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VENTURA COUNTY WEEKEND : THEATER : NOTES : Kristien Makes Anna the Star in This 'King and I' : The longtime 'Phantom of the Opera' female lead re-establishes the original pecking order in the classic musical at the Performing Arts Center.

October 26, 1995|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Who would have thought that the Cabrillo Music Theater--shuttered after a couple of seasons in Port Hueneme's relatively tiny Dorrill Wright Center--would re-emerge as Ventura County's most prominent company? But here they are, resident in the Thousand Oaks Performing Arts Center and capturing a well-known professional actress to head their otherwise mostly non-professional cast of "The King and I." The star is Dale Kristien, best-known for more than 1,700 performances as the female lead in the New York and Los Angeles companies of "The Phantom of the Opera."

Among its other virtues, the Cabrillo production of "The King and I" restores the show's female lead to prominence. Rodgers and Hammerstein had written the musical as a vehicle for Gertrude Lawrence, then entering the twilight of her performing career. Before long, though, newcomer Yul Brynner's charismatic performance as the King of Siam overshadowed Lawrence (who died in the show's second year), and whoever plays the King has been the de facto star ever since.

Not here. While Broadway veteran James Dybas is very capable in his own right, this is clearly Anna's show. And Kristien turns in a star-quality performance under Teri Ralston's direction; she's a better singer than Lawrence, and an actress who's able to draw nuances from the character of Anna Leonowens, who, more than 100 years ago, was a real-life British widow hired to educate and partially westernize King Mongkut's children.

Less forceful than Brynner, Dybas is closer, perhaps, to what the King would have been like if portrayed by Alfred Drake or Rex Harrison, both of whom were approached for the role but turned it down. Look, too, for appealing performances by Erin Appling--familiar to local audiences as star of the Conejo Players' "Carnival" and numerous Moorpark Melodrama roles--as a lovely Tuptim, and Nick Marinoff as Anna's young son.

Musical director Diann Alexander leads a top-notch pit orchestra, and John Charron's choreography uses what looks like a couple thousand youngsters to help fill the auditorium's capacious stage.

* "The King and I" plays Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 and 7 p.m. at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza Auditorium, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd. $17-$27 through Ticketmaster (583-8700) or the Plaza box office; 497-8616.

*

Cal Lutheran Stage: An Immigration and Naturalization Service processing center on the Texas-Mexican border is the setting for "De Donde?" This timely bit of polemic is playing at Cal Lutheran University. In Mary Gallagher's episodic play, two thuggish border guards (Edgar Aguirre; Miguel Caberra) spend most of their time trying to stop the steady stream of men, women and children trying to enter the United States from Mexico, Central America and South America.

Gallagher tells her story with sympathy toward the would-be immigrants rather than those who are trying to keep them out. That said, she paints a powerful picture, somewhat lackadaisically conveyed by a large cast under the direction of Ken Gardner.

Characters include a first-generation American college girl (Rachel Oliveros-Larsen) who is somewhat blase about the immigrants' economic distress, noting to one youth who's just crossed the border that her Reeboks cost $50, ". . . not that we're not rich or anything." Then there is a woman (Veronica Garcia) who refuses to reveal her identity even to sympathetic public-service lawyers, and Pete (Drew Maxwell), the most sympathetic of them, himself a Vietnam-era draft dodger.

Opening night's performance was hindered by some hesitant line readings and shaky delivery of scenes. But the message couldn't be more clear.

* "De Donde?" Tonight and Saturday at 8 p.m.; closes Sunday at 2 p.m. No show Friday. At Preus-Brandt Forum, Cal Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks. $7 admission. Call 493-3410.

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