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Still a Wild Ride

'Carousel' staging in Simi shows the classic musical is as fascinating as ever.

November 23, 2000|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers needed something to continue the success and innovation of their first hit, "Oklahoma!," they turned to "Liliom," a drama by Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnar with fantastic elements.

The title character, a carnival barker, was (at best) a heel, itself a quality not often found among musical comedy heroes. Still, Hammerstein adapted Molnar's play, added songs written by himself and composer Rodgers, and began the whole show--now dubbed "Carousel"--with a lengthy expository ballet. The show wasn't and isn't as big a hit as many of their others, but it was Rodgers' favorite and remains a staple in the theatrical repertoire.

The Artists Repertory Company of Simi has been presenting "Carousel" in Simi Valley; its run ends this weekend.

Damian Gravino stars as Billy Bigelow, the barker whose way with women is (as they learn after being charmed by him) none too gentle. Rena Petrello plays Julie Jordan, the small-town girl who becomes his latest conquest. Among the large supporting cast, Frederick R. Helsel plays businessman Enoch Snow; Laurie Jean Stevens is Julie's friend, Carrie; and James Leslie is notable as Jigger Craigin, who is even more despicable than Bigelow. (One of the plot's shortcomings is that Jigger simply disappears after a particularly foul deed--leading Leslie to speculate, after Friday night's show, that the character was being set up for the never-produced "Carousel II: Jigger Returns.")

While there are amusing moments, "Carousel" is by no means a comedy, and its plotting is at best thin, but it is still--55 years after its Broadway debut--a fascinating attempt at something different. The show is also notable for such songs that became standards as "June is Busting Out All Over," "If I Loved You," Bigelow's show-off piece "Soliloquy" and the inspirational "You'll Never Walk Alone."

On Friday, reportedly after three hours' notice, director Jan Glasband stepped in for the ailing Stevens. Dani Brown supplied the able choreography, and music director Zachary Spencer worked with original arrangements prerecorded by Kevin Parcher.

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DETAILS

"Carousel" continues Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and concludes Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, 3050 Los Angeles Ave. Tickets are $18; $15, seniors and students; and $10, children 12 and under. For reservations or more information, call 581-9940.

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The Conejo Players' continuing "Crazy for You" is exactly the kind of show Rodgers and Hammerstein were reacting to: an honest-to-goodness musical comedy with no pretensions whatever.

Playwright Ken Ludwig and director Mick Ockrent took the 1930 Gershwin musical "Girl Crazy," rewrote the script and added and subtracted songs willy-nilly; the result was a long-running 1992 Broadway hit.

Although his mother objects, Bobby (Steven Giboney) doesn't want to go into the family financial business; he wants to be a singer and dancer on Broadway. When the business forecloses on a small Nevada theater, Bobby moves out to deliver the paperwork and falls in love with the theater owner's daughter, Polly (Erika Davis-Marsh), who's being courted, unsuccessfully, by saloon owner Lank Hawkins (Phil Otte). Polly rejects Bobby, whose old girlfriend (Jana Giboney) and various other Broadway types show up, and lots of great songs get sung--"I Got Rhythm," "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Embraceable You," "Nice Work if You Can Get It" and so on.

Despite (or perhaps because of) some anachronistic speech and a few of the kind of jokes--heck, a few of the same jokes--that killed vaudeville, "Crazy for You" is to these ears funnier than Ludwig's straight comedies "'Lend Me a Tenor" and "Moon Over Buffalo."

Charles Padilla is both director and musical director, conducting the 10-piece band; Tommy Johnson did the remarkable set design; Manuel Silva and Teri O'Conner came up with the costumes; and Juliana Bennett is responsible for the tremendous choreography: many tap numbers involve many of the cast members, and are executed with aplomb and skill far beyond what one expects from community theater.

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DETAILS

"Crazy for You" continues Thursday through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. through Dec. 9 at the Conejo Players Theater, 351 S. Moorpark Road in Thousand Oaks. There will be no performance tonight. Tickets are $10 Thursday; $12 Friday and Sunday matinees; and $14 on Saturdays. For reservations , call 495-3715.

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Todd Everett can be reached at teverett@concentric.net<

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