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* STAGE REVIEW

A Pleasant 'Night' With Sondheim

April 30, 1998|DON SHIRLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Director Teri Ralston, who was in the original "A Little Night Music," has a wonderful cast for Gold Coast Plays' revival of the Stephen Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler musical, at the Forum Theatre of the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. The beginning is wobbly and the physical qualities of the room aren't right, but the pleasures of the performances make up for it.

Real-life marrieds Amanda McBroom and George Ball are terrific as Desiree, seductive queen of the Swedish stage, and her sometime lover Fredrik. McBroom's eyes flash with vitality--until she admits defeat in "Send In the Clowns." Ball's voice is rich, but his eyes have the rueful cast that Fredrik requires.

Dale Kristien throws herself into the comic prattle of Fredrik's virginal young bride without hesitation, but her look and voice clearly establish why Fredrik remains interested. It's fun to watch Christopher Carothers' Henrik, Fredrik's seminarian son, swooning secretly over his stepmother, and trying to get in some practice with Judy Walstrum's willing maid, despite his nagging conscience.

Faye DeWitt's lustrous low tones establish the authority of Desiree's aging mother, and Stephanie Laff skillfully evokes adolescent curiosity as Desiree's daughter. Hans Tester struts and sings majestically as Desiree's military lover, and Rende Rae Norman simmers with frustration as his neglected wife.

As the quintet of singing observers begins the show, some of their lyrics are drowned out by the rhythms. The backstage location of Dean Mora's six-piece band might have something to do with this, which brings us to the problems of the hall itself.

The thrust stage configuration of the Forum is cold, square and gymnasium-like, making the actors seem more remote than they are. The room doubles as a city council chamber, which is a clue to the challenges confronting the set and lighting designers as they try to evoke the vision of a midsummer night in Sweden. Some of the set pieces look fine individually, though not the platform at center stage. The trees in the second act are too far away, and generally there's too much vacant but visible space to fill.

BE THERE

"A Little Night Music," Forum Theatre, Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd. Fridays-Saturdays, 8:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Also May 7, 7:30 p.m. Ends May 17. $25-$30. (805) 583-8700, (213) 480-3232. Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes.

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