By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt
What’s the next hot ticket at the La Jolla Playhouse?It may well be “Chasing the Song,” a new musical exploring the world of pop music in the early 1960s, by award-winning book writer/lyricist Joe DiPietro and composer David Bryan. The dynamic duo is best known for “Memphis,” about a white DJ airing black music in the 1950s, which was staged at the Playhouse in 2008 and scored four Tonys on Broadway in 2010.“They’re an extraordinary team,” said Playhouse artistic director Christopher Ashley, who helmed “Memphis” in La Jolla and New York and is now directing “Chasing the Song,” scheduled for its first public readings — with four pianos! — Jan. 25 and 26, at the Potiker Theatre on the USCD campus.“Joe DiPietro has decades of experience in theater and is smarter than anyone I know about story,” Ashley said of the writer, with whom he has done two other shows. “And David Bryan, who toured for years as keyboardist with the rock band Bon Jovi, brings a wonderful freshness of spirit. This is still a new adventure for him.”if-you-goIt will be an adventure for audiences too, part of a six-week array of plays-in-progress, Jan. 24-March 3, which the Playhouse is calling the DNA New Work Series.“As the place to look for what’s next in American theater, cultivating and developing new works is in our DNA,” Ashley said. “Now we’re pulling back the curtain and letting the audience see how we put a play together.”The DNA plays may be short on sets and costumes, and actors may have scripts in hand, but the series promises an insider’s look at the creative process. And the high note of the series is “Chasing the Song,” an insider’s look at the process of creating hit songs.The action takes place in Manhattan’s legendary Brill Building, which was headquarters for music publishers, labels and agencies in the big band era of the ‘30s and ‘40s, and continued putting out the top pop sounds in the ‘50s and ‘60s with hit-makers like Carole King, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Bobby Darin, Neil Sedaka, and Neil Diamond. The story is about a struggling music publisher and an ambitious young songwriter who make their way to the top of the charts before the Beatles come along and change the game.The DNA series will also include workshop productions of two non-musical plays: “The Tall Girls,” a drama by Meg Miroshnik, directed by Juliette Carrillo (Jan. 24–Feb. 3), brings the bright hope of a girls’ basketball team to a desolate town aptly named Poor Prairie. And “Brahman/i, A One-Hijra Stand-Up Comedy Show,” by Aditi Brennan Kapil, directed by Jeremy Cohen (Feb. 21–March 3), presents a precocious sixth-grader who talks about being “intersex,” or in the words of his traditional Indian aunt, a hijra. Each play will have eight performances in the Makineni Play Development Center.But wait, there’s more: six free readings (Feb. 7-9 and Feb. 15-16), ranging from local favorite Monique Gaffney’s “Being Henrietta,” about a poor black woman whose cancer cells became one of the most important tools in medicine, to the family-friendly “The Boy at the Edge of Everything,” by Australian playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer.If you’re a theater-lover, you won’t want to miss any of these adventures in play-making. The letters to remember in the next six weeks? Definitely DNA!