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A starry trip down Route 66

“Splash” is saddling up for this year’s revue, “Splashback to the Cactus Ranch Motel.”

The annual benefit for the AIDS Services Foundation will take guests down Route 66, landing in a 1960s motel where the neon lights never go out.

“I think in the 22 years I’ve been doing this, this is my favorite show,” said Splash creator, writer, producer and director Ken Jillson. “It has a great story, original music and a cast of 22 people.”

The main event on Sept. 28 will include a silent and live auction, casino games, cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and dinner under the stars at the Festival of Arts grounds, 650 Laguna Canyon Road.

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A preview performance will be the night before, with complimentary cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.

“It’s hard after 22 years to keep going, but we’re all really committed and we have a loyal base of major donors,” Jillson said.

Numbers like “Sometimes I Wish I Were a Boy,” “What Dress to Wear” and “Dancin’ Cowboy Rodeo” punctuate the story of a group of outsiders who descend upon the dusty motel and find love, lust and a slew of dreams come true.

Acting as one of the “dancin’ cowboys” will be Men of Laguna Beach 2008 calendar contest first-place winner Caleb King.

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He and the other cowboys will wield lassos, following professional instruction, and grip their belt buckles with wild abandon.

Markus Lee, who will star as Butch in the show, said he didn’t know what he got roped into when he joined the cast.

Lee, who performs musical theater in Irvine, said he only found out after accepting the part that he’ll be required to strip down to his boxers.

He’s feeling performance anxiety after watching King and the other cowboys rehearse, he said.

“But I think the show’s going to be amazing,” he said.

His paramour in the show is played by Beth Chapman, who serenaded audiences in Radio W.H.I.K. and Lagunatics earlier this year. She stars as Katie Reynolds, daughter of the Cactus Ranch’s owner Dusty (played by Jillson).

“It’s so much fun,” she said. “The group of people really makes the show.”

She and her fellow castmates have been gathering each night on a spacious patio at the edge of a hill in Arch Beach Heights.

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“It doesn’t hurt that we get to rehearse overlooking the ocean,” she said, smiling.

The show is choreographed by two newcomers from UCI’s graduate school of dance, Amanda Nora and Nate Hodges.

“They’re just wonderful people,” Jillson said. “I’m very excited about that, too.”

Jillson’s motel experience promises neon, a color TV in every room and Magic Fingers vibrating beds, harkening back to the days when Route 66 was bypassed by Highway 40.

The annual revues began in 1985 at Jillson’s own pool, where it raised $33,000 for a nine-minute show. The funds were used to help fund the AIDS Services Foundation.

Last year’s show earned around $400,000; to date, the Splash series has netted over $7.5 million, Jillson said.

“That’s really significant, because when you think of local fundraisers or anything like that, it’s exciting to make $50,000 or $100,000,” he said.

Tables for this year’s main event have sold for $15,000 and even $100,000. All funds raised benefit the foundation’s mission to provide care and services to people with HIV in Orange County.

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“AIDS has fallen off the radar,” Jillson said. “We have more and more clients getting infected. Young people just say, ‘Oh, big deal. Just take a pill and keep on dancing.’ That’s why we’re really focused on the show this year, to give it more presence and say, ‘Hey, you don’t have to get this disease.’”



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