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THEATER: Ventura County | NOTES

A Matter of Class

Mix of professionals and amateurs hone their skills to make 'My Fair Lady' a quality musical production.


There's certainly a space near the top of most everyone's list of favorite Broadway shows for "My Fair Lady." The Cabrillo Music Theatre, currently producing the musical, provides a solid evening's entertainment.

It's the story, of course, of linguistics professor Henry Higgins, who bets that he can teach street peddler Eliza Dolittle to speak, within a brief time, like Julie Andrews. The story gets more complicated than the self-centered Higgins would have liked, or could have predicted.

Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's musical was based on George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion," itself based on a classical myth. Modern audiences will see parallels to "Pretty Woman" (he transforms her) and "As Good as it Gets" (she transforms him).

The cast includes Cabrillo's usual mix of local and out-of-town talent, with professionals and amateurs working side by side relatively seamlessly under professional director Gary Gardner, choreographers Andre and Nancy Paradis, and musical director Nicholas A. DeGregorio.

Dink O'Neal--last seen locally as the Devil in "Damn Yankees"--might seem a bit young as Higgins, but Rex Harrison was only 47 or so when he created the role. Kayre Morrison is a rose as flower girl Eliza, though her Cockney accent could be lightened up a bit to be better understood.

Morrison's Eliza makes the transition successfully enough--though it's doubtful that anyone of the class she (and Higgins, for that matter) aspire to would jump up on the chaise lounge in the middle of a dance number. Or, for that matter, wear a red wig that looks like a castoff from early Reba McEntire.

Other principals include Gene Bernath as Higgins' sidekick, Col. Pickering; Andy Brasted as Eliza's besotted father; Margaret Nesbitt as 'Iggins' 'ouskeeper; and Aaron Henderson as Freddy Eynsford-Hill, the dewy-eyed, rich young man Eliza had never even dreamed of meeting.

* "My Fair Lady" continues through Sunday at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza Auditorium, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd. Performances are 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Ticket prices range from $18.50-$28.50, and are available at the box office or through Ticketmaster. For further information, or for sales to groups of 12 or more, call (805) 497-8616.

'Ragtime Joe' at Melodrama: The Moorpark Melodrama is making some procedural changes as the new owners find their collective feet. "Ragtime Joe" is the administration's best show yet, which is a good sign.

"Ragtime Joe" is almost a classic melodrama, taking place around the turn of the century and featuring an extremely hiss-worthy villain who wears a cape and top hat. Typically for this group, there are plenty of songs and dozens (at least) of jokes, more corny than not.

The script by director Bob Fraser and Tom Biener tells how the Hooper family came to run a successful riverboat, undeterred by all manner of potential setbacks, most having something to do with money. Mom (Cathy Doebler) is engaged to the town banker (David Petty, sounding like Mr. Haney from "Green Acres"), but even that doesn't stop her from losing the mortgage to evil Buttram Slade (Wakai Jasso), who's after some hidden jewels and the hand (at least) of Charity Hooper (Laurie Westone), who's betrothed to handsome Jack Penrod (Gregory Brice). High jinks ensue.

In addition to the players mentioned, there are several other members of the Fraser and Doebler families. Beth Fraser plays the narrator, showgirl Mae Hooper; and Beverly Wiest, wife of owner Bob Fraser (and mother of Beth) turns in a strong comic turn as the banker's daughter ("My mother ran off with a traveling salesman," she explains, "shortly before I was born.")

Musical director Dean Fransen also appears, onstage, as Ragtime Joe himself.

Long-time Melodrama fans will note that the "vaudeville," a sort of second show spotlighting several members of the company in song-and-dance routines, is missing.

And the opening routine, in which smokers are advised to head for the sidewalk, is also missing in action. On the other hand, a lottery has been added during intermission, with the prize being tickets to an upcoming show.

* "Ragtime Joe" continues through May 3 at Moorpark Melodrama, 45 E. High St. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, and 3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Tickets for all performances are $12; $9.50, seniors and children. For reservations or further information, call (805) 529-1212.

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