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San Diego-born musical ‘House of Dreams’ heads to New York with Broadway dreams

A scene from “33 1/3 - House of Dreams,” which made its world premiere in August 2019 at San Diego Repertory Theatre.
(Courtesy of Jim Carmody)

Local creative team is planning a developmental lab for the show in New York City in late spring

Eighteen months ago, “33 1/3 - House of Dreams” became the little musical that could.

Penned and mostly self-funded by a San Diego dentist and one of his friends — and produced at San Diego Repertory Theatre with a cast that included 25 high school students — “House of Dreams” became a surprise box office smash and a critical darling in its 2019 world premiere. Now, the jukebox musical about L.A.'s famed Gold Star Studios is heading to New York City, with an eye toward a possible Broadway run.

In the late spring, the musical’s San Diego creative team will fly to New York City for a developmental lab with Broadway producer and seven-time Tony winner Barry Weissler to gauge its potential for future production. That could mean a second regional theater run, a national tour, a West End booking in London or, hopefully, a Broadway run.

Co-writer Brad Ross — whose father Stan Ross co-founded Gold Star Studios in 1950 — said it was exciting watching his family’s story come to life onstage and to see it so well received by audiences. A San Diego dentist, Ross wrote the script with longtime friend Jonathan Rosenberg, a singer/songwriter and playwright. To bring their story to life onstage, they recruited director/choreographer Javier Velasco, who is artistic director of San Diego Ballet, and musical director/arranger Steve Gunderson, a veteran theater performer and creator who splits his time between Los Angeles and San Diego.

Jonathan Rosenberg and Brad Ross, co-writers of the musical "33 1/3: House of Dreams."
Jonathan Rosenberg, left, and Brad Ross, co-writers of the musical “33 1/3: House of Dreams” during rehearsals at San Diego Repertory Theatre in July 2019.
(Sam Hodgson/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

All four men will travel to New York for the development lab, which will be conducted live in a COVID-safe quarantine “bubble.” Oftentimes, new musical projects are snapped up by producers and reassigned to big-name writing teams for greater commercial appeal. But this show’s four originators, plus local co-producer Michael Kruke , plan to stick together on the project for as long as the journey takes them.

“It’s been so cool. ’33 1/3 - House of Dreams’ has been my dream, but it’s also become a dream for all of us,” Ross said. “We’ve all joined hands and are moving forward with this.”

The musical traces the history of Gold Star, the Hollywood recording studio that produced 120 Top 40 hits by some of the music industry’s biggest stars from 1950 to 1984. The late Stan Ross was a promoter with an ear for music, and co-founder David S. Gold, who is now retired and lives in L.A., was a self-taught sound engineer who helped revolutionize the music industry with his state-of-the-art recording techniques.

Director Javier Velasco, front, and musical director/arranger Steve Gunderson watch rehearsals of "33-1/3 - House of Dreams"
Director Javier Velasco, front, and musical director/arranger Steve Gunderson watch rehearsals of the musical “33-1/3 - House of Dreams” at San Diego Repertory Theatre in July 2019.
(Hayne Palmour IV/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” recordings and hits by the Beach Boys, Ike and Tina Turner, the Righteous Brothers, Herb Alpert, Sonny and Cher and literally hundreds more were recorded there. After 33 1/3 years in business, hence the musical’s name, the studio closed because of changing times in the industry. After Stan Ross passed away in 2011 at age 82, his son wanted to honor his legacy with the bio-musical project.

“House of Dreams” started out with a well-received musical reading in La Jolla in 2017. From there, Ross and Rosenberg did a crowd-funding campaign to raise money for the premiere at San Diego Rep. Ross said he attended all but one performance during the show’s monthlong run and many of his dad’s friends and L.A. music industry veterans drove down to watch the show and offer helpful feedback.

Since then, the musical has undergone significant revisions. Velasco said much of his work over the past 18 months has involved reshaping and fine-tuning the story to focus on how the former Burbank high school buddies built a studio space where a diverse number of artists came together to craft some of the most memorable songs of the 20th century.

Janae Parson, as Tina Turner, in "33-1/3 - House of Dreams"
Janae Parson, as Tina Turner, in a scene from San Diego Repertory Theatre’s world premiere production of “33-1/3 - House of Dreams” in August 2019.
(Courtesy of Jim Carmody)

“My job has been to figure out the story we’re trying to tell and then telling that story in a unique way,” Velasco said, adding that he has cut the once-voluminous cast to 19 singer/actor/musicians and a pair of professional dancers who will dynamically move the fast-paced story along in a fresh way.

Dramaturgs Shirley Fishman of La Jolla Playhouse and Megan Smith of Daryl Roth Productions in New York both consulted on the script to offer ideas on clarifying, streamlining and sharpening scenes. Some excess characters were eliminated and others were deepened. Some songs were cut and others were added, including The Go-Go’s 1981 hit “We Got the Beat,” which will open the show, as one of the last big hits the studio produced. Last October, the reworked show had a reading with a cast of Broadway performers that Weissler attended and recognized its potential for further development.

Gunderson said that because of the uncertainties of the pandemic, nobody knows what the future holds for live theater. Broadway theaters aren’t set to reopen until next fall at the earliest. As a result, it’s hard to know where and when this show will land or how it will look. But Gunderson said the group’s plan is to push forward and be open to all scenarios so that “House of Dreams” is ready to mount just as soon as curtains can rise again.

— Pam Kragen is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune


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