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Varied talents collaborate for Playhouse’s musical ‘Zhivago’

Since it took the cinema screen by storm in 1965, “Zhivago” has grossed more than $200 million in box office sales and rentals. La Jolla Playhouse patrons can relive the romantic Russian saga on stage when the world premiere of “Zhivago” opens at the Playhouse with previews beginning May 10.

“Zhivago” began as a project of the Playhouse’s Page To Stage workshop production in 2005. The musical, the first developed through the program, also marks the first project developed through the Page To Stage program to go directly to a full production on La Jolla Playhouse’s main stage. During Russia’s move toward revolution, Lara, a dazzling young woman, captivates surgeon-poet Yurii Zhivago. Their forbidden romance unfolds in this sweeping musical adaptation.

“Having a chance to enter the world of ‘Zhivago’ for a second time ... to bring a great love story and a turbulent period in Russian history to life is a rare opportunity,” said Playhouse Artistic Director Des McAnuff, who is directing the play as well. “With everything we learned from our Page To Stage production this past summer, we can now go full out and make Pasternak’s sweeping romances, that of Lara and Zhivago and their beloved country, musically and theatrically soar.”

The script for “Zhivago” is by Academy Award-nominee Michael Weller, music is by Grammy Award-winner Lucy Simon and lyrics are by Michael Korie and Amy Powers. The production stars San Diego State University grad and New York City Opera star Ivan Hernandez as Yurii Zhivago, Broadway’s “Les Miserables” ingenue Rena Strober as Tonya, Broadway veterans Tom Hewitt (“Dracula”) as Komarovsky and Matt Bogart (“The Full Monty,” “Miss Saigon”) as Pasha.

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Reprising the role of Lara Guishar Antipova that she originated in the Page To Stage workshop is Jessica Burrows, who explained the differences in the new musical from last year’s production.

“The new production has the essence of what we did last year, but it has changed,” she said. “A new cast brings something different to the work. The beginning really establishes Pasha and who he is. Then it goes into the family, how Yuri Zhivago grew up, and how the students of the revolution and the bourgeois conflict. It’s very clear and specific.”

Since finishing school in Orange County, Burrows has amassed a diverse resume of work. Her recent credits include “The Ten Commandments” at the Kodak Theatre and “La Boheme” at the Ahmanson Theatre, both in Los Angeles. Her television credits include CBS’s “Cold Case.”

Burrows got her role after auditioning for last year’s “Palm Beach.” She found working with Des McAnuff an experience that will be hard to beat.

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“I am spoiled,” she said. “He’s a director for everything: a technical director and an actor’s director. He’s so brilliant. He knows all the different styles of acting, so he caters to each different personality, and if you don’t get it one way, he shows you another way.”

In addition to the performances, McAnuff is pleased with the other creative aspects of the production.

Set designers Heidi Ettinger and Lucy Simon’s images, “convey both the