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Stage Presence

Burbank Civic Light Opera embarks on its first season with an Equity contract.

June 19, 1997|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Burbank Civic Light Opera is probably local theater's best-kept secret. Well, it's about to stretch its muscles and and make itself better known.

Founded 45 years ago, the company has been plying its trade all these years at Burbank's Starlight Bowl as a nonunion venue. That's changing this year as the company embarks on its first season with an Equity contract. This is also the first year that Burbank light opera has a contract with the Musicians Union. Vice president Laurie Nagy says this new status has been on the drawing board for about four years, since the company has been under new management.

"It came to a point," Nagy explains, "where we really wanted to expand as far as our product is concerned, and getting the word out to the masses that we're here. So we took the big step. Our goal, basically, was to compete with the best entertainment in Southern California, so our productions have been progressively better and bigger. It was just a natural step for us to go to Equity. It's a competitive edge that we hope we'll have with everyone else, competing with the big guys."

The first light opera show under the new Equity agreement, opening tonight, is "Pippin," a musical about family turmoils in the court of Charlemagne, conceived and directed on Broadway by Bob Fosse in 1972, with John Rubinstein and Ben Vereen.

It's a show that has rarely been staged since the original production and its national tours, and that's part of light opera's reason for the choice. "I think it adds something to us," Nagy says, "and it's going to be a great draw for us and keep us moving forward in that direction."

For this first outing with an Equity contract, they might have had more than one Equity artist in the cast. But Nagy and the show's director, Nick DeGruccio, say they found their cast mostly in non-Equity ranks, from the best talent that came to the auditions.

The Equity artist is Ellen Harvey, playing Fastrada, who has recently returned from the Trevor Nunn Canadian tour of "Sunset Boulevard."

DeGruccio is particularly interested in this show. It was one of the first Broadway musicals he saw when he was 15 and was a deciding factor in his decision to enter show business.

"It has the genius of Bob Fosse," DeGruccio says, "taking everything we've seen before and putting it in a mixed bag and showing us something different and unique. Everybody gets to be very mysterious and alluring and sensual. As a director, of course, the challenge of putting this all together and the joy of trying to make it work is really what attracted me to 'Pippin.' And its universal theme--Everyman's search for who he is and what he's about."

DeGruccio, like Nagy, has high hopes that the group's new status will allow it to step forward, when so many other theaters are closing their doors. And he thinks the show is perfect for the outdoor venue. During rehearsals, he says, an unidentified "furry thing we're not sure of" obviously liked the show and kept running across the stage during the musical numbers.

"Pippin," Burbank Civic Light Opera, Starlight Bowl, 1249 Lockheed View Drive, Burbank. 8:15 p.m. Fri. and Sat., and June 27-29. Ends June 29. $18. (818) 380-3444.

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Five Months of One-Acts: Fran Montano, artistic director of North Hollywood's Actors Workout Studio, is also taking a big step. He's been thinking for some time about doing a festival of unpublished one-act plays, and his "Finalists Festival of One-Acts" opens Saturday with two plays chosen from work done in the group's playwriting workshop and submissions from around the country.

But that's only the beginning. The opening program will play on Saturdays and Sundays for seven weeks. On July 18, another program will join the repertory, playing Thursdays and Fridays. A new program will open every three weeks, each for a seven-week run, with the festival ending Oct. 24.

Of the 12 to 14 plays to be performed in the festival, Montano says, "I like the idea of innovative material, and one-acts are becoming very popular now. It's very challenging, and I'm hoping that this will become an annual event."

"Finalists Festival of One-Acts," Actors Workout Studio, 4735 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. Ends Oct. 24. $12. For plays and schedules, call (818) 506-3903.

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