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VENTURA COUNTY WEEKEND | THEATER NOTES

High-Octane Musical at Ventura College Theater

What gas-station saga 'Pump Boys and Dinettes' lacks in plot it makes up for in enthusiasm.

July 04, 1996|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After bringing the revue "The Taffetas" to Ventura last year, Los Angeles-based Fool Moon Productions has settled on the city for a series of musicals featuring professional actors. First up this season is "Pump Boys and Dinettes."

Conceived and written by its original off-Broadway cast, the show chronicles a few days in the life of six inhabitants of a small Georgia town, all of whom work in the local gas station and adjoining cafe. They talk to the audience, sing songs describing their way of life and leave everybody with a pretty good feeling. Plot lines involving a client's Winnebago and the on-and-off romance between two of the characters are all but inconsequential--story-wise, it makes "The Dukes of Hazzard" look like "King Lear."

That noted, together with the fact that the songs aren't much, "Pump Boys and Dinettes" is performed so well, and with such enthusiasm, that the downside doesn't matter all that much. Steven Boe, Luke Darnell, Jason Chimonides and Fred Voss make up the gas station crew, all playing their own instruments. Nichole Pelerine and Karen Merstik play the sisters who run the cafe, both singing and joining in on percussion.

The singing's fine, especially the harmony work; the musicianship is at least good enough; and director Ben DeBaldo keeps things running very smoothly. Prospects seem good for next month's production of a "real" musical, "Starting Here, Starting Now."

* "Pump Boys and Dinettes" concludes this weekend at the Ventura College Theater, on Loma Vista Road in Ventura. Shows are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $12.50; $11 for seniors and students. Call 654-6459.

*

Please Sir, I Want Some More: Its tuneful score makes Lionel Bart's "Oliver!" almost bulletproof. Still, Sunday's matinee performance of the Camarillo Community Theater's current production left much to be desired. The cast's seeming overall lethargy could be blamed on the heat. Other problems can be resolved as the cast gains on-the-job experience. And if some of those dragging tempos drain the show of much of its intrinsic excitement, don't blame the players: They're singing to a tape, karaoke-style.

Experience leads to higher expectations from the Camarillo group, and from Jeff and Kelly Johnston, who between them co-produced, directed, choreographed and star in "Oliver!" (Adrienne Freeland is co-producer).

Kelly Johnston has cast her husband (and co-producer) as Fagin, and he turns in his usual capable performance. Others--including Kelly McGowan as Oliver, Matt Laubacher as the Artful Dodger, Meredith Bryant as Nancy, Ken Krabel as Bill Sikes, Ken Jones as Mr. Bumble and Rochelle Wiltfang as Mrs. Corney--take an "everybody's on his own" attitude toward accents, which properly would range from upper-class to thick cockney but here include mid-Atlantic and American.

Most notable among the supporting performers are Wiltfang, particularly in Act II, and Chris Carnicelli, who gives Dr. Grimwig the kind of self-confident, fun interpretation that others in the cast would do well to learn from.

* "Oliver!" continues through Aug. 4 at the Camarillo Community Theater, 330 Skyway Drive on the Camarillo Airport grounds. Shows are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday evenings, with Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $10; $8 for students, seniors and active military, and $5 for children under 10. Call 388-5716.

Other News

* Armin Shimerman (Quark on "Star Trek--Deep Space Nine") will hold an acting workshop to benefit the Ojai Shakespeare Festival on Saturday. The fee is $25; this is serious stuff, not a Trekkers convention, and space is limited. For reservations and the location, call 646-9455.

* The Gold Coast Theatre Conservatory is offering four scholarships to its Summer Stock, normally $375, and subsequent fall and spring sessions for children ages 8 to 17. Call 497-8607--but hurry, the classes begin Monday. They're also looking for scholarship fund patrons.

* The Santa Paula Theater Center will hold open auditions July 18 for actors and technical people for their upcoming season, even though they haven't announced any plays--or even the start of the season--yet. Those interested should prepare a two- to five-minute monologue of their choice and be ready for a cold reading for artistic director David Ralphe. Technicians and designers should bring a resume and portfolio. Call 525-4645 for an appointment.

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