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Stage West found its formula for success

What do you get when you mix two comedies, two musicals and a suspense thriller?

Stage West's secret for success and the community theater group's 1993-94 season.

Next season's productions kick off Oct. 1 with Oliver! The format follows that of previous seasons: a blend of musicals, comedies and thrillers. And based on advance ticket sales, the mixture is a recipe for success.

"This is the formula that's worked for us. This is the way we've been doing it," said Vince Vanni of Stage West's board of directors. "Once you get a formula, you stick with it."

About 2,000 season tickets have been sold since May 15, Vanni said, more in one month than were sold last year in four months. The $38 tickets cover all five shows, which spill over into June 1994 with Lend Me a Tenor. All productions are scheduled to be performed on three weekends.

If demand merits, "we'll do extra performances," Vanni said.

Preseason tickets will be sold until further notice, and tickets are available by visiting Mid-State Federal Savings Banks or by calling 683-5113.

Although the coming season is planned, loose ends remain. The biggest variable is where the first production will be.

Organizers hoped to open next season in their own theater. But the project is behind schedule, and the theater likely won't be open in time.

Stage West officials planned to open the $540,000, 391-seat theater on Forest Oaks Boulevard by September. Construction was to start in March. But the only thing done thus far is site clearing.

The main snag in getting the two-story, 10,000-square-foot project under way has been getting it appraised.

"Finding theaters of comparable value is tough. It's not something that can be done overnight or in a matter of days," Vanni said.

A revised construction schedule puts the opening sometime in October. If it's not ready in time for the first show, the production likely will be at a high school theater.

Below are the productions slated for Stage West's upcoming season:

Oliver!, Oct. 1-17. Lionel Bart's musical debuted in London in 1960 and left audiences spellbound. The play is adapted from Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, which tells of an orphan's adventures in the cruel world.

The Sunshine Boys, Dec. 3-19. A two-act comedy by Neil Simon, produced in 1972. Willie Clark and Al Lewis were an old vaudeville team who separated many years earlier. CBS wants to do a nostalgic program about the history of comedy and wants to reunite the two. Ben Silverman, Lewis's nephew, tries to persuade them to forget their differences and perform again.

Witness for the Prosecution, Feb. 4-20. Based on the Agatha Christie play and 1957 screenplay by Billy Wilder and Harry Kurnitz. Story of a London murder rife with mystery and mayhem.

Carousel, April 8-24. A musical play in two acts and a prelude. Books and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, music by Richard Rodgers. Produced in 1945. A shy Billy Bigelow and June Jordan fall in love. Bigelow discovers Jordan is pregnant and agrees to a robbery to earn extra money. The plan backfires and Bigelow kills himself, only to plead before a heavenly judge for another chance.

Lend Me a Tenor, June 10-26. A Ken Ludwig play that moved from London to Broadway in 1989. Story of an Italian tenor known as "Il Stupendo." Set in 1934, the tenor auditions for a part in Otello, but after a fight with his wife, he swallows some pills, passes out and is mistaken for dead. What follows is a plot stocked with mistaken identities, crossed signals and just plain silliness.

Information from The Oxford Companion to American Theatre and Leonard Maltin's TV Movies and Video Guide 1991 was used in this report.

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