Los Angeles Music Center


Seeing Stars: Live on Stage

135 N. Grand Avenue (at 1st Street),
Downtown Los Angeles, CA. / (213) 972-7211

Some of the biggest Hollywood stars started out on stage, in live theatre.

Recently, singer/actor Michael Crawford has emerged as a major Hollywood personality based primarily on his lead role as "The Phantom of the Opera." Mandy Patinkin was initially best known for his role as Ché in "Evita."

Many movie actors like to return to the theatre every now and then, to sharpen their acting skills. You can see these entertainers live on stage, at the Los Angeles Music Center.

The Music Center of Los Angeles County stands like some modern day Acropolis, atop a hill in downtown L.A. Created in 1964, the Music Center sprawls over seven acres, and contains three major theatres: the massive Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (to the south), the Ahmanson Theatre (to the north), and the small Mark Taper Forum in the center of the complex.

The elegant Dorothy Chandler Pavilion is the largest and grandest of the three auditoriums, its entrance way framed by spectacular fountains. With 90-foot-high columns, the Pavilion's dramatic glass & stone facade masks a palatial foyer with elegant white marble walls, 17th century tapestries, a 24-karat gold-leaf dome, sparkling crystal chandeliers, renowned sculpture, and a grand, sweeping, marble staircase. It's gorgeous.

The Dorothy Chandler seats 3,197 and boasts one of the largest stages in the nation: one gold curtain alone (on the main stage) weighs 3,000 pounds. Oddly enough, though, the Pavilion doesn't host the popular Broadway musicals that attract so many to the Music Center. Instead it is the winter home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic from October to May, offering 260 concerts each year. (During the summer months, the L.A. Philharmonic performs at the outdoor Hollywood Bowl.) The Pavilion is also home to the renowned Joffrey Ballet, as well as the Los Angeles Master Chorale and the Los Angeles Music Center Opera.

And for many years, of course, the Pavilion has been the site of the annual Academy Awards show (alternating years with the rival Shrine Auditorium).

The nearby Ahmanson Theatre seats only 2,071, and its simple lobby can't compare to that of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. But it is home to most of the major Broadway musicals which play at the Music Center, such as "Miss Saigon," "Kiss of the Spider Woman," and "Phantom of the Opera" (the longest-running musical in the history of Los Angeles).

1998 saw such productions as "Rent," "Bring In 'Da Noise, Bring In 'Da Funk," "Chicago" (with Jasmine Guy) and "Barrymore" (with Christopher Plummer.)


Black & white photos of the many stars who have performed here are on display in the lobby, as is a special quilt bearing the signatures of celebrities, such as Charlton Heston, Elizabeth Taylor, Rex Harrison, Katharine Hepburn, Jack Lemmon, Ingrid Bergman, Carol Channing, Angela Lansbury, Glenda Jackson, Vanessa Redgrave, Peter Ustinov and Mary Martin. The interior of the theatre is plush enough, with dark red seats and sleek black walls; even seats in the back row of the lower level offer a good view of the stage.

If you prefer drama to musicals, the Music Center also offers you the tiny Mark Taper Forum, which offers theatre-goers a chance to see some of Hollywood's favorite actors strut the boards. The Mark Taper is located in a round building between the two other giant auditoriums. With only 752 seats, it specializes in small, intimate drama, staged by the Center Theatre Group. This is not a theater-in-the-round, mind you, but rather a semi-circular arrangement, with a unique aperture-like series of metal screens which allow the stage to be reshaped at will to fit the production. When Hollywood actors (such as Charlton Heston) get a yen to return to the live stage, the Mark Taper is often their forum of choice. Recently, Richard Dreyfuss and Christine Lahti headlined there in "Three Hotels," as did Molly Ringwald in "How I Learned To Drive," and Carol BurnettBronson Pinchot in "Putting It Together."

Frasier's own Kelsey Grammer starred in a reprise of the musical "Sweeny Todd," in March of 1999 at the Ahmanson. Three months later, Al Pacino took to the stage in "Hughie" for a five-week run at the Mark Taper Forum.

The Music Center also offers free guided tours of the complex, from 10 AM to 4 PM, tours which take you inside the major theatres. The guided tours aren't available on all days, though. Phone ahead (213) 972-7483) for the exact days and hours of these tours (and be warned that the guides are not exactly punctual). Tours meet outside the box office of the Dorothy Chandler.

(Also see the separate webpage about theatrical premieres.)

Parking: The center has its own paid, underground parking garage underneath the Music Center Plaza, with the garage entrance on the west side of Grand Avenue. But be warned: the rates are extremely high on weekdays, and payable in advance. (Later in the day, the matinee/evening rate is a more reasonable flat rate.) During performances (after 6 PM), valet parking is also available, on the east side of Hope Street, for a flat rate.

 Getting there: The Music Center is located in downtown L.A., bordered by 1st Street (on the south), Temple Street (on the north), Grand Avenue (on the east) and Hope Street (on the west). / From Hollywood, take the Hollywood (101) Freeway south to the Temple Street exit, then go east one block to Grand Avenue; turn right (south) on Grand Avenue and the center will be on your right (west) side. Turn right again into the Music Center's underground parking garage.

[For more information on this subject, you can access the Music Center's official website at: http://www.music-center.com or http://www.taperahmanson.com.]

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