Remember when going to the theater was a special event? You’d plan an entire evening around it. You’d start with dinner out at a good restaurant, then on to the theater, and maybe coffee and dessert afterward someplace to talk about the show. Getting all dressed up was part of the fun and excitement. It wasn’t something that was dreaded, putting on your best duds for the night out at the theater made the entire experience special.
The play itself could be a serious drama or intimate romantic comedy or full-out farce or variety show or a big musical comedy ala Rodgers and Hammerstein. There used to be loads of choices. And even if the show was bad, well, it was still a night on the town and hey, at least dinner was good and the hot fudge sundae afterward topped off the whole evening. And, as a plus, the cost of the entire thing didn’t put you in the poor house. Nights like that can still happen, if you know where to go.
One good place to go is the El Portal Theater in North Hollywood. This landmark was originally built as a Vaudeville house in 1926 before it was turned into a movie theater. As a kid and teen it was one of my neighborhood movie theaters along with the California and Magnolia theaters in Burbank. Sadly the theater ran into tough times for a few years before finally closing down.
But then, Abracadabra – the place was born again ten years ago, totally rebuilt as a live theater complex. Today there are three theaters in the historic building: the 42-seat Studio Theatre, the 92-seat Forum Theatre and the 360-seat main stage. The lobby seconds as an art gallery and features carpeting acquired in 2004 from the now defunct Los Angeles Shubert Theatre. Since it reopened the El Portal has offered quite a variety of stage shows and plays starring such well known performers as Kitty Carlisle, Debbie Reynolds, Hal Linden, and The Manhattan Transfer.
The latest show was a world premier of the new play, “Sort of a Love Story,” starring Joe Bologna and Renee Taylor. Remember funny theater? Taylor and Bologna have been specialists in that ever since they co-wrote the Broadway hit, “Lovers and Other Strangers.” In 1971 they co-wrote and starred in the movie, Made for Each Other. Their other plays include “It Had to be You,” “Bermuda Avenue Triangle,” and “If You Ever Leave Me… I’m going With You.”
Married for over 45 years, Taylor and Bologna work together like a well-run engine. Their comedy timing is flawless; their interaction a treat to watch. They have, as the expression goes, “great chemistry” as a team. And it’s no wonder – since they have been a real life husband and wife team for over 45 years. They have been veterans of the stage, movies, and television for decades although most people today would probably know Taylor best for her role as Fran Drescher’s mother in The Nanny and Bologna for his wonderful send up of Sid Caesar in the movie hit, My Favorite Year.
“Sort Of a Love Story” is a funny and sensitive play about two apparent losers. Two poor souls who have been through it all, the good, the bad, and the ugly. The guy is a professional crook, the gal is a street-wise con artist, and in the end they find each other and, although for awhile it seems unlikely, eventually they do get together. The show, written by Bologna and Richard Krevolin, is all about the strength and magic of love and believing. Taylor and Bologna play multiple characters in the show.
So the theater going experience still exists and it can be just as exciting as it always was. First you need to find a show with smart writing and talented performers presented in a venue that is comfortable and intimate. Then you and your best girl get all dolled up, have that dinner at a special restaurant and off you go to the theater. Try it, and you might just find out it’s a lot more fun then staying home watching TV in your bathrobe.