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THEATER REVIEW / 'THE ROAD TO PARADISE' : Flashback : The spirited Moorpark show is a faithful re-creation of the film comedies that starred Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.

October 15, 1992|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The line between tribute and rip-off can get mighty thin, sometimes. "The Road to Paradise," now playing at the Magnificent Moorpark Melodrama & Vaudeville Company, teeters on that line with the skill of a Ringling Brothers wire-walker and the enthusiasm of a carload of clowns.

Written and directed by Scott Martin, the spirited show is a faithful re-creation of the "Road" film comedies starring Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and (usually) Dorothy Lamour.

The series stretched from "The Road to Singapore" in 1940 to "The Road to Hong Kong" in 1962, with additional stops in such remote locations as Bali, Zanzibar, Morocco and the Klondike. (Most of the sites were re-created on the Paramount back lot, on what looked like a budget of less than Cecil B. DeMille's daily lunch tab.)

Like the film versions, this "Road," set during World War II, finds a smooth crooner and his comic sidekick stranded on the outskirts of Western civilization, pursued by bad guys and vying for the romantic attentions of an exotic local.

(Perhaps the most notable deviation from the films is that Hope and Crosby's "patty-cake" self-defense routine has been changed to "one potato, two potato.")

James Harlow is Duke Taylor, the Crosby clone, with Chadwick Lortie as Larry Markle, the Hope surrogate. When their plane crashes in the South Pacific, the two swim ashore and meet an assortment of islanders and Nazis, plus a Japanese soldier who is collaborating with the Germans.

The gags and songs scatter like ack-ack, as the Germans try to gain control of a native plant with miraculous properties, and Taylor and Markle avoid the enemy while trying to attract the attentions of Lamura (Kimberly Decker) and escape the island.

While some of Martin's songs run on a bit long, one major production number, "The Ongo Pongo Jungle Man," is a highlight of the show. It is choreographed by Maria Peterson.

It's all plenty funny, though some of the gags are a tiny bit more risque than Moorpark Melodrama audiences might be used to. There's nothing to scandalize anybody, though.

More questionable is the portrayal of the Japanese character as a racial stereotype--with owlish glasses and buck teeth, and the character's mixing up of the letters "r" and "l"--that should have died with WWII propaganda films. Even the Nazis aren't treated that badly in the show.

Harlow and Lortie are excellent in their emulation of the Crosby and Hope characters, and Decker does what she can with the less interesting Lamura. (Lamour had the same problem in the films, where her characters were little more than window-dressing.)

Karen Craig plays Nazi doctor Schickegrueber, William Shupe II is Col. Sakatumi, and Chris Carnicelli, David Barry, Patricia Newbert, Robert Porter, Sheryl Scott, Mona Simpson and Corrine White play various islanders and Nazis.

* WHERE AND WHEN

"The Road to Paradise" continues Thursdays through Sundays through Nov. 14 at the Moorpark Melodrama, 45 E. High Street in Moorpark. Performances are at 7 p.m. Thursdays and Sundays, 8 p.m. Fridays, and 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays. Tickets for all performances are $12, or $9.50 for seniors and children on Thursdays, Saturday matinees and Sundays. For reservations or further information, call 529-1212 between noon and 5 p.m.

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