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Revolutionary Concept

Woodland Hills troupe pares down 'Tale of Two Cities' by staging it in three segments.

April 30, 1998|ROBIN RAUZI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Woodland Hills Theater each year presents one full-scale Actors Equity musical. And this year it decided to try something big. Really big.

In fact, it's too big.

To tackle "A Tale of Two Cities," Charles Dickens' tale of love, deceit and revenge at the time of the French Revolution, director Jon Berry broke it into three parts.

The company did a staged reading of Part 1 last December and Friday opens a fully staged production of Parts 1 and 2. In other words, for those familiar with the story, the musical doesn't yet reach that "far, far better place." Instead, it ends with the storming of the Bastille.

The adaptation was done by Gerard Cahill and Jim Ineson, Valley composers who previously did two biblical musicals: "Acts--A Rock Opera" and "Joseph and Mary." For their third project, they were drawn to themes of redemption in "A Tale of Two Cities."

The music runs the gamut from rock to Broadway-style ballads, Berry said, and the 30-person cast will perform using a custom-orchestrated CD. Playing Lucy Manette is Ginger Pauley, who has won two ADAs--awards presented by the Valley Theatre League--for best actress in a musical.

Cahill and Ineson finished the project last year. It was Berry who decided to produce it in segments. "It's such a big play, and because we're not the Ahmanson, we thought it would be better to do it this way," said Berry, who also plays the evil Marquis. "This way, actually, I think it will make people want to come back."

That's right--if you want to see what happens to poor Lucy, the noble Charles Darney and good-for-nothing Sydney Carton, you'll have to return when Part 3 is added. Berry hopes to stage the whole thing late this year or early in 1999 at the Madrid Theatre, under construction in Canoga Park.

The novel took eight months to serialize, after all, so why not take a year to produce the musical?

* "A Tale of Two Cities, Parts 1 and 2," at Woodland Hills Theatre, 22700 Sherman Way, West Hills. Fridays-Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Ends May 30. $15. (818) 884-1907.

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More Classic Musicals: To inaugurate its new theater, the traditionally classical Excalibur Theatre Company has chosen something not-so-traditional.

"The Boys From Syracuse," running through May 31, is a Rodgers and Hart musical, albeit based on Shakespeare's "A Comedy of Errors."

The company has reason to sing and dance, though. "We got a sweet deal," said co-artistic director Carl Pfeifer.

The company arranged to sublet the old Lionstar Theatre in Studio City so it has the space exclusively Thursday through Sunday. The other nights, acting classes will use the theater.

Besides renaming the theater Excalibur, Pfeifer said, the company has built a new, deeper stage and refurbished the dressing rooms. It will also likely produce three shows a year, one more than in years past.

In fact, Excalibur originally intended to run "Syracuse" in repertory with "Comedy of Errors," but the two directors couldn't see eye to eye on the set, which they would have had to share.

* "The Boys From Syracuse," at the Excalibur Theatre, 12655 Ventura Blvd. (above Jerry's Deli), Studio City. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 4 p.m. Ends May 31. $20. (818) 789-8499.

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The King Sings, Too: Just because he beheaded all those wives, that doesn't mean King Henry VIII was such a bad guy--at least that's the premise of Steeve Arlen's new one-man musical, "VIII."

Opening Friday at the Gene Bua Acting for Life Theater in Burbank, "VIII" also stars Arlen, a veteran who acted in "La Cage Aux Folles" and "42nd Street" on Broadway. The play is directed by Jeff Cohen, and co-written by composer Donald Carl Eugster.

The comedy begins just after the king's death; and on this day of reckoning, he recounts his life and loves--especially loves--contesting the accounts of him as a mad despot.

* "VIII," at the Gene Bua Acting for Life Theater, 3435 Magnolia Blvd., Burbank. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 7 p.m. $25. (818) 789-8499.

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Classics, No Music: The Road Theatre Company, which has built its growing reputation on new American works, is trying out Shakespeare.

On the nights that the critically lauded "White People" is dark, the company is putting on "Merchant of Venice."

"We have always wanted to institute an off-night show, and one of our members, who went to Yale, has always wanted to do classics," said Marci Hill, supervising producer for both plays running at the Road. "We really want our off-night productions to be where we experiment, and where we have room to fail if we need to."

Though "White People" is contemporary and "Merchant" has

been set in the period, Hill said the two plays are complementary. "White People" tackles racism and prejudice head-on, while "Merchant of Venice" deals with ethnic stereotypes. And, of course, it contains Shylock's eloquent plea for recognition of common humanity, which rings as true today as it did 400 years ago:

"I am a Jew! Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and same summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not seek revenge?"

* "The Merchant of Venice," at the Road Theatre in the Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8 p.m. Ends June 4. $12. (818) 377-2002.

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