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The Red Shoes

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Powell and Pressburger’s film, The Red Shoes, was in inexplicably high rotation on a local TV station I grew up. When I first saw the film, I knew nothing about Diaghilev and Nijinsky, nor did I understand the bizarre veracity Massine brought to the narrative. Still, I was bewitched by the film, though I didn’t understand it. Was it the sparkling Technicolor, the gritty backstage scenes, the elegant domination of the impresario, the rapturously surreal Red Shoes ballet, the muted homoeroticism, or the tragic tale of the doomed ballerina unable to decide between love and art? Probably all of it.


Generations of filmmakers and dancers have drawn inspiration from the film’s strange incantatory power. Or, they attempted to recreate it like in Black Swan. So, it’s no surprise that Matthew Bourne, the man who brought us the revelatory all-male Swan Lake, would decide to adapt the film for the stage. (There was an unsuccessful Broadway musical adaptation produced in 1993.)


Bourne’s Red Shoes is not a slavish attempt to put the film on stage. Much of the melodrama would feel even more overwrought when choreographed, and the long scenes dealing with the planning of the ballet would be ill-served by dance. Still, the basic plot remains. In post-WWII London, Victoria Page (Ashley Shaw) works in the corps de ballet for a small company. Initially ignored by the famous impresario Boris Lermontov (Sam Archer), she finally catches his eye, and he casts her in his new ballet based on the Hans Christian Andersen story of “The Red Shoes.”

Lermontov has also hired a new composer for the ballet, Julian Craster (Dominic North). During the rehearsal process, Victoria and Julian fall in love. Lermontov is furious and fires Craster. He also gives Victoria an ultimatum. She can be the star he’s made her, or she can marry Julian and become a housewife. Though the second act moves further away from the film’s details, it retains the tragic ending.

Bourne’s stage version sparkles with his trademark wit as well as moments of shimmering beauty. His choreography incorporates ballet, angsty modern dance, and delightful pastiche versions of the stage performances as well as period social dancing. His stroke of genius is to replace the film’s original music with a sumptuously arranged (by Terry Davies) score based on Bernard Herrmann film scores. The resulting moody and romantic sound is so enthralling, they should be selling copies in the lobby.

Les Brotherson’s set is another wonder. The initial impression is of a somewhat tatty-around-the-edges grandeur as a crumbling proscenium arch dominates the stage. It is only after the arch has revolved a few times to take us in and out of the theatre that we realize how brilliantly Brotherson has curated specific items which offer the impression of richly detailed scene changes.

The principals are all strong. Shaw is a lovely Victoria with an intriguing vulnerability. But Bourne has not found a way into her soul. We follow Victoria’s journey and accept her choices, but we never truly feel them.

Bourne is more successful with his choreography for the male characters. Archer’s Lermontov is more human than in the film, though he is just as autocratic and unyielding. Archer ‘s dancing neatly combines strength with longing. Lovers of the film may have the same trouble I did with seeing the sedentary Julian express himself through dance. But when the dancer is as passionate and assured as North, you quickly abandon your pre-conceived ideas and surrender to his compelling artistry. With Victoria remaining a bit of a cipher, Julian becomes the emotional heart of the show, and North commands the stage in bravura style. His composition breakthrough solo is the dramatic highlight of the evening.

Bourne’s work is always a must-see for any theatre lover, but The Red Shoes is the most irresistible piece of his I’ve seen since that original Swan Lake.

Ahmanson Theatre    September 19 – October 1, 2017



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.