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BWW Blogs: LA's Center Theatre Group Nurtures New Works

At a time when many critics lament the state of the current American musical, Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles, home to the Ahmanson Theatre, Mark Taper Forum and Kirk Doulas Theater, has been an unwavering nurturer of new works and talent.  In just this past year, each of the three Center Theatre Group venues launched a new, original musical: “Leap of Faith” at the Ahmanson, “Harps & Angels: The Music of Randy Newman” at the Taper, and “Venice” at the Kirk Douglas Theater.

Each show is as unique and different as the venue at which they premiered.  “Leap of Faith” represents your traditional Broadway style musical (in fact, it is aiming for a Spring bow On the Rialto), “Harps & Angels”, a perfectly intimate night of the wonderful music of Randy Newman, who himself – like the Taper – embodies the cool ethos of the City of Angels, and finally, “Venice,” a hip-hop style avant-garde piece – recently named as one of the Top 10 theatrical events of the year by Time Magazine – that pushes the boundaries of the musical form and challenges the audience with an audacious and inspired kind of contemporary slam poetry opera.

It is truly encouraging to see the Center Theatre Group provide a forum for new musical works, and one could say it is part of their DNA, with a rich history of supporting these endeavors.  In just the past five years, the theatres of CTG have premiered at least one new musical each season, most of which have gone on to Broadway, garnering Tony Awards and nominations along the way.   Like the current season, the musicals run the creative gamut, from traditional Broadway style crowd-pleasers from Broadway notables like Kander and Ebb (“Curtains) to newcomers like Dolly Parton (“9 to 5: The Musical) to daring and challenging works like “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” which is currently running on Broadway through January 2nd, 2011.  Other notable new musicals include “The Drowsy Chaperone”, Jason Robert Brown’s “13”, and “Minsky’s”.   Going back further, CTG has also been a major supporter of the works of the talented Matthew Bourne and his creative ‘reimagings’ of classic ballets like, “Swan Lake” and “Cinderella” and his new works like “The Car Man” and “Edward Scissorhands”, all of which had the US debuts at the Ahmanson Theatre.


You have to hand it to Michael Ritchie, the artistic director of Center Theatre Group since 2005, who has certainly continued the great tradition of premiering new works begun by his predecessor, Gordon Davidson.  In his first five seasons as CTG’s main programmer, 95 productions have been performed at the three CTG theaters, including a staggering 24 World Premieres and 5 American Premieres.


In fact, nurturing new artists and new works is part of CTG’s Mission Statement.  With a 43 year tradition, 50,000 subscribers and over 700,000 people seeing a CTG production a year, it is evident that the audiences appreciate the groups’ taking creative risks and introducing them to new voices and works that both please and challenge them.


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