incredibly successful and acclaimed run of Spring Awakening, directed by Michael Arden, which was probably the best piece of theater I have seen in LA to date.

8)    The Hollywood Bowl

I am mostly including the Bowl for their annual, star-studded, fully staged musical. I have seen Hairspray, The Producers, Chicago, and Hair, and this summer they are doing Spamalot. While I recommend low expectations considering the frequent stunt casting and brief rehearsal time, you can bring your own wine and snacks and have a really fun summer night out at one of LA’s most famous venues.

9)    La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts

Located about 20 miles outside of LA, this frequent award winner always has a great season line-up for those willing to venture a bit outside city limits. Their upcoming season includes the west coast premiere of First Date, Rent, the pre-Broadway run of Empire: The Musical, about the construction of the Empire State Building, Dreamgirls, and The Little Mermaid.

10) La Jolla Playhouse

Located nearly 2 hours from LA, this one is much more of a commitment, but is frequently the home to some of the highest profile pre-Broadway tryouts on the west coast. Currently home to world premiere musical Come From Away, La Jolla will next feature the debut of Up Here, a new musical comedy from Frozen writers Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez.

Any I missed? What is your favorite place to enjoy theater in LA?