When we started The Colony in April of 1975, we dreamed of some day becoming a mid-size professional theatre operating under contract with Actors’ Equity Association (the professional actors’ union), but it never occurred to us that it could actually happen. Then, in 1992, after years of hard work, we realized our little 99-seat theatre could no longer accommodate all the people who wanted to see our shows, so we started looking for a larger space. Ten years later, the dream has finally come true.
Since our move to Burbank in 2000 we have been operating at reduced capacity under an informal agreement with the union. After two years of getting ready, it was time to negotiate a full professional contract so we could open up all 276 seats that were built for us at Burbank Center Stage. And after weeks of meetings, discussions, and hard negotiating, we finalized our contract and The Colony officially became an Equity theatre on April 22, 2002 (27 years to the month from the day we were founded). Our contract is a Letter of Agreement referencing the Hollywood Area Theatre contract, which pays our actors significantly more than they ever received on our stage, and offers them a year's worth of health insurance coverage. It truly is a dream come true.
The pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming feeling continued with the opening of our first Equity production. Prior to our Equity status, we would never have been able to get the rights to a hot property like The Laramie Project. Because the play is in high demand by regional theatres all over the country, the authors of the play have the luxury of being able to pick and choose whom they allow to produce it. We nabbed the Los Angeles premiere not only because of our reputation as a first-rate theatre company, but because of our Equity status and the fact that we are now one of the few mid-sized theatres in Los Angeles. A whole new world is open to us now....and our audiences will reap the benefits.
The Laramie Project, written by Moisés Kaufman and Members of the Tectonic Theater Project, and directed by Nick Degruccio, is more than just a trendy play, however. The emotional power of the play comes from the dramatic piecing together of various interviews the authors conducted with citizens of Laramie, Wyoming, in the aftermath of Matthew Shepard's murder in 1998. In The Colony’s production, eight company members portrayed over 100 real-life inhabitants of the town, which was exposed by the media frenzy, but was never really able to show its soul until Kaufman and his colleagues documented their experiences. Our audiences learned there was much more to this town than was seen in sound bites on the 11-o'clock news.
Audiences and critics were unanimous in their praise and passion for our production. The Laramie Project achieved what’s referred to as the critical “Triple Crown,” as the show was Critic’s Choice in the Los Angeles Times, Pick of the Week in the LA Weekly and Critic’s Pick in BackStage West, all in the same week. The illustrious Hollywood Reporter commented, “Is theater a medium that can contribute to the national dialogue on current events? The answer is yes, especially when art and life come together so wonderfully well as in the production at The Colony.”
Soon after rehearsals began, the cast was so moved by the play that they decided to try to make a difference. They came up with the idea of inviting audience members to share their experiences with them in the lobby after the show, and, if they felt so inclined, to drop a small donation into a bucket, 100% of which would benefit the Matthew Shepard Foundation, an organization whose goal is to educate and replace hate with understanding, acceptance and compassion. What started as a nice gesture resulted in a tremendous outpouring of emotion and generosity, as the actors were often swarmed by audience members thanking them for their performances and dropping dollar bills, coins and checks into their buckets.
The actors hoped to raise
about $2,500. Closing night was attended by two representatives of the
Matthew Shepard Foundation (one of whom flew in from Wyoming to be here).
After the performance, the director and cast were pleased and proud to
present them a check in the amount of $15,186.
Just four short months after the final performance of Side Show, the monumental smash hit that closed our 2001-2002 season, we are ready to create more musical magic with the Los Angeles premiere of the revised 1999 Broadway version of You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown.
While You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown couldn’t be further from Side Show on the emotional spectrum, this production does share some common talented threads with its smash hit predecessor. Charlie Brown director/choreographer and perennial Colony favorite Todd Nielsen played The Boss in Side Show, while Musical Director Tom Griffin returns to repeat his Side Show magic. Todd, one of our talented actor/directors, also directed the Colony classics How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, On the Twentieth Century, and co-directed City of Angels.
The pedigreed cast includes three company members you are sure to recognize. Ed F. Martin, who was in The Laramie Project, takes no time to rest as he returns to the Colony stage to wow us with his vocal talents as he plays the loveable Charlie Brown. Julie Dixon Jackson also returns to the Colony stage after having starred as one-half of the powerful duo who led Side Show to its nightly standing ovation. Julie played Daisy, the more outgoing of the Hilton sisters, but her portrayal of Lucy in Charlie Brown might just make Daisy seem like a wallflower. Last but not least, Snoopy will be played by the Colony's favorite scamp, Nick DeGruccio, who has amazed us as the leads in How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and June Moon, and stole the show as Banjo in The Man Who Came To Dinner.
Also in the cast are three Colony newcomers, all of whom have enviable talents of their own. Beth Malone’s (Sally) credits include Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Chess, Cabaret, and Evita. Rod Keller (Linus) starred in productions of Grease, West Side Story, and Big River, and Roger Befeler (Schroeder) played the Beast in the National Tour of Disney's Beauty and the Beast.
Still wondering how we can call our production of this American musical classic a Los Angeles premiere? While You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown is a classic, we are producing the revised version that was done on Broadway in 1999, and made a star of Kristin Chenoweth. Broadway director Michael Mayer wanted to do a revised version of the beloved musical. After Charles Schulz gave his blessing, seventeen of the original show's scenes were deleted and 21 new ones were added. Additionally, composer Andrew Lippa (The Wild Party) revised seven of the original 14 songs with new vocal and dance arrangements and wrote two new songs, as well as reconceiving the beloved opening number. This is truly a brand new look at an old classic and great fun for the whole family.
You're A Good Man, Charlie
Brown plays through September 8, 2002. Call (818) 558-7000 for tickets.
Curtain Call! sat down with Nick DeGruccio in The Colony’s green room before a Friday night rehearsal of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, in which he plays Snoopy.
Nick, you directed Side
Show, you directed The Laramie Project, and now you're playing
Snoopy in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. It's certainly been
your year. Have you enjoyed it or has it been whirlwind?
Has it sunk in, what you've
Do you feel that you're
at your most successful point right now?
Is it a coincidence that
you're feeling that way right at the time when The Colony is starting its
As a member of the Artistic
Advisory Board, what excites you about The Colony now being an Equity house?
And there are so many
more shows open up to us now...
But because of the cost
of maintaining Equity contracts, we can’t do large cast shows like Side
Show ever again...
Do you think it is going
to change who The Colony is, now that we can only afford to do small cast
What has been your favorite
You got to be so uninhibited.
What is that like, as an actor, to be so free to basically be able to do
anything? And with David [The Man Who Came To Dinner director David
Rose] letting you do whatever you wanted...
How is performing at The
Colony different from performing at other theatres?
Which do you like more,
acting or directing?
See Nick play Snoopy in our
production of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, playing from August
10 to September 8, 2002. Nick will also be directing the West Coast Premiere
of the hit musical The Spitfire Grill this fall at The Laguna Playhouse.
Beautiful in the Extreme