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THEATER NOTES : Seeing the Light : Ventura County's first music theater, an offshoot of a Santa Barbara Civic Light Opera, is scheduled to make its debut in July.

March 28, 1991|PHILIP BRANDES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Asummer theater deity appears to have looked down upon Ventura County and pronounced, Let there be light. . . .

Light opera, that is. Final arrangements have been completed for the Music Theatre of Ventura County, an offshoot of the Santa Barbara Civic Light Opera, to launch its first full summer season with three productions at the Oxnard Civic Auditorium.

Beginning in early July, the group will offer fans of Broadway musicals the lush tropical breezes of "South Pacific," the decadence of 1929 Berlin in "Cabaret" and "dose street-smart 'Guys and Dolls.' "

The series is tentatively planned to span six consecutive weeks, with each production running two weeks.

According to Music Theatre of Ventura County publicist Karyl Lynn Burns, the decision to provide a summer season of locally produced musicals was made in response to audience enthusiasm for the group's water-testing production of "Evita" last summer. More than 12,000 people from Ventura County saw "Evita," setting box office records at the Oxnard Civic Auditorium.

The Music Theatre of Ventura County is trying to provide a local alternative for the large audiences who regularly go south to attend theater in Los Angeles or north to Santa Barbara, Burns said.

Paul Iannaccone, artistic director of the Santa Barbara Civic Light Opera, established the Music Theatre of Ventura County last year with the goal of creating a Ventura County-based production company rather than a venue for touring Santa Barbara productions. Although the two companies share the same administrative staff, they will be governed by separate boards of directors and advisory boards, each drawn from the communities they serve. Prospective members for the Ventura County boards are being sought with the help of the Murphy Organization, an Oxnard-based marketing firm.

Light opera officials say all revenues from Music Theatre of Ventura County productions will be recycled directly into future Ventura County productions.

As with last year's "Evita," the cast and technical crew for the summer season will be recruited from the community when possible, with guest directors and some Equity Artists cast in the leads--about the same professional-community mix as in the Santa Barbara Civic Light Opera productions. The preliminary goal, officials say, is to establish a base company of performers for all three shows if enough participants can commit for the entire six-week period. Audition notices are scheduled to be sent over the next two weeks. No directors have yet been signed for any of the shows.

Iannaccone's efforts have been perceived with apprehension in some quarters as something akin to the exploits of a marauding Visigoth bent on stealing audiences from Ventura County-based performing arts organizations. But Burns said deliberate care was given to scheduling the Music Theatre of Ventura County's shows during the summer to avoid competition with ongoing local Civic Auditorium presenters, including the Cabrillo Music Theatre and the Ventura County Symphony, which have no performances scheduled in July and August.

Jack Lavin, general manager of the Oxnard Civic Auditorium, is strong in his support of the Iannaccone venture.

"Renting the auditorium during a traditionally patchy time at best has been a significant financial benefit to the facility and a cultural benefit to this community," he said. "There's a great audience here for musical theater that just wasn't being met by our local performing arts groups. This arrangement with the Music Theatre of Ventura County has been in development since 1988--it's not a snap judgment, and they're here at our invitation."

* WHERE AND WHEN

Organizers cannot confirm performance dates but are tentatively aiming for the first week in July. Performances will be held at the Oxnard Civic Auditorium. Call 966-2324.

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