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By Popular Demand

Though somewhat dated, hit Broadway show 'South Pacific' is a top-notch production.

March 22, 2001|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

An instant hit upon its premiere in 1947, "South Pacific" was among the longest-running shows of the decade and won a Pulitzer Prize for drama, despite being a musical. Its popularity has continued, to the point that ABC television will present Glenn Close in a new version Monday night. And Moorpark College is staging a live production, continuing this weekend and next.

All this is due to a handful of hummable songs ("Some Enchanted Evening" and "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair" among them) and two romances laced with boisterous comedy (it takes place at a Pacific island Seabee base). Working against it is the show's outdated politics. Ahead of its time in dealing with ethnic prejudice (if not stereotyping), the play's Big Problem--Anglos being somehow contaminated by romancing Asians or Polynesians--seems quaint, at best, today.

Sara Ford, an accomplished veteran of several previous Moorpark productions, plays Nellie Forbush, a naive nurse but born leader who is the show's central focus. Within minutes, she falls in love with plantation owner Emile de Becque (Jeremy DiPaolo), his murky past back home notwithstanding--it's not until she discovers who's the father of those cute little French-speaking Polynesian kids (Monet Thornburg, Sienna Thornburg) that she's rattled.

The second romance is between callow Lt. Cable (Dillon Johnston) and the daughter (Nicole Lewis-Fernandez) of local hustler and trinket saleswoman Bloody Mary (Jee Hong). Comic relief is supplied by Bruce Jump as sailor Luther Billis, Scott Gilbert as one of his companions, Frank Payfer as the base's commanding officer and Jeffrey Linemann as another befuddled Navy officer.

Les Wieder directed the show, with musical direction by Marilyn Anderson (R.D. Aguilar conducts the large orchestra) and choreography by Dennon and Sayhber Rawles. It's all top-notch, although Saturday night's performance could have been a little smoother: Action seemed to freeze for a couple of seconds before each dance number. And some of the singers seemed to be having problems with pitch. On the other hand, everybody seemed to be in step, which is a major accomplishment in a nonprofessional production.

DETAILS

"South Pacific" continues through March 31 at the Moorpark College Performing Arts Center; take Collins Drive off the 118 Freeway in Moorpark. Performances are at 8 p.m. today through Saturday and March 30 and 31, and at 1:30 p.m. March 29 (not recommended for those who do not have campus parking). Reserved seats are $12; $8 students and seniors; and $7 children, Moorpark College students, staff and all seats for the Thursday matinee; and can be charged to Visa and MasterCard. For reservations or more information, call 397-1485.

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Self-help groups come under attack Friday and Saturday night at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza in "Venus Attacks!" a parody of such seminars written and performed by comics Debbie Kasper and Sheila Kay.

Speaking about the show, Kay said it's her partner who "has been through est and all those things; I couldn't care less." But then she admits to having read Norman Vincent Peale's "The Power of Positive Thinking" before embarking on her career in stand-up, having read other, unspecified, books since then and having a Marianne Williamson calendar at home. Although she said the seminars kidded in "Venus Attacks!" have no specific basis, Kay mentions the Mars/Venus guru, John Gray.

Each woman plays numerous characters ("We actually fired a few along the way--our original main characters became less important and then were dropped altogether"). One is a sex therapist, whose interaction with the audience produces many of the show's biggest laughs, Kay said.

"We've had some of the dirtiest questions from little old ladies," she said. "And the men always want to know about size and that sort of thing."

She allows that this isn't a show for youngsters, if only because they "wouldn't understand it. We've had teenagers there, and they liked it. And we have not had anyone come up to us and tell us they found the show offensive--it's a very cute, clean parody put-on."

DETAILS

"Venus Attacks" will be performed at 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza's Forum Theater, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd. Tickets are $31.50 for "the zone," where audience participants are chosen, or $26.50 for a location safely out of the way. For reservations or more information, call 449-2787.

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

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