Pasadena Playhouse Closing

31 01 2010

I have had a whirlwind week, including Reprise’s production of Carousel on Tuesday night and Duncan Sheik’s new musical Whisper House on Friday; the latter required a fun weekend trip down to San Diego’s Old Globe.  Those reviews for both musicals are forthcoming: I can hopefully tackle them tomorrow afternoon.  (Don’t believe everything you read in the LA Times about Carousel; I had a radically different and wonderfully moving experience that night.  And Whisper House, while still needing some work, has an intriguing new musical form that I look forward to writing about.)

Before I begin to the reviews, though, I thought I should take a brief minute to post about the biggest theatrical news of the weekend: I returned to LA tonight to read that the Pasadena Playhouse is closing.  The first production that I ever saw at California’s state theater – Camelot – would be my last.  While I do not have a deep historical knowledge of LA theater, I understand that Pasadena Playhouse has been a center for important revivals and new works since 1917.  While Camelot was not an outstanding production overall, the performances were exceptional; I was looking forward to future visits to the Playhouse based on this high-caliber talent.

The swift and unexpected announcement of the Playhouse’s financial crisis reminded me a bit of Ragtime; unfortunately, patrons didn’t start swarming the theater for tickets until it was too late to salvage the show.  The Neil Simon Theatre will be inhabited again – and soon; Broadway real estate will turn over a new production in a matter of months.  But the Pasadena Playhouse will presumably lie empty and lifeless – maybe for months, maybe for years – and dozens of talented creatives and crew will be out of work.

It may be too late to salvage the Pasadena Playhouse immediately, but I am hopeful that some time to restructure might bring our state theater a newfound life.  After all, the Playhouse needs much more than just re-budgeting.  I was aware of the famed Playhouse long before Camelot, but my physical distance from the theater + high ticket prices + less-than-innovative season lineups had kept me from purchasing a ticket before now.  My roommates and I could not have afforded Camelot without a half-price discount, and we noticed very few patrons under age 30 – or under age 50, even – at the Saturday afternoon showing last weekend.  Looking towards the future, I hope the Pasadena Playhouse will extend their reach and attempt to develop an audience of younger, as well as older, patrons – and an audience that is more reflective of LA’s diversity.  In addition to showcasing outstanding LA area talent onstage, the Playhouse should support more innovative revivals and new works, rather than the nostalgic fare it has recently presented.  Finally, the Playhouse should offer a range of prices to match multiple budgets. On a weekday, the lowest ticket price of $68 (or $34 half-price, when offered) is steep in comparison to a starting price of around $25 at the Pantages or CTG, or $10-30 at quality community theaters.  More accessible discounts for students and young adults would be particularly welcome!

Theatergoing does not have to disappear as a common pastime in Los Angeles, and the Pasadena Playhouse does not have to remain empty forever.  While its closure is a tough hit to the LA theater community now, both the theater and the community could ultimately benefit from this time off to reconsider the Playhouse’s artistic promise and relationship to the public.

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