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New La Jolla Playhouse season starts with ambition

The start of a new Playhouse season also represents something new for one of the masterminds behind “Cirque du Soleil.”

La Jolla Playhouse kicks off its 2007/2008 season with one of theater’s most ambitious operas: “Carmen.” Stepping into musical theatre for the first time to direct the show is Cirque du Soleil’s Franco Dragone. Already credited with his awe-inspiring and innovative touch to make “Cirque du Soleil” a worldwide sensation, Dragone has brought an unmatched creative vision to the newly adapted “Carmen.”

“I look forward to presenting ‘Carmen’ in a way no one has ever seen before,” Dragone said. “The audience will need to let go of any preconceived notions they may have.”

Des McAnuff, Artistic Director Emeritus of the La Jolla Playhouse, said Dragone “is a theatre artist in the pantheon of Arianne Mnouchkine and Peter Brook. The fact that he will bring this beloved and timeless story to musical life on our stages is a fantastic opportunity for both the Playhouse and the San Diego community.”

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“Carmen” first premiered at the Opera Comique of Paris on March 3, 1875 and has become the fourth-most performed opera in North America. This is a startling tribute considering, after its first year on the stage, Prosper Merimee’s novella was denounced by critics as immoral and superficial and considered a failure.

The classic story of love, sensuality and betrayal unfolds from the perspective of Jose (Ryan Silverman), a soldier who becomes ensnared by a beautiful gypsy seductress (Janien Valentine).

“Carmen,” famed for its emotional and powerful use of Flamenco and original contemporary music, gets new life from Dragone, as he infuses the opera with dazzling imagery, original music and dance.

Silverman, a Canadian who has extensive theater credits, was surprised by this new book by Sarah Miles.

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“It’s never been done as a play or a musical; only an opera,” he said. “But having done it, it’s the most rewarding and most challenging show I’ve done.”

Dragone, Silverman added, is a unique director. “He has an amazing vision in his head and you have to go along with his ideas and drop any preconceived notion of what rehearsals should be and trust that at the end there’s going to be something unique that comes out of it, which it has. For me personally, the music is a big challenge because I sing a lot in the show - low songs, high songs - so it was both a physical and mental challenge.”

Silverman believes Playhouse patrons will see a show unlike anything they’ve ever seen.

“They’ll be visually drawn in the moment they walk in from the lighting (design by Christopher Akerlind) and scenic design (by Klara Zieglerova),” Silverman said. “The music is visually gorgeous, and Franco is known for visually stunning shows. Theatergoers will leave with a painting in their minds.”

Patrons should note that “Carmen” contains adult language and situations. The musical is now playing at the Mandell Weiss Theatre through July 22.

Other ground breaking productions make up the new Playhouse season. The unrivaled Theatre de la Jeune Lune (“The Miser”) returns to the Playhouse stage with “The Deception,” directed by Dominique Serrand. Theatre de la Jeune Lune is known as a company of artists who present some of the most exciting interpretations of classics in American Theatre today. “The Deception,” about a young heiress who disguises herself as a knight to catch her unfaithful husband-to-be, plays July 17 to August 19 in the Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre.

“After the Quake” is directed by Frank Galati, whose adaptation of John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” mesmerized La Jolla audiences in 1989 and went on to win Tony Awards for Best Play and Best Direction. The story is based on two short stories by Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami in the aftermath of the 1995 earthquake that shook Kobe, Japan. Galati’s stylish staging and poetic adaptation offers healing and hope in an increasingly vulnerable world. “After the Quake” plays July 24 to Aug. 26 in the Mandell Weiss Forum.

Daniel Aukin will direct Elmer Rice’s darkly comic 1923 expressionistic classic “The Adding Machine,” Rice’s experiment in expressionism from Germany in the 1920s. The play is still relevant today as it examines advancing technology and its impact on the meaning of life. “The Adding Machine” plays Sept. 11 to Oct. 7 in the Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre.

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“Cry-Baby,” a theatrical version of the hilarious cult film by John Waters, will rock the Playhouse under the direction of Mark Brokaw. Think “Rebel Without A Cause” meets “Romeo and Juliet,” all set to music of the 1950s. This adaptation by “Private Fittings” collaborator Mark O’Donnell is sure to be fun and entertaining. “Cry-Baby” plays Oct. 30 to Dec. 16 in the Mandell Weiss Theatre.

Jo Bonney will direct “The Seven,” a 21st-century adaptation of Aeschylus’s “Seven Against Thebes,” written by theatrical visionary Will Power. His urban remix, rhyming verse and diverse musical styles transform the story of a cursed family in a society of unrest during war. “The Seven” contains adult language and stages Feb. 12 to March 16, 2008 in the Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre.

The Edge, not included in the subscription season, will launch the newest of La Jolla Playhouse’s signature programs. Allowing for ambitious experimentation, The Edge will include new play development models and a new range of productions that embrace a large spectrum of theatre outside the mainstream paradigm of the typical subscription structure. The first production of The Edge is A Page to Stage Workshop Production of “Most Wanted,” about America’s obsession with wealth and celebrity through the lens of the media frenzy surrounding a killer. The show is directed by Michael Greif and runs Oct. 2 to 14.

The La Jolla Playhouse is located at 2910 La Jolla Village Drive.

Tickets are available by phone at (858) 550-1010, at the box office or at www.lajollaplayhouse.org.