By Scott MacClelland
A WOMAN of many talents, Layne Littlepage developed them elsewhere but, to our benefit, brought them all back home. She spent her childhood in Pacific Grove. “My mother’s family were early California settlers, and we lived in their home. PG was a wonderful place to grow up.” Music has always been a part of her life, starting with violin and evolving into opera and song. Between the two came an acting career—she studied at San Francisco State—and a writing career.
Over a two-year period she appeared with Hilberry Repertory in Michigan as Lady Macbeth, Mrs. Webb in Our Town and Alithea in The Country Wife. In New York she performed in off-Broadway productions. There, she set her sights on an opera career. “I studied voice with Marion Freschl of the Juilliard School and coached with Metropolitan Opera conductor Martin Rich.” She created the role of Laura in Nicholas Scarim’s The Father, and sang leading roles with the New American Opera Theatre, New York Grand Opera and the Mannes Mozart Project.
But Littlepage is not known locally for that range of experience. Instead, her fame in the Monterey Peninsula area rests primarily on her one-woman shows—usually with a colleague or two—staged at the Cherry Foundation in Carmel. Her new show, Everybody Says Don’t!, opens there this weekend, and will play through July. “I call it a musical show that doesn’t follow the rules,” Littlepage says. She credits her pianist Barney Hulse with the idea, a departure from her characterizations of historic figures. An Evening with Beatrice Lillie, a show of her own conception, collected rave notices in New York, San Francisco, Palm Springs and the Edinburgh and Spoleto Festivals. (Pictured is Littlepage with Hulse in a local production.) In 2012 she honored female Broadway stars in a show called Divas.
Littlepage has done cabaret performances celebrating such giants of the musical theater as Cole Porter, the Gershwin brothers, Richard Rodgers, Irving Berlin and Noël Coward. In 2011 she was invited to Porter’s home town, Peru, Indiana, to kick off the annual Cole Porter Festival marking the songwriter’s 120th anniversary.
Everybody Says Don’t! is a well-known song from Stephen Sondheim’s 1964 musical Anyone Can Whistle. The song is one of many in the show from the Great American Songbook. Joining Littlepage and Hulse is actor Cliff Berry. In creating a new show, “I figure out the patter, the whole situation,” which she weaves into a narrative thread. “Barney’s input is very important. Cliff and I did a duet in the Porter show at Peru.” In the new show, “We’re concentrating on the don’ts. Sort of a ‘don’t ever sing a song you don’t love.’ These songs demonstrate how they contradict the rules.”
When Littlepage’s operatic aspirations “didn’t go where I wanted them to go,” she took up writing, including a couple of novels. “It was the Beatrice Lillie show that revived my acting and singing. It gave me the confidence and focus to start doing one-woman shows.” She has made the Monterey Peninsula her permanent home since the mid-1990s. Locally, she has done other productions. “When I moved back here from New York I did my Beatrice Lillie show first at Monterey Peninsula College. I was in The Playboy of the Western World directed by Morgan Stock at the Forest Theater. I was Marlene Dietrich in a show at Sunset Center.”
Along with acting, singing and writing, education is an equal priority. Littlepage maintains a voice studio in Carmel, “for gifted singers of all ages,” and is a voice teacher at Santa Catalina School in Monterey. At any given time she estimates she gives 18 to 20 lessons a week. “In Everybody Says Don’t! I do a bit of opera, and the rest is classic to contemporary Broadway, including rarities and funny songs,” she says. “One of my favorite parts of the show is a crazy My Fair Lady mélange. I think the show is something audiences will really enjoy.”