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Melodrama Cast Hops Aboard Tourist Train

Actors play celebrities during trips in a vintage club car traveling between Fillmore and Santa Paula.


While most of Ventura County's back has been turned, Fillmore seems on the verge of becoming a prime tourist destination.

The Plaza Players' recent attempt to relocate there from Ventura has hit a snag--their recent application to convert a vacant Sespe School storeroom has been turned down--but there's a mighty rumbling on the railroad.

Management of the Fillmore & Western Railway, in collaboration with Moorpark Melodrama, has initiated a series of "Hollywood Express" trips on the line's 11-mile stretch of track--which is leased from the county--between Fillmore and Santa Paula.

The train pulls out of Fillmore's Central Park at 6 p.m. and travels at a leisurely pace--about five miles per hour--to the outskirts of Santa Paula before returning.

During the three-hour trip, several of the Melodrama's performers offer an hourlong show twice--half the passengers watch the show while the other half gathers in the dining car for a sit-down meal of beef, salmon or chicken.

Musical director Scott Martin accompanies singers Lisa Bohn, Gina Jaxx, Jason Rasmussen and Don Romps, who change costumes a combined total of 25 times as they portray celebrities of Hollywood's golden age, including Mae West, W.C. Fields, Clark Gable, Al Jolson, Marlene Dietrich and Groucho Marx.

It's Not Our Fault, a Santa Clarita-based barbershop quartet, provides entertainment before boarding as well as at intermission, and the entire show is hosted by the Melodrama's Linda Bredemann, dressed as Shirley Temple.

The troupe gets mixed reviews for their imitations of show biz legends--Romps plays both Fields and Gable, and the other performers' ranges are equally stretched. But the cast is talented and enthusiastic, and the show is never less than entertaining.

Highlights include Romps and Rasmussen recreating Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in their "Who's on First" routine; a running gag finds the vintage tune "I Want to Be Loved by You" sung by Betty Boop, Marilyn Monroe and Ethel Merman, all played by Jaxx; "Rhett Butler" (Romps) and Scarlett O'Hara (Bohn) in a duet of "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off," and Romps and Rasmussen parodying Al Jolson's "Sonny Boy."

The show itself is performed in a 1928-vintage club car that, like the railroad's other rolling stock, is frequently used in film and television production. The night before the most recent Hollywood Express, for instance, George Lucas' production company used the same car as a location on an upcoming "Young Indiana Jones" TV movie.

It's safe to presume that this will be the first rail trip for many who take it. In addition to the show, there's the adventure of learning (or remembering) how to walk on a moving train; eating food (catered by a Woodland Hills company) in a classic dining car; watching the area's orange and lemon groves pass by; and observing a Christmas tree farm with the pines still barely shoulder-high.

This Saturday's Hollywood Express is already sold out, but there will be two Friday night editions next month, and at least eight more are promised during the fall and winter.

Alternating with the Hollywood Express is an audience-participation murder mystery; the Fillmore & Western also stages seasonal junkets to a local pumpkin patch and Christmas tree farm (where you get to pick your own for an additional fee and bring it home), summer barbecue trips, and an Independence Day show with fireworks.

Casting Call: Auditions will be held Friday night and Saturday afternoon by appointment only for this summer's Ojai Shakespeare Festival productions, "The Merry Wives of Windsor" and a selection of Moliere one-acts.

Those who wish to audition should come prepared with a comic classical monologue not to exceed three minutes, and be ready to improvise, if asked. For an appointment, the location or further information, call 646-9455.


* WHAT: The Hollywood Express.

* WHEN: Train departs at 6 p.m. on Saturday (sold out), June 14 and 28; loading begins at 5:30 p.m.

* WHERE: Central Park, on Central Avenue at Santa Clara Street in Fillmore.

* HOW MUCH: Tickets, which include entertainment, dinner and coffee or tea, are $68.50. A full cash bar and soft drinks are available.

* CALL: For reservations, which must be made more than three days in advance, or information, call 524-2546.

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