Castles made of ham
ETC presents a broad rock-'n'-roll musical comedy as second Cedar Grove offering
A techie wanders into the opening scene. The three singing maid characters’ headset microphones aren’t picking up all their voices. Then, to cap things off, both sound and lights cut out completely, leaving only frustrated, inquisitive voices isolated in the gathering darkness.
Fortunately for Ensemble Theatre of Chico, this is only a tech rehearsal for its second “Shakespeare in the Park” production of the year out under the stars in Bidwell Park’s Cedar Grove, Jerry Miller and Marcel Daguerre’s piecework rock-'n'-roll musical comedy The Ghost Bride of Castle Castle. And ironing out glitches is what tech rehearsals are all about. Still, even through the interruptions, one thing becomes abundantly clear: This looks to be enjoyable family fare.
The plot here, such as it is, involves seven very different individuals invited to eerie Castle Castle by a mysterious host. At stake is a cool tax-free million for the man or woman who manages to survive a night in the reputed deadly haunted edifice. It seems the ancient domicile was the site for a grisly murder-suicide and, supernaturally, is now rumored to be in the clutches of quite vengeful ghosts. The whole thing comes off as some delightfully improbable cross of Gilligan’s Island, The House on Haunted Hill and the board game Clue, with such recent TV fare as Do You Want to Be a Millionaire and Survivor rough-stitched through for good measure.
The dialogue runs the parody gamut, from grade school-level zingers to Woody Allenesque one-liners, from adolescent cheap shots to pointedly ironic swipes at literary analysis, psychiatry, mysticism and so forth, spoken in mock-earnest tones by specific characters. Filling the countenances of these broadly delineated folks is a veritable rogues’ gallery of familiar faces.
Actor and co-owner of the Pageant Theatre Roger Montalbano plays tweed-suited psychoanalyst Professor Fig, whose “voice of reason” utterances stumble through outright contradictory psychological disciplines with comical indifference. It’s all only “head shrinking” anyhow, right? The character also unconsciously exposes his own hang-ups in his zealous attempt at revealing the foibles of others. Standard stuff, but amusing when handled by Montalbano.
Troy Anthony Harris portrays Fig’s nemesis, the mystically minded Swami Azure Jani, whose purpose in quoting Hindu legends ultimately boils down to one inescapable impetus: “Show me the money!”
As alcoholic writer Edgar Greenbaum, veteran actor and drama instructor Jeff Dickenson utilizes every “comic drunk” bit in the book to generally good effect underpinned by Greenbaum’s ridiculous tendency to analyze the group’s situation in literary terms. And singer and occasional orchestral conductor Dan Valdez as unheeded-warning-spouting cab driver Chucky Checker pleasantly jogs the viewer’s memory, reminding one of his enjoyable performances with the old Chico City Light Opera Company.
Rounding out the cast: Chico State instructor Gail Beterbide as head housekeeper Frau Gris; Tami Bennett as Violet the maid; Casey Chell as Fuchsia the cook; Mario Magana as “thinks-he’s-God’s-gift-to-women” racecar driver Mario Scarletti; Judi Souza as librarian Betty Brown and Jeremy Shull as tycoon Carter Cadmium, these two providing a gesture of romance to the doings; Crystal Szymanski heating things up a bit as movie star Blanch Noir; and George Spelvin as a couple of mysterious characters, one of which figures in big by the play’s end.
Of course, the biggest stars in something like this are the songs: “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Born to be Wild,” “Never Fall in Love Again,” and so on. It’s an oldies fan’s dream, featuring, as one character guilelessly stresses from onstage, “nothing later than ‘71!” Playing these classics is a great band comprised of Matt Hogan on guitar, Rags Tuttle on keyboards, Marcel Daguerre on drums, and Mike DiTrolio on bass.
“It’s a show that’s fun for the whole family," says director/co-writer Jerry Miller. Judging by the response of both the adults and children who happened to be present at the tech rehearsal, that’s a claim that will be readily realized.