Marcia Seligson is a self-described "musical theater fanatic" and the prime mover and shaker behind Reprise, a new theater organization determined to mount local, first-class revival productions of Broadway musicals that just don't get dusted off and given a professional run anymore.
There was a time in the not-too-distant past, Seligson pointed out, when hit numbers from Broadway were the songs people hummed in the street.
"When you look back at musicals by George Gershwin, Harold Arlen and these other artists, the score was the star of the musical, and those songs were the popular music of the day," she said.
"Growing up in New York, Broadway musical theater was my popular music. I've been a fan my whole life. The first show I ever saw was Ethel Merman in "Annie Get Your Gun." I never forgot that experience."
Although she was a music major in college, Seligson worked primarily as a journalist upon her arrival in Los Angeles 26 years ago.
"When I realized that I didn't want to do that anymore," she said, "I began to think seriously about producing musical theater here. I was inspired by the Encore series at New York's City Center. It's really an appropriate and spectacular idea for our times. I just saw so clearly how it isn't absolutely necessary to have all this tremendous spectacle and these special effects to succeed these days."
Although Encore is an older organization with deeper pockets, Seligson adapted their budget priorities for Reprise. Money goes into the musical where it will count most. Only Los Angeles performers are cast, thereby avoiding costly air fare and hotel tabs and making this a true local effort. There are no spare production dollars for pricey stage props or saturation publicity campaigns.
"Instead of doing a $5 million or $10 million production, which is what a lot of these big new shows cost, our first production is costing $160,000," she said. "It's fully casted, orchestrated and choreographed. What is different is that it will be a very simple set, and there will be no elaborate costume changes."
Reprise's first season began, on May 14, with a two-week revival of "Promises, Promises."
A look at the cast indicates that Seligson and her fellow board members are the real deal. Stage veteran Jason Alexander, best known for his role on TV's "Seinfeld," has been cast in the lead role. Co-starring with Alexander are Jean Smart, Alan Rachins, Karen Fineman and Fred Willard.
In September, Andrea Marcovicci and Keith Carradine are slated to star in a revival of "Finian's Rainbow." The third and final show of Reprise's first series will be "Wonderful Town," with Tyne Daly. All three productions will be staged at UCLA's Freud Playhouse.
The response to Reprise -- within the theater community and from the ticket-buying public -- has been wildly enthusiastic, Seligson said. "We had 3,500 subscriptions to sell for this series," she said. "We sold 3,000 of them before a single ad ran."
Additional dates have been scheduled to meet the demand, and seats for some performances are still available, although going fast.
For tickets to upcoming Reprise performances, call the UCLA box office at (310) 825-2101 or Ticketmaster at (213) 480-3232.
Jason Alexander, best known for his role as George on "Seinfeld," has the lead role in "Promises, Promises."