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THEATER REVIEW : Country Hits Out of Step in Story of the Old West : But the Melodrama troupe's strong acting helps save the silly plot of 'Bad Day at Gopher's Breath.'


With no genre safe from its grasp, the Magnificent Moorpark Melodrama & Vaudeville Company moves to the Old West for its current production, "Bad Day at Gopher's Breath."

The group, as usual, combines a silly plot with song and dance numbers by an enthusiastic troupe of young performers.

This time the story concerns a gang of desperadoes intent on performing one last robbery: the bank in Gopher's Breath, Colorado Territory. Inept under even the most favorable circumstances, the gang here is hindered by the town's corrupt sheriff--himself after the big payroll--and by the gang's Rawhide Rawlings' having fallen in love with the banker's niece. A bounty hunter is after the sheriff, Temperance Union workers are intent on bringing prohibition to Gopher's Breath, and everybody tends to break out into song and dance at the slightest provocation.

The script, credited to Al and Lee Ver Schure, has been larded with more-or-less present-day country hits, among them "Achey Breakey Heart," "Tulsa Time" and the Judds' "Girls' Night Out." None of them fits the story, particularly, let alone the time period. And the rather flaccid performances are likely to create nostalgia for the comparatively energetic original versions. This must be one of the very few instances of someone singing with less energy than Don Williams.

On the other hand, the acting here is stronger than many of the Melodramas, with a cast of beefy guys who play with real punch as well as great costumes. Among the wimminfolk , singer-choreographer Erin Appling--a Melodrama stalwart--is noteworthy, and Carla Jimenez has a voice to be reckoned with, even if she, too, was unable to show any drive on top of the feeble rhythms supplied throughout last Saturday's matinee performance. Of the men, all of whom are fine, David Webster plays hero-by-default Rawlings, Robert Craig is the bounty hunter who narrates the story, J.C. Bishop is the sheriff, and Scott Cunningham and Andrew Hicks are a couple of the knockabout outlaws.


* WHAT: "Bad Day at Gopher's Breath."

* WHEN: Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Matinees Saturdays and Sundays at 3 through April 9.

* WHERE: Magnificent Moorpark Melodrama & Vaudeville Company Theater, 45 E. High St., Moorpark.

* COST: Thursday, $6; Fridays, $10; Saturday evenings, $12. Saturday and Sunday matinees, $12 adults; $9.50 seniors and children. Group rates are available for matinees only. Visa and MasterCard accepted.

* FYI: For reservations or information, call 529-1212

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