Diversionary’s world-premiere musical ‘Loneliest Girl’ unpeels the Anita Bryant saga

If Anita Bryant’s name registers at all these days, for most people it’s probably on the level of a trivia answer.

But back in the ’70s, Bryant — a onetime Miss America contestant turned country singer who had a minor hit with “Paper Roses” — was a seemingly constant presence on TV in her role as pitchwoman for Florida orange juice. (It might seem barbaric now, but in that era you couldn’t skip the commercials!)

Her America’s-sweetheart image took a major turn, though, when Bryant began to rail against homosexuality, at a time when gay rights as a concept was just entering the national consciousness. Her religion-based activism wound up spurring the gay community into action, helping lay the groundwork for progress to come.

For Bryant, the episode was a career-ender; at one press conference she famously took a pie in the face, just to compound the indignity.

Diversionary Theatre has been developing a whole lot of new work of late, and now the LGBTQ-centered company stages the world premiere of “The Loneliest Girl in the World,” a musical by Gordon Leary and Julia Meinwald that explores Bryant’s saga.

The top San Diego actor Allison Spratt Pearce, whose credits include three Broadway shows, plays Bryant; she’s joined by Steve Gouveia, Sam Heldt, Lauren King Thompson, Shaun Tuazon-Martin and Marci Anne Wuebben in the production, directed by Diversionary artistic chief Matt M. Morrow.

And one way or another, pie is promised.

‘The Loneliest Girl in the World’

When: Previews begin Thursday. Opens June 2. 7 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Through June 24.

Where: Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd., University Heights.

Tickets: About $27-$55 (discounts available)

Phone: (619) 220-0097


Twitter: @jimhebert