For the past ninety years, Whittier Community Theatre has been offering amateur thespians the opportunity to trod the boards while still maintaining their day jobs—to the delight of these eager and often very talented performers and of the audiences who get to see friends and family showing off their triple threats.

This grand tradition continues as WCT opens Season 90 with a show from the decade of its birth, 1927’s Good News (as viewed through the more contemporary lens of its 1993 revision). Though the resulting production does not rise to the level of what you’d get in a professional one, a dedicated troupe of volunteer performers, directors, and designers have come up with an entertaining, mostly well acted, and quite delightfully sung and danced bit of Roaring Twenties nostalgia.

Gabriel Borjon is Tom Marlowe, star quarterback at the fictional Tait College, currently dating Patricia Bingham (Katherine Gutierrez), the richest and most self-centered co-ed on campus, and faced with a dilemma. Having failed his astronomy final, the football hero will be barred from playing in Saturday’s big game unless he aces a makeup test. Cute bookworm Connie Lane (Natalie Miller) is recruited by astronomy professor Charlotte Kenyon (Veronique Warner) to tutor the lug. Can you say Love Triangle?

Meanwhile, the campus’s roaringest flapper Babe O’Day (Heather Neinast) has set her eyes on Tom’s perky teammate Bobby Randall (Jay Miramontes), and what Babe wants, Babe gets, even if it means climbing through a window or two or three.

As for Charlotte, the still attractive, still single 30something prof has her own troubles sharing a college campus with her onetime boyfriend and current nemesis, football coach Johnson (Greg Stokes).

For those who may be wondering if this isn’t all a tad slight a premise for a Broadway musical, Wayne Bryan and Mark Madama’s ’93 rewrite of Laurence Schwab and B.G. DeSylva’s ’27 book has a campy, contemporary sensibility that makes it much more than the snoozefest the original would probably make for in 2011. As an added plus, a bunch of Ray Henderson, DeSylva, and Lew Brown’s best known song hits (“Button Up Your Overcoat,” “Keep Your Sunny Side Up,” “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries,” and “You’re the Cream In My Coffee”) have been added to the show’s original score (which did already feature the hit song “The Best Things In Life Are Free”). Do any of these songs advance the plot? Hardly, but then again neither did just about any other pre-Oklahoma! show tune.

Director Roxie Lee insures that the majority of her cast (particularly the female contingent) make the most of the nutty goings-on, and choreographer Lindsay Martin has tailored the show’s many bouncy dance sequences (featuring plenty of Charleston moves) to fit the particular talents of the cast.

Miramonte is the male standout, singing and dancing Bobby with plenty of charm and zest, and doing so opposite Neinast, whose vivacity and oomph (as well as tiptop vocals and precision footwork) make her the evening’s star. Gutierrez could give 2011 girls a lesson in how to be (and stay) the boss of any situation, and does so with oodles of pizzazz in a delightfully showy turn. A vivacious Warner demonstrates expert comedic skills and some fine pipes as well. Miller’s Connie combines intelligence, girl-next-door prettiness, and a lovely soprano.

Supporting cast standouts include Jerry Marble as superstitious team trainer Pooch, with a scene stealing second act “Keep Your Sunny Side Up”; Ben Otis doing his best Pee Wee Herman as ever-eager waterboy Freshie; and Richard DiVicariis, whose second act shtick as a by-the-rules ticket taker is a laugh-getter.

Completing the Good News ensemble are Mark Berglund (Windy), Robert Dominguez (Grubbs), John Francis (cop), Jaimielynn Lake (Corda), Ryan Miramontes (Lefty), Jennifer Perez (Lucy), Landon Pikkel (Beef), Ruben Renteria (Slats), John Warner Roberts (cop), Samantha Salazar (co-ed), Rebecca Schroeder (Flo), Summer Shippy (Aggie), Emily Turner (Millie), Brigitta Weger (Professor W), and Patricia Williams (house mother).

Music director Brian Murphy conducts an eight-piece pit orchestra that sounds a lot more professional than you’d ever expect at a community theater, made up of Brian Boyce, Bryant Duffy, Douglas Forbes, Brenda Goforth, Phil Moore, Patrick Olguin, Jules Vogel, and Jim Youngstrom.

Deac Hunter’s colorful multi-locale set shows imagination, Nancy Tyler and Karen Jacobson’s rainbow-hued costumes are 1920s treats, Tyler’s lighting design adds to the show’s vibrant look, and Suzanne Frederick’s sound design went off virtually without a hitch at Saturday’s performance, adeptly mixing miked singers with a slightly amplified orchestra. Only the women’s hairdos many contemporary seem out of place in the short-bobbed ‘20s.

Monica Francis is producer, Frederickson technical director, Cherrie Lakey properties designer, and Monica Francis stage manager. All of the above talents, and many more listed in the program, give freely of their time and energy, enabling WCT to offer Good News tickets at a mere $18 ($15 for seniors and 18 & under).

Yes indeed, community theater is alive and well and has been thriving for ninety years now in picturesque Whittier…and as Good News proves, that is Good News indeed.

The Center Theatre, 7630 S. Washington Ave., Whittier.

–Steven Stanley
September 10, 2011

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