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THEATER REVIEW 'TIED TO THE TRACKS' : Railroad Classic : This Moorpark Melodrama cliffhanger parody is one of its weaker efforts but contains some feisty performances.

March 14, 1991|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Their attitude might consistently reflect the style of old-time melodrama, but productions of the Magnificent Moorpark Melodrama & Vaudeville Co. range afar. Recent shows have included parodies of the "Pink Panther" films and Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker"; the upcoming "Clumsy Custard Horror Show" evidently looks to the "Star Wars" trilogy for inspiration.

They don't come much more classic, though, than the current "Tied to the Tracks." Set in the Dakota Territories, the show more or less climaxes with the scene that inspired its title, in which the heroine is lashed to the railway by villainous medicine-show operator Silias Scavanger, with the next train due any second.

How that scene--complete with train--is accomplished on the Melodrama stage with the company's middlin' budget will draw either cheers or groans, depending on spectators' sense of humor and appreciation of resourcefulness.

"Tied to the Tracks" is one of the Melodrama's weaker recent efforts, though the cast of 21 enthusiastic players directed by Steve Robertson give Tim Kelly's play their usual all. Many Moorpark shows interject popular songs from one era or another. Here, Arne Christiansen and Ole Kittleson's original score is functional but less than memorable.

Perhaps it was only true of the performance reviewed, but the show seemed underrehearsed, with some of the dancing ensembles distressingly sloppy. Others were not. Sloppiness isn't the point of Wendy Molloy's choreography. And certain actors were more impressive than others.

Wendy Huffman, last seen dancing in a Pink Panther suit, is here cast as ingenue Dakota Melody, a girl so sweet that when she sings to the wildflowers, they sing back. Ron Berrett plays Sheriff Billy Bold; Richard Zemaitis is the villain Scavanger.

Many of the best scenes involve feisty outlaw Prairie Rose (Tina Nolen) and her two bumbling henchmen, played by Claude Rowe and Harve Waltke. Randall J. Harold is Running Water, a purported American Indian attached to Scavanger's show. The reliable David Barry (so memorable as the Dudley Do-Right type in "Sgt. Fenshaw of the Mounties") is an iron-jawed representative of the Pinkerton Detective Agency.

The play itself is followed, as per Moorpark custom, by a revue in which the cast takes on a whole new set of characters and performs popular songs.

This time around, the theme is country music. Songs include Alabama's "Mountain Music," Hank Williams Jr.'s "All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight," Dolly Parton's "Tennessee Homesick Blues" and three songs probably most familiar to the cast through revivals by Linda Ronstadt: "Silver Threads and Golden Needles," "When Will I Be Loved" and "Crazy."

To put it kindly, country music isn't these people's forte, and accompaniment by Tim King's electronic keyboards and Dennis Cothran's bass guitar, both very effective during the Melodrama, seemed inauthentic at best.

Two songs stood out, both novelties: "Let's Do Something Cheap and Superficial" (originally a hit for Burt Reynolds) and the rowdy "Jose Cuervo."

* WHERE AND WHEN

"Tied to the Tracks" continues Thursdays through Sundays at the Moorpark Melodrama & Vaudeville Co., 45 E. High St. in Moorpark. Performances are at 7 p.m. Thursdays and Sundays, 8 p.m. on Fridays and 3 and 8 p.m. on Saturdays. The show runs through April 6. Tickets are $10; $7.50 seniors and children under 12 Thursdays and Sundays and Saturday matinee. Group rates are available for most performances. For reservations or further information, call (805) 529-1212 between noon and 5 p.m. daily.

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