A year after its Tony boost, Pasadena Playhouse unveils 2024-25 season

It’s been a huge year for Pasadena Playhouse, and Artistic Director Danny Feldman is feeling nervous. The theater will unveil its 2024-25 season lineup on Wednesday and Feldman wants it to be one that all audiences can get excited about. Will “Cyrano de Bergerac,” “La Cage aux Folles” and “Topdog/Underdog” do the trick?

The announcement, after all, comes with added pressure. It’s been almost a year since the theater took home the Regional Theatre Tony Award, becoming only the second Los Angeles organization to earn the honor — and since then the theater has taken flight.

“Three out of five of our top-selling plays have happened in the past eight months and 49% of ticket buyers this season are brand new to us,” says Feldman. “This year, we’ve brought in significantly younger and more diverse audiences. For example, more than 50% of the audience for Kate Berlant’s ‘Kate’ was under the age of 44.”

Keeping that momentum up and sharing the love with other institutions around town is Feldman’s primary goal moving forward. Plus, the theater’s historic home on El Molino Avenue turns 100 years old this season, and added celebration is in order.

The theater’s centennial plays nicely into the choice of Martin Crimp’s radical, “freely adapted” version of Edmond Rostand’s enduring classic “Cyrano de Bergerac,” says Feldman. A bit of research revealed that the play was the very last production staged by the theater in March 1925 before it moved to its current home, which officially opened on May 18 that same year.

“I didn’t know that when I was planning, but as I learned that, I thought it was beautiful and poetic,” says Feldman. “And ‘Cyrano’ is just one of the greatest plays ever written. It’s about poetry and life and art, and it’s a romance. It’s just one of my favorite plays.”

In Crimp’s reimagining, Cyrano’s big nose is all in his head — a fitting metaphor, notes Feldman, for the way human beings carry around their own obstacles.

Feldman says bringing together top theater makers to connect with well-known material and breathe new life into it for contemporary audiences is one of Pasadena Playhouse’s “sweet spots.” He notes that he hopes to accomplish with “Cyrano” what the theater did last season with “Inherit the Wind.”

Next up — and notably opening the week after the 2024 presidential election — is “La Cage aux Folles,” the riotous musical celebration of drag with a book by Harvey Fierstein and music and lyrics by Jerry Herman. Feldman says he doesn’t want to get political, but programming during elections — particularly one as contentious as this year’s is likely to be — is notoriously difficult. It’s hard to get people’s attention, he says.

“I just felt like I wanted something that was joyful and at its core was about bringing people together,” Feldman says, adding that “La Cage aux Folles” — an uproarious romp through the world of a bawdy drag club in St. Tropez — checks those boxes in spades.

Feldman says musicals have emerged as one of Pasadena’s Playhouse most beloved traditions, beginning with “Ragtime” in 2019 and continuing with “Little Shop of Horrors,” the recent (triumphant) Sondheim celebration and the upcoming “Jelly’s Last Jam.”

A decade ago many regional theaters programmed classic American musicals, but Feldman speculates that Pasadena Playhouse may be among the few remaining regional theaters that still does so. The cost of mounting fully original productions (soup to nuts) on the level and scale that the Playhouse does is cost prohibitive. Even if the company sold every single ticket to a given musical, it still wouldn’t be enough to cover the enormous cost, Feldman says. But patrons adore the productions — just seeing these beloved shows in a relatively intimate, 640-seat theater — so fundraising and member-ticket sales are used to make up the difference.

“Los Angeles audiences do not get to see the shows done at the level we do them,” Feldman says. “It’s such a rare treat.”

The season also includes a foray outside the theater, when Pasadena Playhouse invites patrons to the Pasadena Civic Auditorium for back-to-back weekends of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” and Sondheim’s “Follies” in concert.

“It’s not a fully staged production, but it’s a grand concert that is really designed to showcase some of the greatest shows written for the American musical,” explains Feldman, adding that while audiences are away from the theater, the building will be used to host the Next Stage Immersive Summit 2025 in partnership with the Immersive Experience Institute — the largest gathering of its kind in the world.

Spring will see a production of Suzan-Lori Parks’ Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play “Topdog/Underdog,” about two brothers struggling to find their place in a chaotic world.

“It’s an edge-of-your-seat, electrifying experience — a fable of two brothers, but it’s much more than that,” says Feldman. “I’ve been waiting to do this play for a while, and I believe it belongs in the classic iconic American canon.”

A yet-to-be-announced play will round out the season.

Feldman says this is a pivotal and difficult — yet still exhilarating — time for theater in L.A. when many smaller organizations need a boost to regain ground after the pandemic and the city’s bigger theaters are experiencing massive regime change with incoming artistic directors that include Snehal Desai at Center Theatre Group, Tarell Alvin McCraney at Geffen Playhouse and Lily Tung Crystal at East West Players.

“It’s new blood and new energy. It’s thrilling. I feel very happy to be in that company,” says Feldman. “We’re all firing on all cylinders so it’s just an exciting time for arts lovers in L.A.”

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