Broadway, Los Angeles Isn’t

ArtisticDirector Gordon Davidson

Speaking at the Skirball Center recently, Gilbert Cates of theGeffen Theater in Westwood told an anecdote to illustrate,indirectly, why Los Angeles theaters don’t draw audiences as dothose, say, in his native New York.

Seems this elderly lady was about to marry an even more elderlygentleman. Her friends remonstrated, pointing to the chosen’s poorlooks, personality and finances. What attracted her to the man? theyasked.

Ah, said the bride-to-be, he can drive at night.

The dependence on patrons willing and able to drive at night isbut one of the problems facing Los Angeles theaters, said GordonDavidson, who, as artistic director of the Center Theatre Group’sTaper Forum and Ahmanson Theatre, is the city’s most influentialstage producer.

Cates, Davidson and Marcia Seligson, of the Reprise! Broadway’sBest in Concert company, recently let down their collectiveprofessional hairs, courtesy of the lively Sunday MorningConversations with Marlene Adler Marks series at the SkirballCultural Center.

The contrast between the New York and Los Angeles media, shorthandfor The New York Times vs. the Los Angeles Times, demarcates theroles of the stage in the cultural life of America’s two largestcities.

“You open up the Arts and Leisure section of The New York Times,and the first pages are about the theater, and the section is thickwith theater ads,” said Cates. “Open up the Calendar section of theLos Angeles Times, and there’s page after page of movie ads, and atthe end, one slim page of theater ads.”

The criticism of the Los Angeles Times, especially in its presentstate, went beyond advertisements. In the earlier days of Davidson’s30-year tenure at the Taper Forum, he recalled, the Times used to runa thoughtful piece before the opening of each new play, then a reviewand an analysis afterward.

Cates picked up on the same point. “There is no sense ofencouragement by the press, no sense of nourishing or caring,” hesaid.

Another minus for Los Angeles is the lack of theatrical”afterlife” in the form of cafes and restaurants surrounding theMusic Center — a contrast to New York’s Lincoln Center. But not allthe local difficulties can be attributed just to the differencesbetween the two cities.

Throughout American society, observed Cates, there exists “abalkanization of ideas and ideals, and it is more and more difficultto find a unifying theme to attract diverse ethnic and age groups tothe same play.”

Other challenges common to most American theaters include findingways to attract a younger generation of patrons and the logisticaland financial complexities of running a theater based on seasonsubscriptions.

A somewhat diffident note of optimism was injected by Seligson,the junior member of the trio, whose first season of reviving some ofthe great stage musicals has drawn diverse demographic audiences.

“We’re not as gray or Westside Jewish [as the more establishedtheaters],” she said.

The British director Tyrone Guthrie, a non-Jew, once observed thatif all Jews were to withdraw from the American theater, “it wouldcollapse about next Thursday.”

At the Skirball event, with three Jewish producers addressing anintensely engaged Jewish audience at a Jewish venue, the point neededno emphasis.

Even so, it was somewhat startling to hear Cates report that ofhundreds of play scripts submitted to him, “two-thirds were on Jewishthemes, one-half included gay themes, and only 15 percent wereneither Jewish nor gay.”

As daunting as the difficulties facing the Los Angeles theaterare, Davidson managed to put them into some kind of historicalperspective by noting that, after all, “the theater is a2,000-year-old experiment.”

The Sunday Morning Conversations will continue on Feb. 8, withCarolyn See and Lisa See in “Mother and Daughter Write Home,” and onMarch 8, with Richard Rodriguez in “Notes from a Passionate Son.”

Each event is preceded by an informal breakfast. For tickets, callTickets L.A. at (213) 660-TKTS (8587).

Celebrating Jewish Song

What does the earliest known version of “Hatikvah” sound likeperformed live onstage? Concert-goers can find out by attending the1998 Bromberg Concert on Sunday, Feb. 8, at Adat Ari El synagogue inNorth Hollywood. Entitled “Celebrating a Century of Jewish Song,” theeclectic concert program will also include operatic arias, cantorialsolos, duets and ensembles, Yiddish favorites, Sephardic melodies andeven some classic American show tunes.

This is the 17th concert in the Bromberg Series, which typicallyfeatures works by Jewish composers that are performed bydistinguished Jewish musical artists. This year’s four featuredguests are no exception. Lyric tenor David Lefkowitz is cantor at NewYork’s Park Avenue Synagogue and a recognized composer in his ownright. He was soloist on ABC’s “Selihot” video and performed for thePBS documentary “Hear Our Voices.”

Mezzo-soprano Rickie Cole has been soloist with the BostonSymphony Orchestra and with major opera companies. She was alsosoloist for Angel Records’ “A Little Sondheim Music.”

Soprano Roslyn Barak, cantor at Temple Emanu El in San Francisco,has appeared in concert with Theodore Bikel, as well as in operas andconcerts in New York, Santa Fe, N.M., and Israel. Recently, Barak hasbeen performing concerts of Jewish music in Germany to promote therelease of her CD, “The Jewish Soul.”

Rounding out the program is Los Angeles’ own Ira Bigeleisen,(bass) cantor at Adat Ari El. Bigeleisen was recently the featuredsoloist at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall and at London’s BarbicanAuditorium. He has won national awards for his innovative musicprogramming.

“Celebrating a Century of Jewish Song” will take place onSunday, Feb. 8, at 7:30 p.m., in the Adat Ari El sanctuary. Ticketsare $15 for general, nonreserved seating, and $30 and up for reservedseats. Make checks payable to Adat Ari El/Bromberg Concert and mailto the synagogue address: 12020 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, CA91607. For more information, call (818) 766-9426, ext. 652, or(818)786-3717. — Diane Arieff Zaga, ArtsEditor