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THEATER: Ventura County | NOTES

A Certain Age

One revival appeals to teens, another reaches out to older folks.

July 30, 1998|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Last weekend's theater openings in Ventura County covered the whole age spectrum. The Cabrillo Music Theatre launched a revival of the teen-oriented '50s-themed musical "Bye Bye Birdie" in Thousand Oaks. Up in Santa Paula, "On Golden Pond" attracted--at least at Sunday's matinee--a crowd that might regard Dick Clark as a young whippersnapper.

Inspired by Elvis Presley's induction into the Army, "Bye, Bye, Birdie" finds teenage idol rocker Conrad Birdie visiting a small Ohio town to bestow "One Last Kiss" on a local fan. In the meantime, Birdie's manager, Albert Peterson, is attempting to deal with his longtime secretary, Rose's, desire for him to marry her and pursue a career as an English teacher, detaching him at last from his overly possessive mother, Mae.

This Cabrillo "Birdie" reinforces the original 1960 stage musical with songs from later film and television productions, which results--to this fan, at least--in a version for the ages. Although pointless and mediocre as the film's title song, here "Bye, Bye Birdie" is given an imaginative staging that is one of the show's many highlights, and the two numbers from the 1995 television version are adequate (in the case of Albert's) and quite good (a showcase for Laurie Stevens, as Mother Mae). In fact, the only downside to all this added material (including the Rose-spotlighting "100 Ways" ballet) is that it brings the running time to just over three hours, entertaining though they may be.

To their credit, leads Reece Holland, Theresa Hayes and Barry Pearl make no effort to look or sound like the actors who originated the roles of Albert (Dick Van Dyke), Rose (Chita Rivera) or Harry MacAfee (Paul Lynde): Holland is more reminiscent of, say, a youngish Dean Jones, Pearl of an older Dean Jones, and whatever Hayes is, she isn't the stereotypically "Spanish" (though from Pennsylvania) Rose of the script--to be fair, neither was Janet Leigh in the film, nor Vanessa Williams in the TV project.

(Odd that it's so hard to find a qualified Hispanic singer-dancer in her late 20s to early 30s, isn't it?) As Elvis-inspired Conrad Birdie, Greg Kohout resembles Val Kilmer in the film "Top Secret!" which is just fine. Holland and Amy Rutberg, the excellent young singer and actress who plays teenager Kim MacAfee, may have been especially intimidated Friday night, with Van Dyke and Susan Watson, who originated the roles, in the audience, along with Dick Patterson and Gretchen Wyler from the first national company.

Top marks to director Lewis Wilkenfeld, choreographer John Charron and musical director Diann Alexander, and the talented ensemble of singers and dancers who performed at a level several steps above that expected by local community theater audiences.

"Bye, Bye Birdie" concludes Sunday at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza auditorium, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd. in Thousand Oaks. 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday evenings, matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets range from $18.50-$28.50 and are available at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza box office or at any TicketMaster outlet. (805) 497- 8616.

*

"On Golden Pond" is its own kind of delight, spotlighting several of the area's best actors: Doc Reynolds and Dot Scott as Norman and Ethel Thayer, arriving at their longtime summer home for the 48th--and, perhaps, final--time; Linda Livingston as their semi-estranged 42-year-old daughter, Chelsea; Mark Halstead as her new fiance; Tristan Thames as his young son; and Karl Mickelson as the local mailman, who's harbored a crush on Chelsea since they both were in their teens.

This small ensemble, under the direction of Frederick Helsel, gets everything right, with no weak performances detracting from Ernest Thompson's gem of a script. Although the play's initial appeal may be to people the age of Norman and Ethel, in truth, the family interactions resonate much further. And the older couple, especially, are as witty and intelligent a pair of characters as you're likely to see on local stages.

"On Golden Pond" through Aug. 30 at the Santa Paula Theater Center, 125 S. 7th St. in Santa Paula. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, with Sunday matinees at 2:30. Tickets are $12.50; $10 for seniors (55 and older) and students; and $6 for children (12 and under). (805) 525-4645. The production moves to the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center from Sept. 22-Oct. 4. (805) 581-9940.

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