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Elvis '68

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Elvis Presley was a social and cultural phenomenon. His swiveling hips, magnetic charisma, and intuitive gift for rhythm, Blues, and Gospel made him a major musical innovator and earned him the title of the King of Rock ‘n Roll. But after The Beatles’ meteoric rise and the British Invasion, the sixties seem to belong to another sort of musical entertainer.

Then came 1968, a year of turmoil – the Vietnam War was raging, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were each assassinated, and there was riotous upheaval at  Chicago’s Democratic Convention. But also it was the year of artistic reinvention for the groundbreaking and uniquely American entertainer once praised and often condemned as Elvis the Pelvis.

At Fullerton’s Maverick Theater – through June 14, we get the whole true story behind Elvis’ so-called ’68 Comeback Special. Written and directed by the Maverick’s founding artistic director, Brian Newell, Elvis ’68 chronicles the nervousness of Elvis Presley appearing before a live (television) audience for the first time in years, the uncertainty behind the production process, and the legacy left  from that daring TV exploit. It is an unexpectedly gripping tale that puts today’s audiences in the surrogate seats of that Burbank studio audience, some 46 years ago.

With consummate musicianship – Jack Majdecki on guitar; Floyd Bland on bass; and Sho Fujieda on drums – and harmonious back-up singers (Annamaria Mayer and Lauren Shoemaker with a rotating roster of support vocalist, including Kari Kennedy, Amy Glinskas, Janell Henry), the show is set in motion by a naturalistic Frank Tyron playing TV director Steve Binder. Tyron’s Binder serves as the sturdy narrator of the story. Through him we learn of the varying visions held of this 1968 TV special. Through Binder’s eyes we also get a glimpse of the down-to-earth and “egoless” individual that Elvis actually seemed to be. And who knew that when it came to alcohol, Elvis Presley was a teetotaler?

Elvis’ manager, Colonel Tom Parker wanted what would amount to a Christmas special (though the program was filmed in June of that year, it wasn’t aired until December 3). And though Elvis did perform one holiday song, his signature Blue Christmas, ostensibly the program was a showcase for Elvis to revisit his founding hits, such as Hound DogJailhouse Rock, and Don’t Be Cruel, as well as some of his root sounds like That’s All Right and Lawdy Miss Clawdy. What’s more, the TV special functioned as a platform to introduce new, never-before-heard songs such as the melodic Memories and the rollicking Guitar Man.

Casey Ryan as Elvis Presley shoulders the burden of playing one of the most recognizable figures of the 20th century. Not only does Ryan succeed in capturing the look of Elvis, circa 1968 (helped by the clever costuming of Curtis Jerome and Heidi Newell), he also evokes the spirit of Elvis’ music while emulating the distinctive, karate-inspired musical moves made famous by the King. Ryan transcends the Elvis imitator mode by being authentically and fully present onstage and genuinely connecting with the audience. Plus he has the vocal chops to turn an audience of theatergoers into a group of Elvis acolytes, no small feat.

For Elvis fans young and old, Elvis ’68 is a sweet treat of a show. Hugely engaging and rife with nostalgia for those of us who remember witnessing the event back in the day, Elvis ’68 is a show for anyone and everyone interested in the evolution of popular music and the singular sensation that was and is Elvis Presley.

Elvis ’68 continues at the Maverick Theater through June 14. The Maverick Theater is located at 110 East Walnut Avenue, Fullerton. Show times are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Sunday shows are at 6 p.m. For reservations, call (714) 526-7070. For online ticketing and further information, visit



Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.