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THEATER REVIEW 'LITTLE MARY SUNSHINE' : Operetta Redux : Camarillo Community Theater's production is ambitious and delightful--despite the mess of a libretto.

February 13, 1992|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Little Mary Sunshine," Rick Besoyan's 1960 musical, played a nearly three-year run in New York's Greenwich Village.

It has been resurrected in an energetic production by the Camarillo Community Theater.

The show is a parody of the operetta--a genre that's all but forgotten except in revival.

Instead of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police of "Rose Marie" (the show's most obvious source of inspiration), the gallant men of "Little Mary Sunshine" are members of the Colorado Forest Rangers.

There's a charming, resourceful ingenue, several Native Americans, a couple of somewhat dotty older people and a chorus of young maidens from finishing school who seem to have wandered in from a Gilbert and Sullivan production.

Besoyan's musical numbers include most of the forms identified with the genre, from thundering choruses to romantic duets.

While members of the audience probably won't leave the theater humming the tunes, they're in the proper spirit.

It's the libretto, also by Besoyan, that probably kept "Little Mary Sunshine" off-Broadway.

In brief, it's a mess.

The Indians, members of the fictional Kadota nation, are caricatures grosser than those in "Li'l Abner."

One major character disappears for most of the show, and important story lines are resolved almost as though they were afterthoughts.

None of which seemed to have discouraged the cast at Saturday night's show, nor the audience.

Taken on its own rather undemanding terms, "Little Mary Sunshine" is a delight, and the Camarillo troupe has given it a typically ambitious production under the direction of Jim Barker.

Cathleen McCarthy, who played Laurie in the Cabrillo Music Theatre's 1990 production of "Oklahoma!," plays Little Mary Sunshine, a perpetually sunny soprano and owner of an inn high in the Colorado Rockies.

Ron Spivak is Capt. Big Jim Warrington, leader of the forest rangers.

He's played the part before, in a Woodland Hills community theater production, and has co-starred in the quite different role of Cpl. Billy Jester in a New York City revival of the show. Here, he's all chin and teeth, a cross between Howard Keel and Dudley Do-Right.

Roldan Munoz plays Billy Jester, a bright-eyed juvenile with all the virtues of a Boy Scout.

It would be difficult to imagine anyone better in the part than Munoz, memorable as a television commercial director in last year's Plaza Players productions of "Eat Your Heart Out."

The elder comic parts are played by Linda Foster as opera singer Mme. Ernestine von Libedich and Dr. Jimm Giles plays Gen. Oscar Fairfax. Tricia Dumont-Carroll plays Nancy Twinkle, the hotel's maid.

Josef Behrens plays Chief Brown Bear with more dignity than Besoyan may have intended (and good for Behrens!), Bob Zarit plays Fleet Foot like a character from "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," and Jerry Jovan Baldonado, who choreographed this production, dances impressively in the role of Yellow Feather.

Ensemble vocals, under musical director and pianist Kevin Parcher, are impressive, and director Barker's low-budget sets do the job.

Last season's Camarillo Community Theater season featured several members of the talented Johnston family.

None of them are involved in "Little Mary Sunshine," but the troupe rolls on with style.

* WHERE AND WHEN

"Little Mary Sunshine" continues Friday and Saturday nights at 8 and Sundays at 7 p.m. through March 7 at the Camarillo Airport Theater, 330 Skyway Drive on the Camarillo Airport grounds. Tickets are $10 general admission, $8 for seniors, students and active military personnel. For reservations or further information, call 388-5716. For group rate information, call 482-6340.

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