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WeHo Comes Alive With the Sound of Music

By Tim Posada, 8/12/2010

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Performers are strapping on their dancing shoes in preparation for Saturday auditions for an original musical about the history of West Hollywood. Produced by the Cornerstone Theater Company and written by Tom Jacobson, a West Hollywood resident from 1986 to 1992, the musical, currently unnamed, is part of the city’s ongoing 25th year anniversary celebration.

The former Argos Coffee Shop will be the setting for “West Hollywood the Musical”. (photo courtesy of Richard Settle)

The former Argos Coffee Shop will be the setting for “West Hollywood the Musical”. (photo courtesy of Richard Settle)

“Our goal is to involve the community as widely as possible through their voices articulated in the script, as actors, and, at least, as audience members during the run of the show,” said Andrew Campbell, cultural affairs administrator for the City of West Hollywood and city liaison to Cornerstone on the project.

The Cornerstone Theater Company, an organization that produces original shows with a community focus, will hold auditions on Saturday, August 14, from noon to 5 p.m. at Plummer Park. Other auditions will also be held at dates to be announced.

“We want to get people from the community to audition — people who live, work or play here and people whose lives are connected by the city,” said Damali Ayo, manager of community partnerships for Cornerstone.

Ayo is in charge of reaching out to the community to get people of all ages to audition for the 18 to 25 cast positions. Performers will be volunteers, however union actors will receive a performance stipend.

The musical will take place in modern times at a coffee shop modeled after Argos Coffee Shop, formerly located at 7853 Santa Monica Blvd. It will utilize flashbacks to 1983 and 1984 at the inception of the City of West Hollywood, reflecting on the original goals and ideals of the founders.

“The conflict occurs in the present day as a person who’s left West Hollywood comes back for the twenty-five-year anniversary,” Jacobson said. “A person accuses a local government official of not fulfilling the dream and they flash back to 1983 and 1984. Largely, the flashbacks are in musical form, but the modern-day story is not.”

Ramy Eletreby, communications manager for Cornerstone, stresses the importance of the contemporary setting in understanding West Hollywood history.

“It’s not like the modern is only a reference to the past, but you learn many secrets about the past,” Eletreby said. “Certain things happened in the race to cityhood that were unanswered until the modern scene.”

According to Jacobson, a former board member of Cornerstone, seven to eight of the 11 songs for the show are complete, along with several reprises. The music will highlight the sounds of the 1980s, as well as reflect people interviewed earlier this year.

As an original production, research was very important for the city and Cornerstone. To better understand the varying voices of West Hollywood, Jacobson participated in small group and individual interviews, set up with the help of the city, with more than 80 people within the West Hollywood community from groups such as gay youth, senior citizens, transgender individuals and other communities.

“I’ve never done a play where I had to interview this many people. I loved the process,” Jacobson said. “There were communities in West Hollywood I was aware of but didn’t know a lot about. Those stories were incredibly intriguing.”

Jacobson recalled an interaction with a group of Russian seniors he interviewed.

“These men had fought in World War II,” Jacobson said. “We asked them what they wanted people to know, and they said they want people to know they’re happy to be here. This was encouraging because some people have considered them not as friendly, but hearing their story is uplifting.”

The interviews began in January and continued over the course of several months. A draft of the script was ready by April for composer, Deborah Wicks La Puma, and lyricist, Shishir Kurup. Following auditions, the first cast read-through will take place at the end of the month.

According to Campbell, the idea of a musical has been in the works for several years and serves as one of the high points of the city’s yearlong celebration.

“This came as part of an on-going discussion with several theatres a couple years ago. Cornerstone has a strong reputation about doing this kind of work,” Campbell said. “They seemed like a logical choice to work with on this project. They haven’t done a full-blown musical before, but they thought West Hollywood was the ideal community to take up the challenge.”

The play will be funded through support from foundations associated with Cornerstone, along with $50,000 from the Arts and Beautification Fund of the city’s Arts and Cultural Affairs Commission.

The West Hollywood musical is scheduled to preview on October 14, open the following week and run through November 7 in Fiesta Hall at Plummer Park, located at 7377 Santa Monica Blvd. Tickets are tentatively priced at $20. For information about auditions, call (213)613-1700, ext. 119, or visit www.cornerstone.org.

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