Lamb’s Players Theatre is celebrating 25 years in its Coronado theater, and it’s throwing itself a party, in the form of a “greatest hits” show. The company certainly deserves to praise itself, as it has proved to be a major theatrical presence in both the city of Coronado and in San Diego more generally.
What’s probably most fascinating about Lamb’s is that it started as a ragtag bunch and has grown and developed with the times. Formed as a “Jesus Movement” street theatre in 1971, the company migrated from St. Paul, Minnesota, to San Diego’s warmer climes the following year. It set up shop in El Cajon but continued its migrant existence until 1978, when it opened its first theatre, in National City. By the 1990s Lamb’s had outgrown that National City site and had begun producing in the Lyceum Theatres at Horton Plaza.
In 1993, a theatre space was discovered in Coronado’s Silver Strand building. Apparently built as a movie palace, it opened in 1917 but had long sat empty. Lamb’s was able to raise enough capital to renovate the space for stage performances. The new theatre opened in 1994 and has served as Lamb’s home ever since.
Lamb’s has been known as a company with a long-serving staff: Chris Turner, currently the Art Director, joined in 1972. Associate Artistic Director Kerry Meads joined in 1976 as a street performer. Producing Artistic Director Robert Smyth joined in the same year as an actor and director and quickly developed a vision for a resident company. With Associate Artistic Director Deborah Gilmour Smyth, the resident company took shape, including Scenic Designer Mike Buckley, Costume Designer Jeanne Reith, Light Designer Nathan Peirson, Sound Designer Patrick J. Duffy, and Projections Designer Michael McKeon. Band members Rik Ogdon, Dave Rumley, and Oliver Stanley are all long-time company members, as is keyboardist and conductor G. Scott, Lacy, who worked with Ms. Meads and the Smyths to create the tribute, A Jewel in the Crown City.
The tribute itself take the form of a revue, focused primarily on musicals the company has produced. A sixteen-person ensemble (Angela Chatelain Avila, Bryan Barbarin, Eileen Bowman, Jim Chovick, Michael Louis Cusimano, Cynthia Gerber, Caitie Grady, Brian Mackey, Kerry Meads, Luke Monday, Cashae Monya, John Rosen, Deborah Gilmour Smyth, Robert Smyth, and Joy Yandell) performed throughout, though Ms. Gerber and Mr. Chovick served as (mostly) non-singing hosts and Mr. Smyth narrated. A total of 35 numbers comprised the two-act production, several of which were not performed in their entirety. Still, it was a long evening.
The first half, in particular, proved to feature a catalog of songs from famous musicals: West Side Story, My Fair Lady, South Pacific, The Music Man, Fiddler on the Roof, Guys and Dolls, and Hello, Dolly! The second half included numbers from less-well-known shows, including three charming songs from You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
The company also provided narration and slides about a variety of non-musical productions, divided into comedies, dramas, and epic productions (such as Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses, one of my all-time favorite Lamb’s shows). Undoubtedly, it wasn’t feasible to re-enact scenes from the plays, but I missed savoring how well the company handles lesser-known plays written earlier in the 20th Century. As it was, the cast was comprised of actors who sing (as opposed to singers who act), some of them sing better than others, and some of the songs were better matched to their performers than others.
Those who have followed Lamb’s for some time will undoubtedly enjoy seeing the photos of previous productions, while others may find hearing the many familiar songs to be to their liking. For people who are neither Lamb’s aficionados nor musical theatre fans, however, A Jewel in the Crown City may prove to be a long sit.
Still, congratulations are due to one of San Diego’s very best theatre companies, along with best wishes for continued success along the Silver Strand.
Performs through February 24 Tuesdays – Thursdays at 7:30pm, Wednesdays at 2:30pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 4 and 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm. The theater’s address is 1142 Orange Avenue, Coronado. Tickets range from $28 – $78 with some discounts available. Parking is available along city streets or at nearby pay lots. Refreshments are available at an attached café. This review is based on the Saturday, January 19, 8pm, performance.