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'Music' to Your Ears

Voices of Ojai's Light Opera do justice to the musical tale of the von Trapps.

March 20, 1997|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

An authoritarian widower's household is shaken up when he takes on an unconventional young woman to mind his children. Soon she's virtually taken over, much to the distress of the blond executive who has her own designs on him.

"The Nanny," you say? Yes, but that's also the story of "The Sound of Music," the current Ojai Civic Light Opera production. Set in Austria just before the Nazi invasion, "The Sound of Music" features more songs than its TV counterpart--though none so catchy as "The Nanny Named Fran."

Followers of the Ojai group know that the quality of their productions has been as unpredictable as the location of their shows. This time, they're at the Thacher School auditorium, and the production is up to the level of their "Camelot."

Joanie Solaini Draper stars as Maria, assigned to care for the children of retired Capt. Georg von Trapp (Skip Taylor), who has been running his household as he would a platoon.

Maria quickly stops the children's marching, urging them to sing instead. Candace Delbo plays Elsa, the woman who has her eyes on von Trapp; Marty Babayco is very good as Max Detweiler, an impresario who sees commercial potential coming through the (von Trapp) door.

And then along come those meddlesome Nazis. (Maria is resolutely neutral: When one of the children comments upon a soldier's disposition, she notes that "everybody's cross these days.")

While some of the acting is a bit stiff (not Draper; Taylor, perhaps intentionally), the singing is often excellent, the more voices participating at any given time, the better.

Seeing the show all the way through is an opportunity to hear such relatively unknown gems as "Maria," "Sixteen, Going on Seventeen" and Rodgers' and Hammerstein's faux-liturgical songs, sung by a heavenly chorus of nuns.

*

Serious Side of Simon: In his recent autobiography, "Rewrites," Neil Simon suggests that his 1970 "The Gingerbread Lady" failed critically and commercially during its out-of-town tryout because neither critics nor the public were ready for him to write a largely dramatic piece about several--in his word--"losers," headed by a not-so-recovering alcoholic. Self-serving, of course, but maybe accurate.

While Simon can't stay away from wisecracks too long, this is definitely not "The Odd Couple." Simon rewrote "Gingerbread" considerably before its more successful Broadway opening, and you can see the results this weekend and next in the Comedy Tonight company's quite fine production in Thousand Oaks.

The play is an exercise for six strong actors, everybody getting a chance for at least one big show-offy scene under Don Pearlman's assured direction.

BE THERE

"The Sound of Music" continues through Sat. at Lamb Auditorium, Thacher School, 5025 Thacher Road, Ojai. Performances are Fri.-Sat., 7:30 p.m., and Sat., 2 p.m. General admission to evening performances is $14.75; seniors $12.75; children under 10, $9.75; at matinees, all seats are $9.75. (805) 646-1899.

"The Gingerbread Lady" continues through March 29 at the Arts Council Center Theater, 482 Greenmeadow Ave., Thousand Oaks. Performances are Fri.-Sat., 7:30 p.m., and Sun., 4 p.m. Tickets are $12; $10, seniors and students. Call (805) 389-3193.

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