New topper to redefine, rebrand tuner co.
HOLLYWOOD — The exclamation point is probably the first thing that will be cut when Susan Dietz partners with Jason Alexander to redefine and rebrand the Los Angeles tuner company Reprise! Broadway’s Best.Sets and props will likely follow, but it’s not a result of some new frugality. Revive and illuminate, Dietz says, reducing to two words the mission of the group founded a dozen years ago and dedicated to staging rarely revived, classic Broadway musicals — seen initially as a West Coast version of Gotham’s Encores!. “It’s not just about bringing back works and presenting them the way they were,” says the new producing director. “They have to be seen through a 21st century prism. As Jason’s vision unfolds, we’ll be looking at how we continue as an organization. It’s changed a lot since it started with performers holding books in their hands. “We want to get away from physical sets and concentrate on performances and the text. We want to make each (show) a polished gem.” Alexander was named artistic director of Reprise! in May. Dietz is replacing Jim Gardia, who had been with Reprise! for six years and had followed founder Marcia Seligson in the producer’s chair in 2005. Technically, Dietz starts in May with Kander & Ebb’s “Flora the Red Menace.” Her first season also will be the first collection of shows chosen by Alexander, who put his stage career on hold in 1990 when it was interrupted by a TV show called “Seinfeld.” Dietz notes that Alexander, who directed one of Reprise’s biggest productions, “Sunday in the Park With George,” has already left his thumbprint on the company through his update and relocation of “Damn Yankees” to a modern-day, multiracial musical about L.A.’s Dodgers. Critical reaction to the fall production was mixed, but Alexander certainly got an A for effort. Reprise! marks a return to Southern California for Dietz, who in the 1980s oversaw the reopening of the Pasadena Playhouse and ran the Canon Theater in Beverly Hills for two decades. The last several years have found her producing in New York: Terrence McNally’s “Deuce” and Douglas Carter Beane’s “The Little Dog Laughed” last year; “Steel Magnolias” in 2005; and Suzan-Lori Parks’ “Topdog/Underdog” in 2002. She is developing “Being Alive,” an African-American Stephen Sondheim musical revue, conceived and directed by Billy Porter, which has played the Westport Country Playhouse and Philadelphia Theater Company. Dietz and Alexander, who met more than a decade ago, are taking command of an organization with a subscription base that sells out 65% of its shows, but is constrained by the UCLA calendar as to when it can occupy the Freud Playhouse stage for nine rehearsals and two weeks of performances. Currently, they have no place to extend runs of productions. “Financially, the company ekes by,” Dietz says, who notes Reprise! has never had an organized outreach program for fund-raising and will begin with a revamping of its marketing materials. “We want to get corporate support,” she continues. “Corporations like to fund new work. Well, we don’t have new work. They like education, and our education programs are the part that’s well funded. And they like to support brick and mortar, but we don’t have a building. We have to show them something.” That could be as simple as displaying the mug of the man who played George Costanza. With Alexander, the company has its first opportunity to put a face on its work that can help raise funds, sell tickets and attract talent. Dietz arrives with an impressive Rolodex, too, and figures there’s enormous potential to continue to attract Broadway performers to Los Angeles. “The shortness of the commitment is a blessing and a curse. We have nine days of rehearsal, one preview and a two-week run.” The productions could use another preview and an extra day for a tech rehearsal — at a minimum, according to Dietz. Separately, Reprise! and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers will present a concert in the summer featuring songs generated from one of their outreach programs, with lyrics by high schoolers and music by Broadway composers such as Stephen Schwartz and Stephen Flaherty. “I come from academia and I always say theater has to educate, entertain and enlighten,” enthuses Dietz. “There are many people who don’t know they could have a career in this art form. And we can correct that.”