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THEATER: Ventura County | NOTES

Discovering a Gem

Obscure musical based on Broadway comedy entertains thoroughly.

October 15, 1998|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

One of the special pleasures of regular theatergoing is to happen on an unexpected jewel--a play that makes you wonder why it isn't as famous as shows that have been overexposed through the years.

A company takes special risks in putting up such a production when it knows that names such as Neil Simon or Rodgers and Hammerstein will virtually guarantee a certain number of sales, and audiences deserve special credit for seeking the unusual.

Everybody gets rewarded for the next couple of weekends at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, where Fool Moon Productions is presenting the musical comedy, "What About Luv?"

Haven't heard of it? You're not alone. The show--a 1984 musicalversion of Murray Schisgal's early-'60s Broadway comedy "Luv"--played off-Broadway only briefly despite a cast that included Nathan Lane and Judy Kaye, good notices and Outer Circle Critics Awards for best book and score. It has played elsewhere, sporadically, but this is said to be its West Coast debut.

As the curtain rises, Harry Berlin (Fred Voss) is preparing to jump to his death from the Brooklyn Bridge. As he fidgets, trying to steel himself, who should appear but Milt Manville (Tom Viveiros), an old college pal, now a successful stockbroker, whom Harry hasn't seen in years. Milt pleads, "Harry, please--you have the rest of your life to kill yourself." Milt has other plans for Harry: to meet and fall in love with Milt's wife, Ellen (Susannah Hall), freeing Milt for other romantic pursuits.

Jeremy Sweet's book, based on Schisgal's play, is sharply funny. The songs, by Susan Birkenhead and Howard Marren, are more clever than memorable. And all three actors, under the direction of Mykal Kavanaugh, turn in well-defined, fully confident performances. Local audiences who saw earlier Full Moon productions might remember Voss (in the Nathan Lane role here) from "Pump Boys and Dinettes" and last year's "Have a Nice Day!" Musical director Daniel Gary Busby, new to the group, leads a fine band, including bass trombone, reeds and two percussionists.

Full Moon is one of several producers that has tried in recent years to bring professional-quality theater to Ventura. Full Moon did, but audiences failed to materialize. Everything seems to be working better in Simi Valley. And, you know, Simi Valley isn't all that far from Ventura for those looking for something well-produced and out of the ordinary.

* "What About Luv?" continues through Oct. 25 at Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, 3050 Los Angeles Ave., Simi Valley. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays, with a special 2 p.m. matinee Oct. 24. $15, adults; $12, students and seniors, and $8, children 12 and under. (805) 581-9940.

*

Variety Show in Moorpark: Patrons of the old Moorpark Melodrama will recall the "vaudevilles," post-show musical revues giving cast members a chance to show off individually. While the Melodrama is now Moorpark Playhouse, its latest venture--"Be-Bop to Broadway"--is like a two-hour vaudeville.

It's billed as a tribute to TV host Ed Sullivan, and, like Sullivan's old show, includes singers, comics, dancers . . . even a ventriloquist. Confusingly, some acts are supposedly imitations of real performers, including Shari Lewis, Elvis Presley and Judy Garland. Others work under their own names. Because the impersonations aren't very good, the performers (some of whom are quite good) might as well all do their own particular thing.

Although Moorpark regulars Damian Gravino and Jim Harlow do reliably good work (though goateed Gravino looks more like Wolfman Jack than Elvis Presley), and director Joy Enright has peppered the cast with several of her La Reina High School students, the high points may be the mime team of Mitchel Evans and Donya Giannotta, and stand-up comic Molly Tretsky, who turned in the most interesting performances at Saturday's matinee, under their own names.

Pedants note: The show features no bebop and precious little Broadway music.

* "Be-Bop to Broadway" concludes this weekend at Moorpark Playhouse, 45 E. High St. 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 3 p.m. Saturday. Sunday's matinee is sold out. $12; at matinees, seniors and students receive a $2 discount. (805) 529-1212.

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