CHILDREN'S THEATER REVIEW : 'Olios' and 'Ol' Homestead' Get 'A' for Effort, but Viewers May Strain

A lot of work obviously went into "Olios" and "The Ol' Homestead," confections from the Gay '90s being performed by the Orange County Children's Theatre at Golden West College this weekend. Unfortunately, after more than two hours of watching 42 children straining through vaudeville melodrama, viewers may not appreciate all the effort involved.

A genre that is nearly a century old, vaudeville melodrama is a tough act for professional adult actors to handle, let alone young amateurs. Consider the concentration involved: It is not enough to remember lines and blocking. Performers also must react to the audience, which has been encouraged to participate with "boos," "hisses" and "aaahhhs" as the dastardly villains and fair maidens cavort.

Last weekend, rather than enhancing the show, the Children's Theatre troupe's oversize gestures often obstructed the story and inhibited the acting.

The young actors and actresses managed to remain cheerfully enthusiastic throughout their lengthy ordeal (the tedious dialogue, stiff movements and convoluted plot of "The Ol' Homestead" came on top of an hourlong collection of 16 vaudeville performances). But the audience was far less enthusiastic. That much children's theater is a lot to ask anyone to sit through, especially when the material is of the Snidely Whiplash variety.

"Homestead" follows the dastardly deeds of villainous Edgar Duntley as he attempts to cheat Lilly Lang out of her inheritance. The material is more dreary than it may sound. Still, the kids gave some bright performances: Danny Mathis' Duntley was a flamboyantly nasty ne'er-do-well, offset by the dimwitted Mr. Saunders, played by Brent Whittaker.

Michael Lemire was perky and believable as the hero. But Amy Sebelius had a more difficult role in the saccharine-sweet Miss Lilly Lang. It is hard to provide punch to a character whose predominant quality is kindliness.

The strongest portrayals came from Tanya Bailey as a hussy named Della Waters and Karrie Bailey as the saucy maid Jessica Grant. Tanya's swinging hips and Jessica's phony, pursed-lips smile resulted in some much needed laughs.

Other bright moments were provided by odd characters sprinkled throughout Miss Lil's boardinghouse: a one-armed sea captain and his pet parrot; a hearing-impaired spinster, and a frisky codger who pursues Della's swinging hips.

The hour's worth of "olios" that preceded the play hark back to the days when vaudeville acts were scheduled before a main attraction or during intermission. Here, they gave the youngsters a chance to sing and dance in such mini-roles as the Thornbustle Sisters, Letticia Goodbottom and Dottie Devaroe. Given the length of "Homestead," however, "Olios" probably should have been scheduled separately.

The Orange County Children's Theatre production of "The Ol' Homestead, or Foreclosure With a Smile" continues through Sunday in Forum II at Golden West College, 15744 Golden West St., Huntington Beach. Curtain times: 7:30 p.m. Friday; 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $3 to $5. Information: (714) 895-8378.

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