Marcia Seligson

Santa Monica is an arts and culture city. From last week’s Broad Fest to Wednesday’s comic book signing, the city perpetually reinvigorates itself with fresh, new avenues of entertainment. Marcia Seligson, however, wants to bring back an old-school style of entertainment to the Westside — musicals. In her words, seldom-seen musicals.

Seligson is the producing artistic director of Reprise! 2.0, a musical showcase that stages low budget, high drama musicals that Seligson says are hard to come by.

Reprise is in its second incarnation (hence the 2.0 moniker) after a five-year bout that dealt with bankruptcy and lack of operations. Seligson revitalized the Reprise name and showcase as she attempts to recapture the original’s magic. In its heyday, the musical showcase series worked with Broadway stars and was overseen by Seinfeld star Jason Alexander.

With positive reviews for its first series of shows, Reprise will be showing ‘The World Goes ‘Round’ September 5 – 16.

The Santa Monica Daily Press talked to the candid Seligson about her job, life, and what makes Reprise special enough to bring back.

First, that job title. What does producing artistic director do?

It is complicated. I’m sort of the general boss. A lot of the major decisions, all of them, they run through me. A lot of the work I don’t get involved in, like social media. Luckily, for that, I have a wonderful team of 8-year-olds that are experts on words I’ve never heard of. (laughs) But I’m very involved in picking the shows and the casting even though we have an amazing casting director. I raise money. I wear a lot of hats.

At the theater, I’m more than anyone else involved with the audience. If you’ve seen our brochure, I write a long letter in the performance brochure, I schmooze, take flak. If there has to be a person, I’m the public face of this. I get involved with the bigger decisions. I’m kind of the majordomo, for better or for worse. I get all the guff when things go wrong and all the love when things go right.

What makes Reprise so special?

There’s kind of nothing like it in the city. The vision of what we do is older musicals, rarely revived. We do them in a brief period of time. Two week rehearsals then two weeks of showtime. It’s a one month gig, so we get a lot of great actors who typically might not be able to do shows like this because they wouldn’t have time.

The shows themselves are very simple. Simple sets, bands on stage, with a focus on music and performance. We pick shows that have great music that is rarely seen. ‘Sweet Charity’ is not seen often, ‘Grand Hotel’ is hardly ever seen, nor is ‘The World Goes Round’. So one of the things I’ll say is you’ll never see ‘My Fair Lady’ or ‘Cats’ at Reprise. So that’s what it is, rarely revived classic Broadway musicals. We’re interested in unusual musicals and great performances.

What made you bring Reprise it back?

It was audiences clamoring for it. I know how that sounds, but it’s the truth. I had been thinking about it the past 3-4 years, just thinking about it. I was a co-executive producer for other musicals, smaller operations like with schools. I was thinking a lot about Reprise! and also, the main reason, I have always been the public face, but people would come up to me all over the place who knew me from stage or schmoozing or whatever, they knew who I was. They’d say, “We miss it so much, bring it back!” So after I heard it six thousand times… Even in my vet’s office… It was a theme that kept coming back. A group of us got together and thought, is anyone interested? Should we try? And there was interest among us, too, and that’s how it got restarted.

Will Reprise be accessible to theater Luddites or is it geared towards the hardcore theater nerd?

Well, I think it caters to people that love musical theater.

One of our neighbors in me and my husband’s building we live in, a couple, they go to theater shows all the time. I asked, “You’re going to see ‘Sweet Charity’ (the first show in the Reprise revival), right?” She said, “I hate those musicals.” (laughs)

If you don’t like the shows we do, it’s fine. But odds are, you will.

Why the choice of musicals that you have programmed?

We decided we really needed to do for this show was a smaller production. The idea was from Gerald Sternbach, who’s the musical director. He came up with several shows that were fabulous but smaller. Smaller cast and orchestra, so instead of a 25 person cast it’s 5 and we have an orchestra of 6 instead of 14 or 18. They’re fabulous shows and it’s our first season back. It was a dollar and cents decision to do small shows, but it also helps focus on the things that matter in theater.

What do you hope audiences take from this experience?

I hope they take away an enjoyable time and I’m hoping for good things for ‘World Goes Round’ and ‘Grand Hotel’ and that people love ‘Sweet Charity.’ It’s one of the best performances Reprise has done. People love the shows and see it two or three times. That’s what we love, for people to walk out and have a fabulous time and to have an appreciation for musical theater they never had before.

You used to be a journalist; any regrets about moving to a musical producing artistic director?

I loved [being a journalist] for a long time. I didn’t want to work by myself anymore, though. I had a great journalist life. Playboy sent me to India for a month to hang out with Mother Theresa and the old Life magazine sent me to South America to do a piece on the Indian gurus down there and their healing things. I covered Tricia Nixon’s wedding, too. A lot of interesting things. I wrote eight books, too. What I didn’t like was sitting in my house for hours day after day. I’m better working with people.

When I was in New York, when I was a writer, even here, a lot of my friends were writers, most of them, what they really loved was being alone with their typewriters. They didn’t like going out much. I’ve never been like that.

Because I grew up in New York, I grew up in New York theater. It was a series of ideas that led me to my position today. I talked to my husband about it, talked to my dog about it, then talked to one person who was an actor, someone whose opinion I very much respected. Asked him about the idea, and he thought it was wonderful so it’s really all his fault. I started slowly because I didn’t know a lot of people out here. That led to the first incarnation of Reprise!, 20 years ago. Between me, Jason Alexander doing it, and a brief bankruptcy, it’s had a long history.

Reprise! 2.0 takes place at the UCLA Freud Playhouse from Sept. 5 – 16. For tickets and more information, visit Reprise2.org

angel@smdp.com

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