L.A.'s Festival of New American Musicals closed its third season Aug. 21 with a tuneful fundraiser, billed as a birthday party for Tony Award-winning composer Jason Robert Brown, of "Parade," "13," "Songs for a New World" and "Last Five Years."
"For what it's worth, my birthday was in June," he said, declaring it a gift to be able to play favorites from his own musicals, which he did in the backyard garden of Noelle and Tom Hicks' Brentwood home. Joining him to perform were Adam Pascal of "Rent," Lara Pulver of "True Blood," Nita Whitaker of "Star Search," Graham Phillips of "The Good Wife" and "The Theater Geeks of America," a collection of teenagers who perform gratis for charitable causes.
Seated in the audience of 160 festival supporters, Norman Lear had his eye on one of the "geeks," his daughter Brianna. The producer of the sitcoms "All in the Family," "Sanford and Son," and "The Jeffersons," Lear said he had other family members in the theater too. His son Ben, he said, wrote "Lillian," an off-Broadway musical.
"If we're going to save the world, it's going to be through the arts," Lear said.
Festival co-executive producer Bob Klein expressed optimism for the future of musical theater in Los Angeles, which had once been, he said, "the Sahara Desert of musicals." At this year's festival alone, he counted 32 productions, which included full musicals, readings, workshops, cabaret events and concerts.
He said the festival also incorporates educational outreach projects, and described one in which fifth-graders at the Marquez Charter School in Pacific Palisades learn American history through musicals on subjects "from the Constitution to the civil rights movement."
"Reflections," a dance collaboration project that was co-commissioned by the Orange County Performing Arts Center and the Bolshoi Ballet, was celebrated with a luncheon Monday at Marche Moderne in South Coast Plaza.
Six graduates of the Bolshoi Ballet Academy had flown in from Russia, Estonia, Berlin and San Francisco to join top international choreographers, who will be creating new works for them. The project's co-producer, Sergei Danilian of Ardani Artists Management, said that after the January premieres in Orange County and Russia, the ballets will remain in the Bolshoi repertory.
The dance troupe was welcomed by Debra Gunn Downing, marketing director of the shopping center, which hosted the lunch. She was joined by performing arts center board members Eve Kornyei and Sutton Stracke and dance supporters Mary and Richard Cramer, Christina Lyon, Tanya Williams and Mary Harward.
Performing arts center President Terry Dwyer spoke about the organization's dedication to supporting new work, while executive vice president Judy O'Dea Morr said she looked forward not only to the local premiere, but also to taking California dance supporters to see the new works performed in Russia.