North side story

With Beyond Karaoke, Chico Theater Company finishes season two

FAKEBOOK The staff of an airstrip bar takes the stage in a performance that goes <i>Beyond Karaoke.</i> From left, Judy Souza, Mario Magaña, Audrey Curd and Darin Driscoll.

FAKEBOOK The staff of an airstrip bar takes the stage in a performance that goes Beyond Karaoke. From left, Judy Souza, Mario Magaña, Audrey Curd and Darin Driscoll.

Photo By Tom Angel

It’s been nearly two years since elementary-school teacher Brian Holderman and radio station account executive Marc Edson revamped the old Eaton Road Opera House to create a local stage devoted to just musical theater. Every couple months since, beginning with the maiden show, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Chico Theater Company has rolled out the red carpet (literally) for the opening-night show of each of its 16 musical productions.

This week the company finishes its second complete season with production No. 17, John Driscoll’s Beyond Karaoke.

I sat in on a recent afternoon rehearsal of the new show and chatted with theater director Edson about upcoming shows, the new summertime theater and dance workshops and the difficulty of running a community theater specializing in musicals, especially during summer. A warm, bear-hug of a guy, Edson was happy to talk about his theater.

“We’re not exactly where I might’ve hoped, attendance-wise, after the first two years; there was a steep learning curve,” Edson said with a chuckle. However, he expressed enthusiasm for several new projects, including the cooperative endeavor of local theater companies, ACT (Alliance of Chico Theatres). Edson’s day job with a local radio station has provided connections that have led to the recording of the “ACT theatre minute,” 60-second spots in which he plugs local shows. The mini-commercial airs four to six times a day on all four of his company’s Chico radio stations.

When asked about CTC’s future productions, Edson explained, “We are planning to do a lot more original works, in addition to some traditional favorites, in the next couple of seasons.”

The first show next season will be a musical premiere, East Baltimore Street, written by Bill Falcon, of Magalia. Later, Jerry Miller will direct Sweeney Todd, and local favorite Laurie Staring will return from New York to star in She Loves Me, directed by her father, Roy Staring. “This musical is reminiscent of the film You’ve Got Mail,” Edson said.

As for the current production, Beyond Karaoke—which has been successfully staged in Nevada City, Utah, and Las Vegas—I was relieved to find that CTC’s production includes some fine singing (not your usual tone-deaf karaoke lounge fare) and some truly entertaining impersonations, as well as a healthy dose of humor.

The title refers to a plot line that follows a group of people struggling to keep a dive bar on an old airstrip alive. They come up with the idea that a karaoke show would draw thirstier crowds than the occasional Pepsi-swilling pilot. The ensemble cast features Darin Driscoll as Randy, the idea-man who pushes the karaoke “air band” package, as well as a broom, around the bar. Mario Magana plays Bryce, the owner of the bar, and Judi Souza is his sister, Tammy. Their other employee is a cocktail waitress named Lisa who used to be a professional singer (Audrey Curd) but now wants to hide in the shadows due to a dark secret from her past.

Despite a few technical difficulties, the cast was fun and enthusiastic. Highlights at this rehearsal included Curd singing a Sarah McLachlan song with a lovely, heartfelt soprano, as well as Magana doing Louis Armstrong and Souza as both Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin. Driscoll, who has performed as Randy in this show “at least a hundred times” in several different cities, seems to channel Sonny Bono, opposite Curd as Cher, in a sappy rendition of “I’ve Got You, Babe.”

If you are looking for something to do with the kids this summer, in addition to the musicals, CTC’s new dance workshop is being conducted by Chico’s award-winning Full Force Hip-Hop Dance Company. Instructors Dani Furniss and Amber Scism will teach Latin, Polynesian, traditional jazz and hip-hop styles to kids ages 8-18. Classes began July 12, 1-3 p.m. and 3-5:30 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday. Cost for the program is $110; call CTC at 894-3282 for more information.