Girl’s pageant dream brings disparate family together in Playhouse’s premiere musical ‘Little Miss Sunshine’

By Diana Saenger


Watching a rehearsal is always fun but most especially so last week at the La Jolla Playhouse as it readies the world premiere of “Little Miss Sunshine” for a musical opening Feb. 15 on stage at the Mandell Weiss Theatre.

The inside of the rehearsal room is like a train station with so many people moving in different directions. The floor is marked for where the young pageant girls will strut their stuff in the play’s climatic competition scene.

Olive (Georgi James) and her grandfather (Dick Latessa) rehearse a conversation in ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ opening Feb. 15 at The La Jolla Playhouse. Kathy Foster

That’s where this production, based on the 2006 Oscar-winning film, takes us as we travel along with the dysfunctional Hoover family who make a road trip to get their youngest member, sweet little Olive, to a beauty pageant.

The infamous “Sunshine” prop van appears in different forms —from a small radio-controlled car to one without a roof so singers are visible. There are four different sized vans used in the production, said Tony and Pulitzer Award-winning director/writer James Lapine. His long-time collaborator William Finn is composer/lyricist of the play.

“This is a very free adaptation and not slavish at all to the movie … we’ve been lucky to invent scenes of our own and develop characters in ways movies can’t,” Lapine said.

The cast and creative team began working on the show nearly two years ago so it’s been a big commitment and labor of love for all involved.

The star, Olive, is 10-year-old Georgi James, who began acting in commercials at age two and recently appeared in Broadway’s “Billy Elliott.” From the moment she strolls across the rehearsal room until she sings her first song, there’s no doubt she’s perfect for the role.

“When I saw the movie I wanted to be that girl,” James said. “When I saw it was going to be a play, I had to try out for it.”

The relationship between Olive and her cantankerous grandfather (Dick Latessa) is key to the story.

Latessa’s (“Cabaret” “Damn Yankees”) singing, acting and dancing talents have made him a veteran of theater, film and TV, plus a Tony Award winner for “Hairspray.” He didn’t have to audition for the role of Grandpa.

“I got the call from Bill, said yes, and have been working on it since 2009,” said Latessa. “I’m the antagonistic grandpa in the play. He’s a wonderful character.”

Taylor Trensch (national tour of “Spring Awakening”), who plays Olive’s mostly silent brother Dwayne, began acting at age six.

“This movie touched me so much and the creative team for this show includes people I’ve been looking up to since I started in theater,” he said. “James Lapine and Bill Finn are my Paris Hilton and Brittany Spears. Their sensibility and what they bring to a stage made me want to do the show.”

One of the script changes includes a flashback of Olive’s parents (Jennifer Laura Thompson and Hunter Foster) when they were dating.

“I think (the stage play) will be a different experience for the audience. They will recognize the movie, but it won’t be like seeing the same thing over again,” Lapine said.

If you go

What: ‘Little Miss Sunshine, A Road Trip Musical’

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; 7 p.m. Sundays, Feb. 15–March 27

Where: La Jolla Playhouse’s Mandell Weiss Theatre, UCSD campus

Tickets: $44-$100

Contact: (858) 550-1010.

Related posts:

  1. Powerful performances pack a punch in ‘Death of a Salesman’ at The Old Globe
  2. Gotta Dance! Gershwin-inspired cabaret show to premiere at Garfield Theater, JCC La Jolla
  3. It’s not a holiday without a little ‘Plaid Tidings’
  4. Young actors thrilled to be part of Old Globe’s ‘Grinch’
  5. At the Playhouse, The Little Tramp is a star once again

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Posted by Susan DeMaggio on Feb 9, 2011. Filed under A & E, Theater. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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