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Looking Back on Stage Successes of Past Year

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

These pages began to cover the local theater scene in spring 1990, shortly after the launch of The Times’ Ventura County edition.

Since then, numerous theatrical companies have been launched (most often after someone is dissatisfied with another company), several groups have promised to bring professional theater to Ventura County with varying degrees of success, some actors have married one another, others have taken their last bows, and well over 600 productions from Ojai to Simi Valley have been reviewed in these pages--half of them, it sometimes seems, renditions of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” or “Nunsense!”

This week and next, we’ll take a look at highlights of the past year of local theater in Ventura County. Next, we’ll preview what’s coming up, “Midsummer” and “Nunsense!” included. Then, back to the boards.

Nineteen ninety-seven began with two productions of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance,” running nearly simultaneously and only a few miles from one another, in Moorpark and Simi Valley. Each was worthwhile in its own way, with the Moorpark Melodrama’s presentation a real change of pace for that company, whose usual repertoire consists of genre spoofs larded with pop songs and topical references.

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Also notable in January were the Flying H production of “Big River” in Ojai (which then packed up and moved to Santa Barbara and Simi Valley), the Camarillo Community Theatre’s welcome return to form with “Little Shop of Horrors,” and a production of “The Elephant Man,” directed by Georgeanne Lees at the smallish Arts Council Center in Thousand Oaks. Barry Van Dyke and Anne Lockhart, both local residents, appeared in a Thousand Oaks production of “Love Letters,” benefiting the school where both have children enrolled. Van Dyke and Lockhart returned later in the year in the casts of “On Golden Pond” and “A Christmas Carol,” respectively.

The Plaza Players, the only Ventura-based community theater group, moved to Ojai for its interesting February staging of “After the Light Goes On,” based on the life of painter Georgia O’Keeffe, then disappeared for the rest of 1997. Next year will mark artistic director Michael Maynez’s 50th anniversary producing plays in the area; we hope he continues to find a way. The Santa Paula Theater Center opened its season in February with the accessible “The Lion in Winter.”

March was the month of the Big Broadway Musical, with groups performing “Kiss Me Kate” and ‘Oklahoma!” at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza and “The Sound of Music” at Ojai’s Thatcher School.

April’s highlights included the Conejo Players’ “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” and Moorpark College’s “Die Fledermaus”; “Twelve Angry Men” at the Arts Council Center (by Michael Jordan’s Gothic Productions); and a professional production of the revue “Pump Boys & Dinettes” by the Cabrillo Music Theater, the group’s first show in the Civic Arts Plaza’s smaller, Forum Theatre (they’d presented most of their shows in the Plaza’s 1,800-seat auditorium).

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Theater 150, promising to bring professional theater to Ojai, in May launched its first full-length production, “Lust, Lies & Murder,” based on short stories by Raymond Carver. Comedy Tonight Productions, which had started the year with the Simi Valley edition of “Pirates of Penzance,” returned in May with a revue based on the educational kids’ TV show, “Schoolhouse Rock.”

The best shows from January through May showed commendable diversity and imagination, and there were seven months yet to come.

Next: June through December.


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