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When Love Takes Center Stage

Looking Back at Our Favorite Musical Love Stories at the Ahmanson Theatre

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L-R: Frances McNamee and Oliver Savile in 'The Last Ship.'

Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Here at Center Theatre Group, we’re no strangers to showcasing spectacular love stories by way of musical theatre. The Ahmanson, in particular, has visited the crossroads of song, dance, and romance continuously since its first season more than 50 years ago through today with The Last Ship.

At the Ahmanson Jan 14 – Feb 16, 2020, the stirring musical—starring rock legend Sting and a talented ensemble of actors and singers—unveils a story of community and compassion inspired by the Grammy Award®-winning musician’s own coming-of-age in small-town, working-class England. But alongside its themes of family, friendship, and unity are two timeless love stories. And as The Last Ship tells its unique, romantic tales, we’re celebrating 10 big musical love stories onstage the Ahmanson that continue to make us want to burst into song and dance ourselves.

The Happy Time (1967)

Robert Goulet in ‘The Happy Time.’
Doubling as the Ahmanson’s first World premiere and earliest musical production, The Happy Time enjoyed a sold-out run during the start of the 1967/68 Season, heading to Broadway immediately after. Directed and choreographed by Gower Champion, the musical follows a world-traveling photographer—played by Robert Goulet—who faces trouble committing to his old sweetheart. With a whopping nine nominations and three wins at the 1968 Tony Awards®, this memorable tale was a musical rendition of Samuel A. Taylor’s original play of the same title.


They’re Playing Our Song (1978)

Lucie Arnaz and Robert Klein in ‘They’re Playing Our Song.’
The brainchild of the prolific Neil Simon, They’re Playing Our Song lives in history as a quintessential, feel-good musical about the wonky romance between a quipping composer and wacky lyricist. Abundant with laughs and, of course, romance, this World premiere opened at the Ahmanson in December 1978, and despite its petite cast of two characters—opposites played by Robert Klein and Lucie Amaz—the production wooed audiences with its wit and low-key musical numbers. The show then went on to Broadway, where The New York Times lauded Arnaz’s performance for its “energy, charm and humor.”


The Phantom of the Opera (1989)

(L-R) Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman in ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ at the Majestic Theatre. Photo by Clive Barda.
A love story dressed in mystery’ horror, and forbidden romance, The Phantom of the Opera’s record-breaking run at the Ahmanson lasted a whopping 1,772 performances. The classic tale of stunning vocalist Christine Daaé and the enigmatic Phantom—embodied for the run’s first 11 months by Michael Crawford, who reprised his Tony- and Olivier-winning role—became the West Coast’s most commercially successful theatrical production of all time, triumphantly earning $130 million dollars over its four-year run.


Miss Saigon (1995)

Peter Lockyer and Jennifer C. Paz in ‘Miss Saigon.’
After nearly nine months of renovation, the Ahmanson became the home of Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil’s Miss Saigon for 10 months as a stop on the legendary musical’s first US tour after its Tony-winning Broadway run in 1991. Starring Peter Lockyer and Jennifer C. Paz as doomed lovers Chris and Kim, the Los Angeles Times lauded Lockyer’s “refreshing and vivid performance,” along with Paz’s embodiment of “fresh and honest emotion.”


Show Boat (1996)

The cast of ‘Show Boat.’ at the Ahmanson.
Called the “granddaddy of every great musical ever written” by the Los Angeles Times, Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern’s immortal Show Boat sailed onto the Ahmanson stage in 1996. Dazzling audiences just as much as the acclaimed 1927 original, this Tony Award-winning revival brought its revolutionary realism and influential melodies to Los Angeles for a six-month run that Variety critic Tim Gray said had just about everything: “melodrama, vaudeville, romance, and comedy shtick.”


Rent (1997)

The company in a scene from ‘Rent.’ Photo by Joan Marcus.
Perfectly capturing the “musical love story” concept is Rent—a Tony- and Pulitzer-winning show that not only spoke to ’90s audiences with its exciting rock opera personality, but bold awareness of social matters such as poverty, drug addiction, LGBT issues, and HIV/AIDS. Arriving at the Ahmanson in September 1997 after its West Coast premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse, the musical sensation moved Los Angeles audiences (and it also starred a young Neil Patrick Harris as Mark Cohen!).


Mamma Mia! (2002)

©McCabes
Big laughs, big weddings, and iconic love songs courtesy of ABBA—what more can be asked for from a jukebox musical like Mamma Mia!? Before the star-studded film adaptation of Catherine Johnson’s hit West End musical, Mamma Mia! graced the Ahmanson stage in 2002, winning over audiences with its lively dance breaks, beautifully performed pop masterpieces, and hilarious plotline: a bride’s search to find her real father.


The Drowsy Chaperone (2005)

Sutton Foster and the cast of ‘The Drowsy Chaperone.’ Photo by Craig Schwartz.
Amusing Los Angeles audiences before heading to Broadway—where it won five Tony Awards, including Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score—The Drowsy Chaperone appeared on the Ahmanson stage for a short-but-spirited run featuring Beth Leavel (whose performance in the title role earned her both a Tony and Drama Desk Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical) and Sutton Foster. Packed with musicals within musicals and four weddings, this comedy love story twinkles with parody, ingenuity, and of course, hysterical romance.


Spring Awakening (2008)

The cast of the ‘Spring Awakening’ national tour. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
After winning nine Tonys—most notably recognized as Best Musical—on the Great White Way in 2007, Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s Spring Awakening shook up the Ahmanson just a year later with its classic narrative of angsty teens and the troubles accompanying their sexual explorations in the 19th century: unexpected pregnancy, abortion, and suicide. Charles McNulty of the L.A. Times praised the show, saying the adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s 1891 play “moodily captures the jarring hormonal journey from adolescence to adulthood.”


The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess (2014)

David Hughey and Sumayya Ali in ‘The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess.’ Photo by Michael J. Lutch.
First adapted from a novel, then reworked into a play and later an opera, the story of the beautiful Bess and brave Porgy has continued to charm hearts no matter the medium. Following the burgeoning romance between an audacious beggar and pretty woman trying to break free from her scandalous past and ex-lover, the reinvented musical treatment of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, directed by Tony winner Diane Paulus with book adapted by Suzan-Lori Parks and music adapted by Diedre Murray, hit the Ahmanson stage in 2014 after an successful run on Broadway, where its jazzy musical treasures and warm narrative introduced younger theatre-goers to a classic American tale.


The Last Ship (2020)

The cast of ‘The Last Ship’ at Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.
Called “poignant and powerful” by the Sunday Mirror, The Last Ship is a heartfelt tale centered on the value of human relationships—it’s also a musical double-stuffed with two identifiable-yet-contrasting love stories. One of these narratives involves Jackie White (played by the legendary Sting) and wife Peggy, whose resilient partnership is jeopardized in the face of illness; the other romance follows Gideon, a prodigal son returning home after 17 years, only to realize his beloved Meg has given her heart to another. After a well-received international tour, the show returned to US stages with a newly revised book with the Ahmanson as its first docking location.

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