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VENTURA COUNTY WEEKEND | THEATER NOTES

Family Farce Gets Laughs in 'Night Music'

Elegant staging is complemented by a uniformly strong cast in Moorpark College's version of the Stephen Sondheim musical.

November 21, 1996|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Some call Stephen Sondheim's musicals innovative; others, pretentious. "A Little Night Music," running through this weekend at Moorpark College, is based on a 1955 film comedy by Ingmar Bergman set in turn-of-the-century Sweden.

Its title is taken, rather whimsically, from Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik"--it features a Greek chorus (well, a singing Swedish quintet); all the songs are in variations of waltz time; and its best-known number is "Send In the Clowns." Is this a Broadway musical or a senior thesis?

The play's core is an amusing period romantic farce--also the basis of "A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy" by Woody Allen, another artist occasionally accused of pretentiousness, and here proving it by drawing from Shakespeare for his title.

Lawyer Fredrik Egerman (Christopher Lowry) has been married to Anne, his still-virgin, 18-year-old bride for nearly a year (Ashley Yegan). Unbeknownst to either, Egerman's son (Andrew Anisfelt), a seminarian, develops a crush on Anne--which doesn't keep him from having a sexual liaison with the obliging maid (Jeri Ursetti).

Understandably frustrated sexually, Egerman returns to an old flame, actress Desiree Armfelt (Debra Frohling), who is carrying on an affair with Count Carl Magnus Malcolm (Eric Sheeler), who is--get this--married to Charlotte (Carmen Recker), an old friend of Anne. Remember Anne, the young bride?

After intermission, all, including Desiree's precocious daughter (Marisabel Viramontes), are brought together at the home of Desiree's mother (Karen Sonnenschein). High jinks, (need it be said?) ensue.

The show is elegantly, if simply, staged by director Marilyn Anderson, and the cast is uniformly fine--better singers than actors, some of them. The occasionally stiff acting might be intended to suggest the characters' upper-class status.

Staged in Moorpark College's Performing Arts Center, the production makes good use of an 18-piece orchestra--a huge change from the college's earlier musicals, which were often restricted to a piano or prerecorded tape for backing.

* "A Little Night Music" continues through Sunday at Moorpark College Performing Arts Center, on Collins Drive off the Simi Valley Freeway. Performances are at 7:30 tonight, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. General admission tonight is $5; for all other performances $10; $8 students and seniors; $6 Moorpark College ASB cardholders; and $5 groups of 12 or more. For reservations or information, call 378-1485.

*

Tennessee's New Orleans: "A Streetcar Named Desire" may be Tennessee Williams' best-known play. Even those who haven't seen the play or the subsequent film have probably seen countless parodies of Marlon Brando staring up at a wrought-iron balcony shouting "Stella." Or heard references to Blanche Dubois, who always depends "on the kindness of strangers." Ventura College's production of the Real Thing closes this weekend.

It's difficult to escape the shadow of Brando in the role, and one must credit Jewels Eubanks for giving it a manful try: His portrayal of the brutish Stanley Kowalski is more reminiscent of James Cagney--brash and fiery, about as far from smoldering Brando as one could imagine.

Among several strong roles, Stella's sister, Blanche Dubois (Janeen James) is the most challenging: Either she was crazy from the beginning and it took us a while to notice, or circumstances are causing her to descend into madness. James is very good, which is not to minimize the work of Eubanks, Shyle Raun as Stella, or Beaux Thomas as one of Stanley's co-workers and bowling teammates.

Director Judy Garey and set designer Willy Eck have taken an unconventional approach in this production of "Streetcar," which is brighter and airier than one might expect. Much of it plays almost like a protracted episode of "The Honeymooners."

* "A Streetcar Named Desire" concludes Sunday at the Ventura College auditorium on Loma Vista Road between Ashwood Avenue and Day Road. Performances are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday. General admission to all performances is $8; $5 students, staff and seniors. For reservations or information, call 654-6397.

*

Casting Call: The Cabrillo Music Theatre will hold auditions for its production of "Oklahoma!" by appointment only Dec. 7 in Burbank for the roles of Curly, Laurey, Will, Jud and Ali. Three Equity contracts will be filled from among these characters.

Remaining roles, including dancers and chorus, will be auditioned in Newbury Park on Dec. 8 and 9. All ethnic types are encouraged for all roles, and travel reimbursements are available. Lewis Wilkenfeld is director, Diann Alexander musical director; and John Charron choreographer.

The show will be performed at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza auditorium on weekends from March 7-16. For audition appointments or information, call 497-8613.

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