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THEATER REVIEW : 'Shrew' and 'Music Man' Are Full of Pep at Civic Arts Plaza : They give a good idea of the site's capabilities and drawbacks and are microcosms of what's going on with the theatrical scene here.

November 10, 1994|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

By far the largest theatrical space in Ventura County, the new Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza is now in full theatrical use, with simultaneous productions of "The Music Man" in its main auditorium and "The Taming of the Shrew" in the smaller arena theater.

The shows--both closing this weekend--are worth seeing. They give a good idea of the plaza's capabilities and drawbacks and are microcosms of what's wrong with the theatrical scene here and (to a greater or lesser degree) across the country.

The mainstage production of "The Music Man" is a semi-professional effort by the Cabrillo Music Theatre, which sneaked into dormancy approximately two years ago after a series of generally worthy but financially draining productions in Port Hueneme's tiny Dorrill Wright Center. What a difference a couple of years and some personnel changes have made: The group, importing professional director Allan Hunt and professional actors in principal roles, has mounted a huge production in an 1,800-seat theater that's probably large enough to hold the entire Wright Center building. And the show was virtually sold out on Sunday afternoon, the third performance of a run that opened Friday night.

It's a big, boisterous production, with a cast large enough to fill the huge stage, a big orchestra in the pit and sound that's amplified so that the vocals--most of the time--can be heard in the farthest balcony.

Stephen Breithaupt stars as Prof. Harold Hill, the flimflamming "music man" who intends to sell the citizens of River City, Iowa, equipment for a boy's band and then skip town before delivering on his promise to teach the boys to play their instruments. Christine Martin, also a professional, co-stars as Marian Paroo, the spinster librarian who . . . well, there might be somebody reading this who will be surprised by the plot.

Both actors are fine, with Breithaupt potentially hampered by a performance that virtually belongs to the late Robert Preston: The association of actor and role (in both the Broadway and film versions) is as well-defined as any in theatrical history, and anybody who doesn't play Hill exactly as Preston did is, perhaps unfairly, going to suffer by comparison.

Among the actors familiar to local community theater audiences, Penny Puente is most effective as Marian's sensible mother. Valerie Paradise Lane, Karen Cozen, Crystal St. Romain and Linda Smith play a flock of local ladies. And a group known as Double Attraction stands out as the school board members whom Hill turns into a barbershop quartet. Most of the other locally based actors are in less-prominent roles; most of the other major roles are filled in by actors from out of town.

Backstage, it's something else, with musical director Diann Alexander, conductor Dave Pier, main choreographer DeAnne Spicer, costume designer Valerie Baltzer and producers Ray and Cheryl Mastrovito all veterans of numerous local productions.

Director Hunt and choreographer Spicer have done some marvelous work in keeping the crowds under control and looking interested throughout; too often, members of crowd scenes simply stand there, waiting for their next cue. Also watch the youngest dancers, particularly during the big "Shipoopi" number--top-notch work by all involved. The ensemble vocal work, too, is far above par for community theater. And, one last word: Don't leave before the curtain calls--you'll miss one of the biggest spectacles of all.

*

Downstairs in the approximately 350-seat Forum Theatre, the Tour de Force Repertory Company is staging Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew." A riotous comedy that's taken on far more serious overtones with the rise of feminism as a social issue, it's a play that holds up particularly well through the years.

Jaye Hersh, who played "shrew" Katherine at last year's Ojai Shakespeare Festival, here re-creates the role with perhaps even more verve. This time she's opposite Darren Raleigh--previously seen locally in "Tartuffe" and "The Winter's Tale"--as the dashing adventurer Petruchio.

Don Pearlman plays Baptista, the father who won't allow his desirable younger daughter, Bianca, to marry until Katherine, or Kate--"renowned in Padua for her scolding tongue"--is wed. Bianca is portrayed (and is that a bit of Valley Girl inflection in her voice?) by Catherina Best.

Jason Graziano, Damian Gravino and Larry Marko play suitors of Bianca, all too pleased to see Petruchio win his bet that he'll "tame" and marry Katherine; James Leslie, Bill Hillstrom and Mark Fagundes play servants, with Hillstrom's and Gravino's characters switching identities so that the master can court Bianca--as they say in Padua--incognito.

This is a very physical play, and director Terry Fishman has men fighting men, women fighting women and Petruchio and Kate engaging in some real free-for-alls with each other--if Raleigh and Hersh didn't seem so well matched, those fights could be quite disturbing.

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