You'd think that by now, Ojai would be saturated with theater companies. But the premiere last week of a rousing production of "Annie" at the Matilija Junior High School auditorium marked a seventh (at least) theater, called Theatre4.comm.
Director Krista Neumann has toured nationally in the show, and directed last year's Ojai Civic Light Opera production of "The Sound of Music"; musical director Bill Wagner teaches at Nordhoff High School, though his resume takes nearly half a program page.
Julia Martinez is cute as all get out as Little Orphan Annie; Marty Babayco is entirely satisfactory as Daddy Warbucks; and Donna Gross plays the evil head of the orphanage less broadly than many have before her. It's interesting and effective.
Bruce Solow and Susan Wiltfang play the comic villains, and Candace Delbo is featured as Warbucks' assistant, Grace. Certain aspects of this ambitious production are a bit rough, but even the scene most in need of work at last Saturday's show--President Roosevelt and his Cabinet--ended on a triumphant note.
* "Annie" continues through July 11 at the Matilija Junior High School auditorium, 701 El Paseo in Ojai. 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays. No performances July 3 and 4; extra performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 2, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, July 5. Tickets are $12; $9 students and seniors; $6 children. (805) 654-4189.
Closing: Another perennial, "Little Shop of Horrors," closes this weekend at the Santa Paula Theater Center, in an enthusiastic production by the ARTS Youth Ensemble.
Director Jan Glasband, musical director Gary Poirot and choreographer Dani Brown have assembled a cast large enough to all but spill over the center's stage. The band--the center's first in several years--is partially hidden beside the audience.
Robert Dantona and Robin Bologna star as ill-fated Seymour and Audrey, with Justin McQueen as their boss, Mr. Mushnik.
The guys are fine; Bologna is better still--all blond wig and a voice to rival Cyndi Lauper's. Speaking of voices, Brandon Ibanez is an especially full-throated voice of Audrey II, the "Mean, Green Mother (Plant) From Outer Space" who causes all the trouble (Patty McNichols is the adept puppeteer). Jason Narvy plays several roles, most significantly that of Audrey's boyfriend, Orin.
The play moves fast; Jeff G. Rack's set design is, as usual, almost worth the price of admission, and the production is recommended to all who would enjoy a parody of '50s sci-fi movies with pseudo-'60s songs. Not recommended to those who would take exception to the show's portrayal of an abusive relationship, or those who have a dental appointment in the near future.
Next month, the show moves to Simi Valley, where the larger stage will allow the dancers to loosen up a bit, and where--with luck--the amplified vocals and band will be more sympathetic to one another and the audience.
* "Little Shop of Horrors" through Sunday at the Santa Paula Theater Center, 125 S. 7th St. in Santa Paula. 8 p.m. Friday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $12; $10 seniors and students; $8 children 12 and younger. (805) 525-4645. July 10-Aug. 2, the show moves to the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center; same times and ticket prices apply. (805) 581-9940.
London Play: "Stepping Out," now at the Conejo Players Theatre, is unfamiliar to American audiences but has been produced in London's West End in two versions.
The first has the middle-age amateurs in Mavis Turner's tap dance class practicing and eventually performing to standards by Gershwin, Porter and so on. The more recent version dumps the classic songs in favor of original new material. This production, under the direction of Marjorie Ann, sticks with the standards.
The dance class consists of Turner (L. Jan Faulkner); pianist Mrs. Fraser (Cheryl Talbot); seven women (Judy Weaver, Sandi Sigrist, Becca Clarke, Sandy Richard, Deanna Lynn Milsap, Roschelle Lynn Milsap and Susan Michael; and one rather put-upon man (Rick Steinberg).
Character is more important than plot here as the audience gets to know the tappers as they get to know one another. Several of the increasingly ghastly costumes are hilarious, and some of playwright Richard Harris' dialogue is memorable: Asked what she thought of a play she'd seen, one woman replies, "I can't say--we didn't even understand the intermission." We've all been there.
* "Stepping Out" continues at 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through July 18 at the Conejo Players Theatre, 351 S. Moorpark Road in Thousand Oaks. $8 Thursdays; $10 Fridays; $12 Saturdays; group and senior discounts available. No performance July 4. (805) 495-3715.