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Return to the Thrilling Days of Yesteryear

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Anyone of the Baby Boom variety will recognize the opening lines of the Lone Ranger radio program in the headline. But A Christmas Story, the play having its second incarnation at the Sierra Madre Playhouse, never refers to the mysterious masked man. Instead, our 50s hero, Ralphie Parker (played by Andre Mora on the day I attended), is laser-focused on Red Ryder’s Double-action BB air rifle as his choice for Christmas. Along the way, Ralphie’s father, The Old Man (Richard Van Slyke), wins an ugly lamp in a contest and insists on displaying it, much to the chagrin of his long suffering wife (Andrea Stradling).

On the day I saw A Christmas Story, the kids that make up Ralphie’s gang were an eclectic bunch: Kevin Ying plays his reclusive younger brother; and Lucas Lim, Myles Hutchinson, Charlotte Li, Jade Riley, and Jay Malcolm spend hours after school running from their nemesis, the  bully Scut Farkus (Jax Malcolm). And I can’t forget the hilarious teacher, Mrs. Shields (an engaging Danon Dastugue), always someone to be respected and feared.

You might say, with the adult version of Ralph played by Jack Kendall, that nothing momentous happens on Cleveland Street in Hohman, Indiana, yet the warmth and recognizability of mostly white, small town life returns us to a nostalgic vision of Christmases past. Even our Gen X-ers will recognize the clunky sweaters and antique toys they may have encountered in grand-parents’ attics. I found it interesting to note that the younger audience members in the room watched A Christmas Story with the same fascination for the toys, and especially the air-rifle, they must have received the first time around.

It is helpful to have a show with as mch attention to the smallest period detail as lavished here. The inventive set, designed by Charles Erven, features a gauzy scrim, 50’s era Christmas greetings, and plenty of holly. Costumes (by Shon LeBlanc) seem every bit as authentic.  Ever-important lighting (resident designer, Derek Jones) illuminates and obscures as needed. And, note to original fight choreographer, Ken Merckx: the children’s fights have survived intact and as fresh as ever. These kids are good!

One of the best features of any Sierra Madre Playhouse show is the lobby display. I’ll say it again: no other theatre takes so much care and attention to the lobby elements that help augment knowledge about each show. This Christmas, Lobby Curator Diane Siegel has literally decked the halls!

A Christmas Story continues Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM; Saturday and Sunday Matinees at 2:30 PM (and a special Wednesday Night performance on Wednesday, December 19th); through December 30th at Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre 91024. General Tickets are $45.00, with $40.00 for Seniors and $25.00 for youth up to age 21.  Phone (626) 355-4318.  For online ticketing: www.sierramadreplayhouse.org.

 

Spotlight

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.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

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.