BY CARY GINELL
Regular theatergoers in Ventura County will be pleased to find an array of familiar faces sprinkled throughout the cast of Cabrillo Music Theatre’s Oklahoma!, which concludes its ten-day run this weekend at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. Our official review will be filed in the Acorn this coming Thursday, however, we wanted to spend a little more time profiling the show’s local talent, which ranges from the alumni from the Kabrillo Kids to veteran performers who have treading the boards for eons.
David Gilchrist can usually be spotted whenever a British character is featured. There have been plenty such occasions for the versatile Aussie, including the Bank Chairman in Cabrillo’s most recent show, Mary Poppins, Grandpa Potts in ARTS’ Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and last year’s Jeeves in Bloom from the Elite Theatre Company, in which Gilchrist played the title role. In Oklahoma!, however, Gilchrist has to become Andrew Carnes, the rough-hewn, protective father of fickle floozie Ado Annie. Not only does Gilchrist convincingly adopt an accent from the American Great Plains, he does a bang-up job leading the ensemble in the Act II opener, “The Farmer and the Cowman.”
Dynell Leigh is that rare kind of actress who can step in to a character role and make it real, no matter how outlandish the situation. This spring, she was fabulous as Mrs. Brill in Cabrillo’s Mary Poppins, but she has also easily slipped into the roles of other Broadway matrons such as Mrs. Paroo in The Music Man, Katie in Meet Me in St. Louis, and Emma Goldman in Ragtime. Leigh plays one of our favorite roles in Oklahoma!, the respected but not-to-be-messed-with Aunt Eller, as apt to heft a shotgun as she is to try on a dainty garter.
Like Gilchrist, Ronald Rezac , who plays Sheriff Cord Elam, is a chameleon, able to fit into any situation that calls for a mature elder statesman. Rezac has almost become a good luck charm for Cabrillo; Oklahoma! marks his 11th production with the company. Rezac isn’t satisfied, though, with playing minor character roles; he can also carry a show by himself, as when he played the clueless, profane doofus President Charles Smith in last year’s uproarious farce, November, staged at the Elite Theatre Company.
Richard Storrs spends most of his time as chair of Cabrillo’s board of directors, but occasionally, the actor’s itch gets to him and he has to get back out on stage. He does so with flair, playing the role of Ike Skidmore in Oklahoma! The talent in the Storrs family isn’t limited to Richard, however. His wife Tania played the key role of The Bird Woman in Mary Poppins while daughter Natalie recently completed work in the cast of the national and regional touring companies of Sister Act and is now preparing to start rehearsals for First Date at the Mason Street Warehouse in Saugatuck, Michigan.
The cast of Oklahoma! also includes younger performers who have worked their way up through the ranks in Ventura County theater, beginning in youth and school groups before proceeding to high school and college theater companies. Kevin Gilmond is a talented character actor who has created one memorable performance after another, thanks to his keen comedic talents. The role of the slovenly William Barfee in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is always a juicy role for an outgoing, inventive actor, but in Moorpark College’s 2013 production of the show, Gilmond added some particularly hilarious moments of lunacy to his performance. He is always worth watching, and even though his character, Slim, has only a minor part in Oklahoma!, Gilmond’s work always stands out so look for him to do something singular.
Claire Adams recently graduated from the USC School of Theatre and it’s great to see her back in Ventura County, but not for long. The former Oak Park High School standout is currently preparing to play Squeaky Fromme in Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins at the Pico Playhouse in Los Angeles. At Oak Park, Adams performed in 13 shows and was a standout as the venemous vixen Lola in their 2011 production of Damn Yankees. In Oklahoma!, Adams plays Gertie Cummings, who vies with Ado Annie for the attention of cowpoke Will Parker. The character has an annoying laugh which eventually drives her male friends crazy and after hearing Adams’ bleating goat-like titter, one will understand why.
Kurt Kemper has virtually grown up with Cabrillo. The lanky, effusive, outgoing Newbury Park High graduate will be on his way to study theatre at Point Park University in Pittsburgh after Oklahoma! concludes, and his constant presence in Cabrillo shows will be sorely missed. Kemper, who plays Oren and understudies for Will Parker, started out, like so many others, as a Kabrillo Kid, and could be seen more often than not in Cabrillo’s dancing ensembles. But this past spring, he showed a quantum leap in his abilities when he starred in Newbury Park High’s production of Man of La Mancha, dominating the stage with an electrifying performance as Don Quixote. We’d like to see Kemper come back after college, but it is more likely we will have to go see him on Broadway instead.
Isabella Mancuso, like Kemper, has been a theater rat for as long as she can remember, appearing on stage since the age of 8. In last year’s Young Artists Ensemble production of The Sound of Music, she did a magnificent job in the leading role of Maria von Trapp, showcasing a gorgeous wide-ranging soprano (like her idol, Julie Andrews), but also exhibiting great ease in comedic acting. Mancuso’s versatile voice has graced a wide variety of musical activities, from singing with the Los Robles Children’s Choir to performances in operas like Carmen and The Pirates of Penzance.
Katherine Steele, a recent graduate of Agoura High School, won our “Vee Cee” award for her stunning performance as Christine in AHS’s production of Phantom of the Opera. Possessing one of the strongest, most beautiful voices we’ve heard in years in the Conejo Valley, Steele also won the Jerry Herman Award for her performance in Phantom. She has a bright future ahead of her, and you can expect more prominent performances in Cabrillo’s shows in years to come.
When Antonia Vivino and Kendyl Yokoyama auditioned for Oklahoma!, choreographer John Charron was so impressed, he invented two minor ensemble characters, just to get them into the show. Charron called them “the peekers,” two waifs who peer through hanging lines of laundry to see what is going on, and then join the cast and ensemble in the elaborate dance numbers. At one point, Vivino and Yokoyama elicited gasps from the audience with their meticulous and perfectly coordinated frouettes, pirouettes performed with a circular whipping movement of a raised leg to the side. Both Vivino and Yokoyama are exceptional dancing talents and we hope to see more of their work in future shows.
See these talented local performers and more in Cabrillo Music Theatre’s Oklahoma!, which concludes its ten-day run this weekend at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. For dates and showtimes, visit the VC On Stage Calendar.