La Jolla celebs hit the stage for revived L.J. Stage Company

The first annual “Dancing with La Jolla Stars” variety show is the first La Jolla Stage Company production in more than two years, and while they’re aiming to put on a stupendous show, the main goal is to reintroduce themselves to the community.

Dubbing it a “friend-raiser,” as opposed to a fund-raiser, the group hopes to re-establish its presence in the community now that they have a permanent venue at Hashinger Hall at Torrey Pines Christian Church.

“The point in this event was for people to have the price low enough to see where we are, who we are and that we’re still active,” said Merle Lotherington, president of La Jolla Stage Company.

“Dancing with La Jolla Stars” premiered last Friday evening and has a second show scheduled for June 8 at 8 p.m. Handbills describe it as a festival of ballroom, ballet and other styles of dance and entertainment, featuring La Jolla celebrities and exciting local dance groups. The line-up promises more than 35 acts, some professional, some amateur and some taking the stage for the first time.

Fashioned after the hit television show “Dancing with the Stars,” organizers wanted to take advantage of the popular trend, pairing well-known faces with professional partners. They were also influenced by an old La Jolla favorite, “Village Vaudeville.” This production features the best of both.

Ron Jones, emcee for Concerts by the Sea, hosts the show. Headliners include Janie Prim; Mary Wayne, founder of La Jolla Stage Company; Dianne Cawood; Peter, Prince of Piano; the California Ballet Company; Jessica von Bulow and the Love to Dance Club; and La Jolla Stage Company Supper Club singers Rick Hernandez, Skyler Dennon and Nicole Tarantino.

Gretchen Burns, known for producing fashion shows, will dance with her husband David Bergman. Her daughter-in-law Chrissy Burns will be performing an Andrews Sisters number. John Bolthouse, new executive director of the La Jolla Historical Society, was convinced this would be a great introduction to the community and will be partnering with Rita Tanner on a West Coast swing routine. Wilhelmina Spencer and Ricco Antonio of Star Fashion Salon, who danced professionally together at one time, will treat the audience to a rumba. Soprano Barbara Toiler will recreate the performance of “The Doll Song” that won in “Catch a Rising Star,” a talent search show done by the La Jolla Stage Company several years ago.

Convincing friends, neighbors and business associates to volunteer for the show was just the sort of challenge Lotherington, a well-known organizer and fund raiser, enjoys.

“I like putting people together to their advantage,” she said, “I introduce people. I like being the producer, instead of the star.”

Jones, who helped develop the concept for the show and recruit performers, said last week’s performance exceeded everyone’s expectations.

“The sense of satisfaction for a job well done - you can’t be paid for that,” he said.

The success of “Dancing with La Jolla Stars” appears to have achieved the organization’s goal of putting themselves back in the local limelight.

Established more than 25 years ago, the group has hung out their shingle at various locations around town, sometimes depending on the generosity of other organizations to share space or paying rent. Although they’ve had to move several times, the company and many of their initiatives are familiar to long-time residents.

“The mission of this stage company is affordable, quality community theater,” Lotherington said. “It gives the locals just that.”

Through La Jolla Stage Company, locals can participate in and enjoy theater in their own backyard. It also serves as a training ground for music and drama hopefuls.

Hashinger Hall at the Torrey Pines Christian Church is the home stage for another area theatrical group, Torrey Pines Theater. Both groups have upcoming performances. In August, La Jolla Stage Company will present Woody Guthrie’s “American Song,” produced by husband-and-wife team Paula Pierson and Tim Headman. James Dublin has signed on to direct “A Christmas Carol” in December.

Lotherington said she was thrilled when Hashinger Hall opened its doors to La Jolla Stage Company, and she is already coming up with some new and exciting ideas to take advantage of the new venue.

“We will offer dinner theater for opening night to make it a festive occasion,” she said. “Besides Parker Auditorium, this is the best theater in town.”

For information about joining the La Jolla Stage Company or upcoming performances, contact Merle Lotherington at (858) 453-2683. For tickets to Dancing with La Jolla Stars on June 8 at the Torrey Pines Christian Church, 8320 La Jolla Scenic Drive North, call Charlotte Perry at (858) 454-7798. Tickets are $12 for students and seniors and $15 for adults.