Colony Curtain Call!
The Newsletter of the Colony Theatre Company: January 2005

An Adventure Unlike Any Other ...

The final production of 2004-05 Season will be Climbing Everest, a World Premiere adventure by Margit Ahlin

We are proud to announce that the 5th play of our 2004-2005 subscription season will be the World Premiere adventure Climbing Everest by local playwright Margit Ahlin, directed by Al D'Andrea. Mostly set on and atop the world's tallest and deadliest mountain, Climbing Everest is a stunning, vibrant, and moving story of one woman's quest to overcome family tragedy and to bring some peace to her shattered life.

Mallory Falconer comes from a family of mountain climbers. She suffers, along with everyone else in her family, when her father is pulled into an avalanche while climbing in the Himalayas. When her beloved brother later sets out to conquer the world’s tallest peak and succumbs to hypothermia, Mallory is left devastated by the double loss. She becomes obsessed with getting her brother's body off the mountain, and sets out to climb the deadly peak and do the impossible --- retrieve a body from the flanks of Everest. Against all odds, Mallory pits herself against the summit that sits more than 5 miles high as she climbs into the area called the Death Zone, seeking to overcome family tragedy. In the end she takes a journey unlike any other on Earth.

Trial of Ebeneezer Scrooge
"The biggest of the world's mountains,
it seems, has to  make but a single
gesture of magnificance to be the lord
of all, vast in unchallenged and isolated

George Mallory, 1924

photo by Lance Turnbull,
The Everest Peace Project
Playwright Ahlin was originally inspired to write Climbing Everest after reading the Outside magazine article which later became the book Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. That article recounted the tragic events of the spring climbing season of 1996, when 12 people died while attempting to climb Everest. She says that while the story was fascinating enough, there was a single element of the tragedy that struck her and stayed with her. When somebody dies on Everest, it is nearly impossible to retrieve the body for burial; if you die on Everest, you stay on Everest, preserved in frozen silence forever. This gruesome fact immediately reminded Ahlin of the classic tale Antigone (in which Antigone breaks the King’s decree that her brother’s body lie unburied on the battlefield). Ahlin says, "That's what started it--the idea of all these bodies lying around unburied. So the first scene that popped into my mind was Antigone, arguing with the King, saying 'please, let me take my brother's body away', and the King saying ‘no, it goes against our rules’--instantly, it was woman, her brother, and this antagonist in the form of a king-like character. That scene formed in my mind, and the play went in every direction from there."

While the setting is unique, this play is so much more than an adventure tale pitting (wo)man against nature. Ahlin has crafted a beautiful and personal story of the search for empowerment in a world that has spiraled out of control, an intimate tale of one woman facing her demons and rediscovering life, set against the world's largest backdrop. Director Al D'Andrea describes the heart of the play: "Centrally, the play is about how Mallory is dead inside, by virtue of the slings and arrows of life--especially her father's death--but her journey, this journey of the play, brings her back to life. She is resurrected into the world of the living, a world that includes both love and pain."

Ahlin believed the idea of a woman retrieving her brother's body from the flanks of Everest would make a great movie, and she initially wrote a screenplay after months of extensive research. But then the climbing movie Vertical Limit was released and she shelved her story, thinking Hollywood wouldn't be making another climbing movie anytime soon. However, Mallory’s story continued to haunt her, so she dusted off her screenplay and set forth to turn it into a play. Ultimately, Ahlin came to realize the story worked infinitely better on the stage: "As it turns out, it's much more appropriate as a play, because of the whole inner struggle, and the Buddhist concepts that imbue the story. You see these terrible climbing movies where you have no idea what's going on in the minds of the characters. That's why the book Into Thin Air is so good, and every climbing movie ever made has been so bad. All you see in a movie is these people wheezing behind an oxygen mask…you have no idea what's going on in their psyche. A play, however, has license to expose and explore the mind and emotions of the characters in a theatrical, dramatic fashion. This story would not work as well as a screenplay."

Adds Colony Artistic Director Barbara Beckley: “I love a good adventure yarn, and this one has it all---romance, danger, treachery, humor, and a plucky heroine overcoming enormous physical challenges to reach her goal. But there’s a much deeper level to the play in that Mallory thinks she’s climbing the mountain to find her brother, but she’s really going up there to find herself, and that’s what makes it so satisfying. It’s an amazing journey, and I’m really looking forward to taking our audiences to the top of the world!”

Ahlin received encouragement from The Colony from the first draft, as we hosted a reading, and several members of the Colony artistic circle offered constructive feedback during the play's initial stages. The development of this play was made particularly satisfying to all of us at The Colony by the fact that director D'Andrea is a long-time Colony Company member, whom you may remember from roles in The Matchmaker, The Living, Lost in Yonkers, and June Moon. He also happens to be married to playwright Ahlin, bringing the journey of this play full circle---just the way we like it.

Your tickets that currently read PLAY 5 TBA will be honored for Climbing Everest. If you are interested in purchasing tickets for guests or making any exchanges, you may do so beginning March 14, after our production of Accomplice closes.

The Colony Theatre is pleased to announce that we have recently received a grant from the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation.

The award is in the amount of $35,000 for general operating support. The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation is highly selective, so it is with great pleasure that we accept this gift.

“Ralph M. Parsons Foundation strives to support and facilitate the work of the region's best nonprofit organizations, recognizing that many of those in need today will go on to shape the future of Southern California, to define it, redefine it, and help it set and achieve new goals.” Ralph M. Parsons was born a fisherman’s son, and became a self-made man. “By the time Mr. Parsons died in 1974 at the age of 78, the company he’d begun at the close of World War II had completed a list of projects that reads like a history of industrial and urban development in the 20th century. Thirteen years before his death, Ralph Parsons established the Foundation in 1961, with assets from stock in the Parsons Company, the famed international engineering and construction firm long headquartered in Pasadena.”

Get ready for a Bloody Good Time...

This is the space normally reserved for scintillating tidbits about the next show coming up in your subscription---insights into the director's vision, photos from rehearsal, or even certain plot points designed to whet your appetite. Such a preview is impossible for our next production, the comedy thriller Accomplice, by Rupert Holmes. We have all been sworn to secrecy, and, as they say, if we tell you, then we’d have to kill you. Ok, maybe not, but you get the idea.

So we are left to dazzle you with quotes from previous productions, along with the trophy case of awards this show has accumulated from other productions, combined with the pedigree of both the director and the author, and, of course, the track record of The Colony---hopefully all of which will be enough to inspire you to start counting the days until it is your turn to see this dynamic production.

Accomplice premiered at The Pasadena Playhouse in January, 1989 and went on to the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway in April, 1990. The play was honored by the Mystery Writers of America with its "Edgar" (Allan Poe) Award, widely considered the Oscar of mystery awards. It has gone on to hugely successful productions all over the world.

Directing Accomplice will be Los Angeles theatre veteran Simon Levy, who, when not directing shows all over town, serves as the Producing Director/Dramaturg for the highly regarded Fountain Theatre of Hollywood. His recent production of Master Class won the Ovation Award for Best Play in a Smaller Theatre and the Fountain's production of Athol Fugard's Exits and Entrances won the trophy for World Premiere Play. The Colony is honored and thrilled to be working with such an accomplished artist.

Playwright Rupert Holmes is a Tony Award winner for his 1986 smash hit musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The versatile composer / singer / novelist / playwright has also composed songs for such artists as Barbra Streisand and Britney Spears, and his recent best-selling novel Where the Truth Lies is about to be made into a motion picture starring Kevin Bacon, Colin Firth and Alison Lohman. Oh yeah, he also wrote and sang a little pop song in 1979 (The Pina Colada Song) that made him a millionaire. Accomplice is very much a reflection of the wit and whimsy of Rupert Holmes, a true Renaissance man of our time.

Accomplice will preview on February 9, 10 and 11, will open on Saturday, February 12, and will play through Sunday, March 13, 2005. Accomplice does contain adult material, so it is not recommended for children under the age of 13. Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at (818) 558-7000 x15.


-L.A. Theatre & Entertainment Review


-The Village Voice


- The Toronto Sun


-Rex Reed, N.Y. Observer


-USA Today

Standing Room Only in this Grand Hotel

When we announced that our musical this season would be Grand Hotel, the Musical, directed by Peter Schneider, we knew there would be interest. We knew that the press would come out, we knew that we’d probably sell a few more tickets than usual, and we knew that we had the chance to present a memorable experience for our subscribers.

Grand HotelWe had no idea.

We have had sold-out performances. But we’ve never had a sold-out run before. Every single performance of Grand Hotel sold out. Even the very first preview. Even Halloween night. As subscribers, you should know that you had tickets for a show that we turned away hundreds of people for because we were not able to extend past our original closing date due to scheduling conflicts. We always knew subscribing had its benefits!

To say that our production of Grand Hotel, the Musical was a phenomenon is putting it mildly. At the closing night party, for example, two audience members who had come to see the show a dozen times presented gifts to the entire cast. Testimonials from audience members called the show Broadway-caliber and many said it was the best show they’d ever seen at The Colony. And it became standard that each performance would end with the entire audience on their feet.

The short but sweet run of Grand Hotel, the Musical, will go down in Colony history as one of the most professional, artistically dazzling, and luscious shows in our history. But we know it’s just the beginning of what’s to come, as we approach our 30th Anniversary.

Although no show is totally review-proof, we felt that even if the reviews were lackluster we still would’ve sold tickets based on word-of-mouth buzz alone. It turned out we had nothing to worry about. The critics, like the audiences, loved the show, and we reached another Colony milestone: the show was The Colony’s fifth consecutive Los Angeles Times’ Critic’s Choice selection.

Here’s some of what the critics had to say:

“Peter Schneider, former chairman of Walt Disney Studios and head of Disney Animation, guided The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast and Aida to Broadway. Before he left Disney in 2001, his achievements were on an epic scale, so it's an intriguing surprise to see him helming a revival of 1989 Tony winner Grand Hotel at the 276-seat Colony Theater. Claiming an intimate production lets him get closer to the creative process, Schneider applies visual ingenuity to this modern reworking of the 1932 Greta Garbo-John Barrymore film, pouring on dances, moving actors with bustling speed.”   

-Daily Variety

“Grand Hotel, The Musical, based on Vicki Baum's 1928 novel, has the Berlin setting and cynicism of Cabaret and a human poignance all its own.... Peter Schneider, resuming his directing career after a 20-year hiatus producing such spectacles as The Lion King and Aida for Disney, proves he hasn't forgotten a thing. His special gift is the visual quality he gives to the production on the Colony Theatre's smallish stage, placing actors on balconies and letting one devastating dance duo, Cate Caplin and Gary Franco, represent an entire chorus line.”

“Schneider's return to humbler enterprises has, of course, generated a lot of buzz. Yet while his work here is plenty slick, it is also graciously unobtrusive. By subtly streamlining the story and gently coaxing forth its emotions, Schneider has uncovered riches heretofore unsuspected.”

-Los Angeles Times

“In addition to bringing down the roof as one of Grand Hotel's dancing ‘reflections,’ Cate Caplin is the show's choreographer. Her dancers -- principal and ensemble -- are magnificent, and the musical seems so much more on a grand scale for their presence....A Grand Hotel well worth your reservation.”

-The Daily News

“One of the more delicious experiences in theater is watching a company of extraordinarily talented performers who are obviously having a ball on stage. It's infectious: it brings on a rash of delighted smiles from everyone in the audience. Such an experience is the defining attribute of Peter Schneider's Grand Hotel---the Musical which opened last week at the beautiful Colony Theatre in Burbank. Grand Hotel is everything a musical should be, and, happily, it DOES embrace all the blessed possibilities.”

-KABC Radio

Free Reading Kicks off the Holiday Season

Even though most agree that a Colony subscription membership is already the best deal in town, we are constantly looking for ways to make our members feel even more special, and our presentation of the staged reading The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge by Mark Brown, directed by Stefan Novinski, was the most recent example of us wanting to give something back to our loyal supporters.

Trial of Ebeneezer Scrooge
Lisa Beezley and Kevin Symons
While we are always seeking opportunities to present free shows to our members, it oftentimes takes an alignment of circumstances to actually make it happen. Such was the case with The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge. The project was first brought to our attention by Brown and Novinski back in July, following the successful run of their show Around the World in 80 Days. They commented then to Colony Artistic Director Barbara Beckley that they had a Christmas play that they thought would be perfect for The Colony. While we have longed to present a holiday show, the logistics of mounting a full production during such a busy time had always seemed too daunting, so even though she loved the script and would have loved to work with Brown and Novinski again, Barbara politely passed on the project, hoping that maybe one year it would be able to happen.Trial of Ebeneezer Scrooge
Tony Maggio as Scrooge and Louis
Lotorto as the Ghost of
Christmas Come

But then, three months later, our neighbors, the Burbank Town Center (the mall that shares our parking structure) called us and asked us if we’d like to be a part of their annual “12 Days of Holiday Cheer” event. The “12 Days of Holiday Cheer” is an annual Burbank tradition, which often includes such holiday festivities as Christmas tree lightings, performances by local Burbank vocal and instrumental groups, visits from Santa, and other merry offerings. This was the first time we were invited to participate, and we considered it an offer we just could not refuse. Barbara, remembering the wonderful script that she had read back in July, had the idea of doing a staged reading of the show for one night, with the possibility of adding a second night. That way, we could participate in the “12 Days of Holiday Cheer” and, at the same time, invite our subscribers to a free reading---a holiday gift for everyone!

We were given the third night of “The 12 Days of Holiday Cheer,” Friday, December 3 for our performance (and it turned out we had to add a performance on Saturday, December 4 because so many people wanted to see the show), so all that was left was to find a cast. We were lucky enough to enlist the talents of Colony Company members Kevin Symons, Tony Maggio, Lisa Beezley, Denise Dillard, David Carey Foster, and Don Mackay, in addition to Colony guest artists Larry Cedar (Around the World in 80 Days) and Louis Lotorto (The Ladies of the Camellias).

The play, set a year after A Christmas Carol, takes place in a courtroom, as Ebenezer Scrooge is suing the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future for emotional distress, among other things. It is a holiday comedy for all ages and proved to be a very popular attraction, as both nights sold out and were filled with appreciative audience members. Thank you to all of you who joined us for these special evenings and for your generous donations which were used to offset the cost of putting the shows on.

It was the perfect way to kick off the holiday season and we look forward to doing more holiday-themed events in the future!