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Theater Notebook: Old Globe-born ‘Almost Famous’ musical takes a drubbing from Broadway critics

Cameron Crowe poses outside the the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in New York on Oct. 27.
Cameron Crowe poses outside the the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in New York on Oct. 27, where his San Diego-born musical “Almost Famous” opened on Nov. 3.
(Emilio Madrid / Associated Press)

Also this week, local theater volunteers Jay and Julie Sarno are honored, La Jolla Playhouse announces its DNA New Work lineup and more

“Almost Famous,” the film-inspired musical that made its world premiere in 2019 at San Diego’s the Old Globe, opened on Broadway Nov. 3 to mostly tepid reviews.

Several critics said the musical made no improvement on the beloved 2000 movie by Cameron Crowe, which was inspired by his own adventures as a teenage rock ‘n’ roll correspondent for Rolling Stone in San Diego in the 1970s. Crowe wrote the book for the musical and shared lyrics credits with composer Tom Kitt, who wrote the score.

New York Times critic Jesse Green called the musical a “mystifying muddle” that “misses every opportunity to be the sharp, smart entertainment it might have been.” Washington Post critic Peter Marks describes it as “not much more than a wan rewind of what transpired onscreen.” New York Post critic Johnny Oleksinski said the musical was a “wisp” of the original film. And Chicago Tribune critic Chris Jones said the musical is entertaining but fails to tell its story authentically, and its scene of a teen boy’s deflowering feels out of step with today’s sensitivities.

Jay and Julie Sarno
Julie and Jay Sarno are being honored by the San Diego Performing Arts League for their decades of volunteer work in the theater community.
(Courtesy of Darin Fong)

Jay and Julie Sarno honored with Ovation Award

Jay and Julie Sarno, a Carlsbad couple who have given decades of service and financial support to most of the professional theaters in San Diego, were honored Monday with the Standing Ovation Award at the San Diego Performing Arts League’s 26th annual Star Awards.

For 40 years, Jay Sarno has been helping San Diego County troupes solve tricky technical and organizational problems. And for more than 35 years, Julie has helped with publicity and fundraising, served as a frequent gala chair, prepared meals for casts and housed actors. The couple are also donors with annual subscriptions to many local theaters.

Their efforts were previously recognized in 2017 with a national service award from the Actors’ Equity Association, and in 2019, North Coast Repertory Theatre honored them with the Champions for the Arts award. The Sarnos met in the mid-1980s while serving on North Coast Rep’s board of directors and married on its stage in 1989.

“Jay and Julie have impacted nearly every arts organization in San Diego through their time, talent and treasure and we are thrilled to honor their 35-year history of service,” says Jay Henslee, board president for the San Diego Performing Art League (SDPAL).

Also honored Monday was Jennie Hamilton, with a Pioneer Award for her decades of work with Community Actors Theatre in Oak Park, which was one of the first Black theaters in San Diego. The SDPAL ceremony allows League members to honor their top volunteers with awards. For a full list of honorees, visit sdpal.org/star-awards.

Playhouse’s DNA New Work series unveiled

La Jolla Playhouse has announced the dates and lineup for its 2022 DNA New Work Series.

Four new plays will be presented as readings Dec. 1 through 12 in the Playhouse’s Rao and Padma Makineni Play Development Center. The annual series offers playwrights and directors the opportunity to develop new work by providing rehearsal time and space, theatrical resources and public audiences.

In years past, DNA New Work has been a fertile launchpad for plays that have gone on to be produced on the regional and national stage, including Ayad Akhtar’s “The Who & The What”; Michael Benjamin Washington’s “Blueprints to Freedom”; Jeff Augustin’s “The Last Tiger in Haiti”; and Quiara Alegría Hudes and Erin McKeown’s musical “Miss You Like Hell.”

“The DNA New Work Series serves as a vital pipeline for new work — on our stages and beyond — as well as a crucible for fostering new artist relationships,” Christopher Ashley, the Playhouse’s artistic director, said in a statement. “Over the years, DNA has become one of the Playhouse’s most popular programs. Patrons relish the opportunity to take part in the birth of a new play, while giving playwrights invaluable support and feedback in the early stages of the work’s development.”

Here’s the lineup for the readings, which are presented with no costumes, scenery or staging elements and the actors carry scripts in hand. Tickets are free but must be reserved in advance at lajollaplayhouse.org.

“The Loyal Opposition” by Keith Bunin: A Playhouse commission that will be directed by Ashley, this play from the author of “The Coast Starlight” is about three longtime friends who come together at a restaurant to celebrate their past, their uncertain futures and the value of friendship. 7:30 p.m. Dec. 1 and 3.

“Manny and the Wise Kings” by Idris Goodwin: The Playhouse commissioned this hip-hop comedy from this author of more than 60 plays ranging from his hip-hop-inspired break-beat series to historical dramas to work for young audiences. It will be directed by Jacole Kitchen, the Playhouse’s director of arts engagement and in-house casting. Set during the holiday season in 2020, it’s about a depressed high school grad who is visited by two wise queens (rather than three wise men) who come bearing gifts for his deliverance. 7:30 p.m. Dec. 2 and 2 p.m. Dec. 4.

“Derecho” by Noelle Viñas: A Latina political candidate aiming to join the wave of women of color entering public office is torn between how her family’s traditional Latino values conflict with the American definition of success. The play will be directed by multi-award-winning local director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg. 7:30 p.m. Dec. 8 and 10.

“The Agency” by Lia Romeo: In this comedy, an out-of-work actress signs up with a rental agency where lonely clients can hire actors to serve as surrogate friends and loved ones. The play explores the personal price of living in a society where money can buy almost anything. Pesha Rudnick, founding artistic director of Local Theater Co. in Colorado, will direct. 7:30 p.m. Dec. 9 and 2 p.m. Dec. 11.

San Diego-raised Elijah Reyes, left, and Charlotte Mary Wen
San Diego-raised Elijah Reyes, left, and Charlotte Mary Wen are co-starring in the national touring production of “Hamilton,” playing Nov. 9-20 at the San Diego Civic Theatre.
(Courtesy of Broadway San Diego)

San Diego alums in ‘Hamilton’ tour

Two San Diego-raised musical theater performers are featured in of the national touring production of “Hamilton,” which plays Wednesday through Nov. 20 at the San Diego Civic Theatre.

Elijah Reyes attended the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts from fifth through 12th grade. Among his first professional productions locally was playing Rum Tum Tugger in “Cats” at Vista’s Moonlight Amphitheatre in 2009. He has been part of the “Hamilton” ensemble for the past year, performing as an understudy for George Washington, Hercules Mulligan and James Madison.

Charlotte Mary Wen grew up performing at San Diego Junior Theatre and has performed at the Old Globe in “Life After” (2019) and, when she was younger, in “Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” She is a swing in the “Hamilton” cast, understudying the roles of sisters Angelica Schuyler, Eliza Hamilton and Peggy Schuyler.

For tickets, visit broadwaysd.com.

Kragen writes about theater for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Email her at pam.kragen@sduniontribune.com.


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