Even by their own standards, members of the Magnificent Moorpark Melodrama reach a new height in silliness in their production of "The Pink Panther Strikes Again." Following that production, the company turns in a half-hour abridgement of the recent Broadway (and current Los Angeles) hit, "Jerome Robbins' Broadway." All in all, it's quite a rewarding--and a little exhausting--three or so hours.
Based on characters and situations created for writer-director Blake Edwards' series of farcical "Pink Panther" films and with a script credited to William Gleason, the musical drama chronicles the exploits of bumbling Parisian police detective Jacques Clouseau.
Specifically, it is based on the 1976 "Pink Panther Strikes Again," where Clouseau's former supervisor, Chief Inspector Paul Dreyfus, has spent the last three years in an asylum, driven to madness by Clouseau's ineptness. Clouseau, of course, has replaced Dreyfus as chief inspector.
Dreyfus escapes and commandeers a scientist's death-ray doomsday machine, threatening to destroy the world. Unless. . . .
The Moorpark production runs rampant with punning gags (including one slightly off-color one that supplied the biggest laugh opening night), low-budget special effects, including the destruction of the United Nations building, hunchbacks, pretty girls (three of whom are in panther costumes), pratfalls aplenty, and music ranging from the "Hallelujah" chorus to Irving Berlin and Cole Porter to Disney's "Mary Poppins" score to the '60s pop hit "Sukiyaki"--sung by Clouseau's manservant and martial arts sparring partner Cato.
Damian Gravino is costumed and made up to resemble a considerably taller version of Peter Sellers' Clouseau, and Gravino slips in and out of his very peculiar accent just as Sellers did. Jeff Wallace's Dreyfus bears less physical resemblance to Herbert Lom's original, but who remembers what Lom looked like, anyway?
Both are fine in their parts, and the manic Wallace doubles as the evening's host, leading the audience (most of whom seemed to be old hands at the Melodrama) through their paces.
(If you haven't been there, prepare to participate to some degree, as the Melodrama is tough on sticks-in-the-mud, who are likely to be dragged into the spotlight.)
Among the supporting players, three of the standouts are named Wendy: Wendy Morgan delivers a nice version of "My Man" as Olga, who may or may not be a spy; Wendy Huffman delivers a nice cameo as a German spy, and Wendy Molloy is a better dancer than director Joy Enright's clever choreography really demands. Musical director Tim King supplies both background instrumental work (aided by bass guitarist Dennis Cothran) and sound effects on his electronic keyboards.
Several of the players assemble after the show proper for the Robbins tribute, which is--like the Broadway original--more of an excuse to trot out some catchy tunes than an explanation of Robbins' contributions to the theater.
The songs include numbers from shows directed or choreographed by Robbins, including "On the Town," "Call Me Madam," "Peter Pan," "Gypsy" and "West Side Story," with David Blair Nankivell, who plays the doomsday machine's inventor in "Pink Panther," demonstrating how effective James Cagney would have been as Officer Krupke.
WHERE AND WHEN
"The Pink Panther Strikes Again" plays Thursdays through Sundays, ending Feb. 9, at the Magnificent Moorpark Melodrama & Vaudeville Company, 45 E. High St., Moorpark. Performances are at 7 p.m. Thursdays and Sundays, and 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, with Saturday matinees at 4 p.m. Tickets are $10. Discount tickets for $7.50 are available for seniors and children under 12 Thursday evenings, Saturday matinees and Sunday nights.