Updated: Oct 4
The 2023-24 lineup includes ‘Quixote Nuevo,’ ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ and a musical version of ‘Prelude to a Kiss’ – but the pandemic exerts the same unwanted forces on the regional giant as elsewhere.
UPDATED Oct. 4, 2023: South Coast Repertory announced the title of its second world premiere production to be performed during the Pacific Playwrights Festival, "Galilee, 34." Details included below.
Milestone seasons are always exciting, so you can bet everyone at South Coast Repertory is already getting revved up for this theatrical institution’s 60th season. Some of you might have even been around in 1964 when David Emmes and Martin Benson created the now-iconic theater company. Even if not, it’s almost certain you’ve been to South Coast Rep and enjoyed its productions.
First photo: SCR opened its 2nd Step location on Balboa Peninsula in 1965, a converted marine hardware shop that seated 75. Second photo: The 3rd Step theater on Newport Boulevard in Costa Mesa, formerly a Sprouse Reitz variety store, seated 217 and opened in 1967, running concurrently with the 2nd Step for one season. In 1978, SCR left the 3rd Step theater and moved to its current locale, later expanded to its present form. Photos courtesy of South Coast Repertory
This year’s lineup includes the return of Octavio Solis, a modern classic, two world premieres, one of which is a musical, as well as “George Gershwin Alone” in a special production slot at the start of the new year featuring pianist and actor Hershey Felder in a solo turn as the famed composer.
SCR’s artistic director David Ivers characterizes the 2023-2024 lineup as “transformative, adventurous, entertaining and diverse.”
Managing director Paula Tomei said that over the course of 60 years, the Costa Mesa-based company “evolved from a storefront to the forefront of American theater. As Orange County grew from an agricultural community to one of the largest centers of commerce in the country, SCR developed along with it.”
Ivers said “it’s thrilling to share the titles that are part of our milestone 60th season,” pointing out that two of the newer plays – “Quixote Nuevo” and “Prelude to a Kiss: The Musical” – are “re-imagined classics” by Solis and Craig Lucas, whom Ivers refers to as “early core playwrights” of SCR.
Callie Prendiville, artistic director of Electric Company Theatre at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton, has various ties with SCR, including having been a cast member in the 2014 production of “Tartuffe.”
She noted that “SCR has a hugely important place in my life,” including having seen the 2017 production of “Once,” which inspired her and prompted her troupe to schedule it for her company this November.
“SCR’s presence and its history, from storefront theater to Tony Award-winning powerhouse, takes up a singular space in the Orange County theater scene," Prendiville said. "The amount of plays that originated in the Hispanic Playwrights Project or Pacific Playwrights Festival that have gone on to have a big impace nationally is so impressive and inspiring.”
Of SCR’s upcoming season, Prendiville said she’s “glad they’re doing ‘Quixote Nuevo,’ which looks like an exciting piece, and I’ll be interested in hearing what the TBA world premiere is since the PPF (Pacific Playwright’s Festival) is one of the things I look forward to.”
FEWER SHOWS OVERALL
Weighing this season against SCR seasons past – especially from the ’90s on – it should come as no surprise that this season offers fewer shows overall. Major theaters across the U.S. have announced canceled productions – or even entire seasons – staff layoffs and, in some cases, closing up shop altogether. The upcoming season, detailed below, is composed of six productions – three on Segerstrom Stage, three on the Argyros stage – plus one under the Theater for Young Audiences banner (in the Argyros).
A glance at SCR’s production history for the decade from 2010 to the onset of the pandemic in 2020 reveals essentially twice as many shows per season. The overall length of each show’s run has also been affected by current conditions, a phenomenon that’s been seen across the nation’s theater landscape. “Quixote Nuevo” and “Prelude to a Kiss, the Musical” are, in addition to the perennial “A Christmas Carol,” the only productions slated to run longer than three weeks.
To put South Coast Rep’s current condition into perspective, the pandemic served as a tipping point for many theaters, which have also been grappling with ways to retain and diversify audiences and donors along with finding avenues to making their work more accessible to more people. Taking such action hopefully compels patrons and supporters to make investments in their theater’s work.
As it did to arts entities of all types, the public health crisis exerted pressures on regional theater giant SCR. The theater company hasn’t made any formal announcements about reasons for the downsized season, but one can’t help but think that, like its counterparts, it has implemented changes in order to adjust to the new world order in arts programming – at least for now.
SCR's 2023-2024 Season
A note about tickets: Prices range from $29 to $112. SCR’s website is the best source for more detailed information about ticket prices and availability for each production.
Sept. 30 - Oct. 28, ‘Quixote Nuevo’
This new version of the characters and story immortalized in Cervantes’ epic novel “Don Quixote” was penned by playwright and director Octavio Solis, whose “Scrappers” and “Man of the Flesh” came to life at SCR in the 1990s, and whose bittersweet “La Posada Magica” occupied the second stage at Christmastime from 1994 through 2008. “Cloudlands” (2012) is Solis’ most recent SCR venture. Now, this co-production, in association with Seattle Repertory Theatre and Portland Center Stage, heralds the latest Solis-SCR collaboration.
Heading the cast is Culture Clash co-founder Herbert Siguenza, whose history with South Coast Rep began with “The Birds” (1998), the troupe’s and John Glore’s adaptation of the Aristophanes comedy. Siguenza returned in the teens for two shows tailored to Culture Clash’s comedic style.
About his now decades-long working relationship with South Coast Repertory, Siguenza said he is “really happy to be back. I consider SCR a second home. I haven’t counted how many times I’ve been there, probably more than a half-dozen times with Culture Clash and festivals, and I’m just thrilled to be back here.
“We (Culture Clash) grew up here,” he added. “We’ve been coming to SCR since the 1990s, and for me to come back 20, 30 years later to do another show with another cast, it’s a thrill. It’s come full circle.”
In SCR’s “new Quixote,” Siguenza plays delusional Jose Quijano, who transforms himself into the valiant knight-errant Don Quixote de la Mancha, bent on finding his long-lost love. The oft-told tale has been contemporized and uses Tejano music (directed by Jesse Sanchez) to accompany what SCR calls “a fast-paced, bilingual fable about the joys and perils of being the hero of your own story.”
Oct. 22 - Nov. 12, ‘A Raisin in the Sun’
As the first African American female writer to have a play performed on Broadway, Lorraine Hansberry occupies a historic spot in the pantheon of theater. Thus SCR produces her groundbreaking 1959 drama as part of its American Icons Series, which celebrates the artists, personalities and opinion leaders who boldly changed our world. Hansberry’s masterful script, fueled by the ideals of the civil rights movement, examines a vital, aching question posed by Langston Hughes in his poem “Harlem": What happens to a dream deferred?
Here, the “dream deferred” is the dream of the Youngers, a Black family living in urban Chicago, for a better life. The death of the patriarch opens the door for a possible new beginning when the family is notified of the small fortune due them from his life insurance policy. The wayward course of the bequeathal, and the family’s inability to agree on how best to spend it, determines the Youngers’ fate – and the way matriarch Mama Lena’s plan to buy the family a house located in an all-white neighborhood is resolved is still among the most dramatically potent scenarios in American theater.
Nov. 25 - Dec. 24, ‘A Christmas Carol’
Christmas in Orange County – at least for those who love theater – isn’t the same without SCR’s annual production of its singular version of “A Christmas Carol.” Jerry Patch’s tightly-scripted, two-hour adaptation of the Dickens classic first unfolded as a Mainstage production in 1980 and became an annual tradition. Although it’s not a musical, a number of original songs by composer Dennis McCarthy are an integral, vital part of the production – craftily-placed interludes that enhance the spirit and lend a distinctive SCR touch. Just as crucial is that this version avoids painting the familiar story’s characters as one-dimensional.
During the production’s 43-year history, only two actors have portrayed Scrooge – and both are founding members of SCR. Hal Landon, Jr. famously carried the role from its first staging through 2019; Richard Doyle, with the December 2022 production, began a new tradition of playing Scrooge. Meant for all age groups, this version of Dickens’ fabled tale has no peer. The consistent hallmark of each year’s production is sumptuous, sparkling professionalism.
In 2019, as Landon was about to pass the torch to longtime colleague Doyle, SCR began making plans to spruce up its Christmas perennial by writing an all-new version of the Dickens tale. To this end, the company received a donation of $5 million earmarked for the creation of a new “Christmas Carol” script and production.
Doyle is poised to head the cast of the coming season’s production of the existing property. SCR’s Ivers comments that “we don’t have an update on the new ‘A Christmas Carol’ for you at this time.”
Jan. 18-28, 2024, Hershey Felder as ‘George Gershwin Alone’
Since the late ’90s, classically trained pianist and actor Hershey Felder has written, produced and starred in a lengthy roster of solo shows focusing on the world’s greatest composers, from Chopin, Tchaikovsky and Debussy to Irving Berlin. The first of these was “George Gershwin Alone,” which Felder workshopped at the Los Angeles Tiffany Theatre in 1999 and which has since had more than 40 productions throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe.
Though the show has previously come to Orange County in a Laguna Playhouse production, this is its first time at SCR, which has created a special January slot for it. A play with music, it tells the composer’s life story firsthand, with Felder, as Gershwin, relating his early life and first musical endeavors directly to the audience. Felder’s artistry at the piano plays a focal role in the production: The star, in character as Gershwin, performs a lengthy playlist that includes “I Got Rhythm,” “The Man I Love,” “Fascinating Rhythm” and excerpts from the Gershwin stage shows “Porgy and Bess” and “An American in Paris.” The show’s highlight is a complete performance of “Rhapsody in Blue,” the 1924 Gershwin opus that revolutionized popular music by blending jazz with classical music.
The mechanism of SCR functioning as a presenting venue for a turnkey production created elsewhere is a new one. Asked about the special, two-weekend slot on this season’s schedule, SCR’s Ivers said Felder “is a beloved entertainer who is also performing at our 60th season gala." (The event takes place on Oct. 14.)
“He is part of the celebration of our 60th season, and we are happy to have him as a part of this milestone anniversary.”
Feb. 10 - 25, 2024, ‘Alice’s Wonderland’
This SCR offering is a Theatre for Young Audiences and Families production meant to attract young people to theater and to spark their interest in literature. Linda Chichester and David Coffman conceived the idea of crafting a pop, hip-hop musical inspired by Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland,” a literary classic that’s previously been adapted to countless other media. Julia Riew and J. Quinton Johnson wrote the show’s book, music and lyrics, which depicts Alice as a brilliant, passionate teen who dreams of making the world a better place by creating a new video game she calls “Wonderland.”
In the play’s new setting at SCR, things go awry for Alice when a virus shuts down her newly created program. The character Rabbit pops out of Alice’s screen asking for help, prompting Alice to leap into a virtual world and sending her on a series of wild adventures. Following the storyline of Carroll’s immortal book, Alice continuously moves up one level at a time until she’s forced to confront the ruthlessly ambitious Queen of Hearts.
April 5-May 4, 2024, ‘Prelude to a Kiss, The Musical’ (WORLD PREMIERE)
Lucas’ non-musical, fantasy-tinged drama had its world premiere at SCR in 1988, and the play now comes full circle in this original world-premiere musical version of the play, with a book by Lucas and score by Daniel Messé (music and lyrics) and Sean Hartley (lyrics). As icing on the cake, the production is being directed by Ivers, SCR’s artistic director, and is part of next spring’s Pacific Playwrights Festival.
“Prelude” fans know its lineage and storyline: SCR commissioned it, staging it in January 1988. It was recast with Alec Baldwin and Mary-Louise Parker for the off-Broadway staging, ran on Broadway from 1990 to 1991 and received Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize nominations. The 1992 film version starred Baldwin and Meg Ryan as Peter and Rita, whose lives are thrown into turmoil when a mysterious guest approaches them at their wedding and asks Peter if he can kiss the bride.
Fans of the original play and of the film version, and those addicted to musical theater, have awaited this production for several years. The musical first appeared on SCR’s schedule for the eventually canceled 2020-2021 season, then moved to 2022-2023.
In January 2023, SCR issued a press release announcing that the new musical was being bumped a second time, from 2022-2023 to this season – again because of the pandemic. The release reported that “the postponement became necessary when three crucial developmental workshops had to be canceled due to COVID.”
In the release, SCR’s Ivers said, “When producing a new musical, it’s vitally important to launch it correctly, and we want to do everything possible to ensure the success and future life of this important world premiere.”
April 21 - May 12, 2024, 'Galilee, 34' (World Premiere)
“Galilee, 34” moves from a reading at the 2023 Pacific Playwrights Festival to a world premiere production. Eleanor Burgess’ play takes a multi-faceted look at what happened to the disciples after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, giving audiences a look at the start of a world-changing movement.
Christ’s followers are determined to keep sharing his message, but they can’t agree on exactly what that message is and don’t have a leader – and the Roman Empire wants them out of the picture. While researching and writing the play over a three-year period, Burgess dove into Jewish and Christian theology, histories of ancient Rome and of the Kingdom of Judea, and historical accounts of the daily lives of those living in Roman-occupied lands in the first century CE.
Playwright Burgess said her goal “was to take things we’ve turned into hallowed traditions and put a human face on them – to tell the most famous story on Earth as if the outcome weren’t a foregone conclusion. What if the figures we’ve turned into saints were capable of jealousy, uncertainty, grief, cruelty? Even failure?”
The play joins “Prelude to a Kiss, The Musical” as the second anchor of next spring’s Pacific Playwrights Festival.
July 20 - Aug. 11, 2024, TBA Outdoor SCR production @ Mission San Juan Capistrano
Beyond next spring, SCR has scheduled its fourth annual “Outside SCR” theater under the stars for summer of 2024. As with the past four productions, this one will be performed at the historic Mission San Juan Capistrano.