High-Powered Women in the Director’s Chair
By Pat Launer
San Diego boasts an impressive number of talented, charismatic women who lead theater companies or take up the directorial reins. This month, two of them are bringing American classics to the stage.
The Music Woman
It seems to be a little-known fact that Lamb’s Players Theatre is the third largest theater in the county, behind the Old Globe and La Jolla Playhouse, with two performance spaces, a $4.2 million annual budget, a full-time staff of 24 and 46 employees overall.
Associate artistic director Deborah Gilmour Smyth, who came to the 40-year old company in 1979, is the force behind Lambs’ largest production to date, the beloved 1957 Meredith Willson musical, “The Music Man,” which introduced classic numbers like “76 Trombones,” “Till there Was You” and that barber-shop quartet favorite, “Lida Rose.”
For years, the multi-talented Gilmour Smyth, a superb actor and singer, performed in nearly every Lamb’s production. She started directing in 1983, and has also created sound design, original music and choreography for many shows. But not this one; it’s huge.
There are 30 onstage, including a 26-member cast and four-piece band. Though the Lamb’s Players revisit many plays, original and otherwise, this is the first “Music Man” production for the company.
“Growing up, it was one of my favorite movie musicals,” Gilmour Smyth says of the delightful 1962 film. “I’m hoping that people really hear the story this time. This small town (River City, Iowa) is very sure of itself, but it has no imagination. Both individuals and the community are brought to life by music, courtesy of this crazy con-man, Harold Hill.
“It’s all about opening your mind to imagination and art — and look what can happen! It’s very timely — and a little political — right now, with the arts being taken out of schools. I think every child should learn to sing and play an instrument.”
Gilmour Smyth began singing at age 4.
“Music is a part of life,” she asserts. “This show is really appropriate for everything that’s going on right now — in the city and the country. It’s inter-generational. And it celebrates who we are as a company: loving music and community.”
“The Music Man” continues through July 24 at Lamb’s Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Ave., Coronado. (619) 437-6000. www.lambsplayers.org
The Lamb’s Players’ long-running production of “MiXtape” was just extended again, through Sept. 4. The show has been at the Horton Grand Theatre (in the Gaslamp Quarter) for more than a year.
Familiarity Breeds Contentment
There’s a strong sense of community at New Village Arts theater in Carlsbad, too. Founding executive artistic director Kristianne Kurner is wrapping up her company’s 10th season with one of the Great American Plays: Arthur Miller’s 1949 masterwork, “Death of a Salesman.”
“I love that it’s a true tragedy about an everyday person and an everyday family,” Kurner says of the play she fell in love with while studying at the famed Actors Studio in New York. “It’s really about the dynamic of an entire family; what happens when you set dreams for yourself that can’t be met. How a parent lets his children down. And what lies and deception can do to a family.
“It’s amazing how the Loman family creates its own reality. Then they’re faced with actual reality, and everything they believed in is wrong. It’s fascinating and beautiful. And heart-breaking. I’ve never cried so much during a rehearsal period.”
Those are tears of deep, dramatic emotion — mixed with joy. Kurner selected a humdinger of an ensemble.
“This cast just kills me,” she says. “They take me on this journey every night. It’s thrilling.”
What’s unique about this company is that the players know each other so well. Jack Missett and Dana Case (who play Willy and Linda Loman) have portrayed husband and wife five times before. The young men who play the Loman sons (John DeCarlo and Greg Wittman) are best buddies, like brothers.
“People will see this play in a way they never have,” Kurner promises. “With only 100 seats in the house, the actors are only a foot away. It’s completely intimate, visceral. You’re right there; you’re part of it. I feel so lucky to be working with this group of actors. I can’t wait to share the experience with an audience.”
“Death of a Salesman” runs June 9-July 3, at New Village Arts, 2787 State St., Carlsbad; (760) 433.3245; www.newvillagearts.org.
Pat Launer is an Emmy Award-winning arts writer and theater critic who, for the past 25 years, has written for newspapers, magazines, radio, TV and online. Her theater reviews can be heard weekly on KSDS-FM, and she writes regularly for Patch.com. Pat has been named a Living Legacy by the Women’s International Center. www.patteproductions.com.