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THEATER: Ventura County | NOTES

Musical Chairs

Stage genres switch theaters, and the results are entertaining for audiences.

June 04, 1998|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Crazy world, ain't it--there's a musical at the Moorpark Melodrama and a melodrama (with music) at the Variety Theatre in Ventura. And both the plays are new, and by local authors.

In typical Moorpark Melodrama fashion, "Rockin' Ricky vs. the Glob o' Grease" takes familiar elements, runs 'em through the blender with a heaping helping of corn, adds some songs and winds up with a couple of hours of lightweight but fun entertainment.

As the title hints, Tom Biener and Bob Fraser's script for "Ricky" is a blend of "Grease," "The Blob" and "Little Shop of Horrors." A mysterious Something from outer space lands in a small American town sometime during the late '50s and noshes its way through the local populace. And, every so often, somebody breaks into a hit from the '50s or '60s.

Scott Fraser and Mindy Mittleman play good guy sweethearts Ricky and Julie; Brian Becker and Jenny Weiss are the class nerds; and Beth Fraser is the villain (not the Blob o' Grease but the human villain): resentful, antisocial and--worst of all--unpopular. She's abetted by a character played by Stacy Grove.

The sheriff (played by Amy Tobel) wears a fur hat: Is this a reference to "Fargo" without the Dakota accent? And the movie marquee, advertising "The People Eater" starring Troy McClure, is either an odd coincidence or a strange posthumous tribute to the late Phil Hartman.

During the between-acts "vaudeville," precocious violinist Laurie Weston plays two numbers accompanied by melodrama musical director Dean Fransen, one of which is "Ashokan Farewell" from Ken Burns' "The Civil War" TV series.

Another melodrama note: The next production, opening June 26, is "The XYZ Files," replacing the show announced earlier. No coincidence: "The X Files" feature film will have opened a week earlier. "Since we write 'em ourselves," melodrama co-owner Bob Fraser explains, "we can be pretty flexible."

* "Rockin' Ricky vs. the Glob of Grease," through June 21 at the Magnificent Moorpark Melodrama & Vaudeville Company, 45 E. High St. in Moorpark. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are $12; $9.50, seniors and children. (805) 529-1212.

*

Book Musical: Rather more ambitious is "Nevada Belle," a full-scale book musical, with original songs by local writers George Morgan and Duane Ashby, who also appear in significant minor roles.

The action takes place on a train, heading from New York to Nevada (by way of Pennsylvania, Nebraska and Wyoming) in 1871.

The main characters are a couple of conductors (Mike Calanan and co-writer Ashby); "entrepreneur" Caddie Thompson (Mary Crane) who is taking five young women (Diana Magana, Lekesha Bebee, Hillary Carter-Liggett, Robbie Sky Pitman and Kristy Newman) to Virginia City for careers in "acting"; and--by coincidence--one of Thompson's alumni (Cristi Krisp).

There's also a mysterious gentleman, Professor Calloway, portrayed by co-writer Morgan.

One of several odd aspects of the script is that none of the young women figures out what being an "actress" here entails until they're in Omaha, even though at least two of them had been plying essentially the same trade on the sidewalks of New York.

Of the songs, perhaps the most notable are "Rivers and Rails," in which the women go into Andrews Sisters mode, and Bebee's showcase, "You Can't Have the Girl From Tennessee."

While the acting and singing vary widely, both are likely to become more effective once the cast settles down, loosens up, shows more confidence and shouts it out--some of the songs are nearly obligated by the musical accompaniment.

All might look to Carter-Liggett in these respects; hers was by far the most accomplished performance at Saturday's opening.

And, parents note the content: If you take the tykes, be prepared to explain to them just what takes place in a "Parlor House."

* "Nevada Belle," through June at two Ventura County locations. June 5-7, 12-14 and 19-21 at the Variety Theatre, 34 N. Palm St. in Ventura. On June 26-27, Libbey Bowl in Ojai's Libbey Park. 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday evenings, and 4 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $18; $14, students and seniors. (805) 646-1899 or (805) 983-1067.

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