The Costa Mesa Playhouse — enjoying its 45th season — has mounted some impressive productions recently, which haven't drawn the sort of playgoers' response their talents warranted. So next season will be a bit more, shall we say, audience-friendly.
The 2010-11 season, just announced, will feature three shows calculated to pack the seats — "The Odd Couple," "Forever Plaid" and "Steel Magnolias."
The new season will begin next month with a fundraiser playing only three performances, June 25 to 28. It's titled "The Best of Times" and will offer a compendium of highlights from popular musicals such as "West Side Story," "Guys and Dolls" and "Hairspray."
"The fundraiser is a kick-start to the playhouse's new season, hopefully bringing in the funds to get the first show off the ground and pay the rent for those months when no show is running," said director Jason Holland.
Holland has assembled a cast of more than 20 singers, many of whom have starred in past Costa Mesa Playhouse productions.
"All proceeds go directly to operating the theater and producing the shows," he notes. "The playhouse staff is all voluntary; there are no salaries."
Officially inaugurating the new season will be Neil Simon's biggest hit, "The Odd Couple," directed by Christian P. Wolf.
"The script was of specific interest to me because it really is, at the heart, an exploration of friendship between two men and how they deal with their differences and similarities to continue that friendship," Wolf said.
The playhouse enjoyed success with Simon's lesser-known play, "Jake's Women," earlier this season and "figured Simon's most famous and arguably best play could only do better," board member Mike Brown said. Performances are Aug. 6 to 29.
A musical comedy — "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" — is next up, running from Oct. 15 through Nov. 14 with a director yet to be announced.
It's a quirky comedy spotlighting a cast of young outsiders who find they can stand out and fit in at the same time.
The playhouse isn't offering all familiar shows. Brown will direct "The Book of Liz" (Feb. 4 to 27), which he describes as "a hilarious but seldom-produced play by David Sedaris, one of the wittiest satirists of our time and his comedienne sister Amy.
It centers on an Amish lass venturing into the "real world."
Next comes "Forever Plaid," the all-musical account of a male quartet from the early 1950s — killed in a car crash on the way to their first big concert — revived for one more chance to fulfill their dreams. Directed by Stephen Hulsey, it's ticketed for April 8 to May 8.
Closing out the season will be Robert Harling's well-traveled dramatic comedy "Steel Magnolias," centered around Southern gossips in a small-town beauty parlor in Louisiana. No director is set yet, but the show will run from June 10 through July 3.
Meanwhile, back to the present, the playhouse's current show, "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change," scheduled to close this weekend, has been extended. Two extra performances will be presented at 8 p.m. May 21 and 22.
Information on this show and the upcoming new season may be obtained by calling the theater at (949) 650-5269 or dropping in during business hours at 611 Hamilton St., Costa Mesa.
Orange Coast College will present a rarely seen musical, "Spoon River Anthology," this weekend and next in the Drama Lab theater on campus.
Alex Golson is directing 16 student actors in the series of 55 short poems by Edgar Lee Masters. Showtimes are 8 tonight, Saturday, and May 21 and 22, with matinees at 2:30 p.m. Sunday and May 23. Call (714) 432-5880, ext. 1, for reservations.