The latest production at the Great American Melodrama in Oceano has everything a classic melodrama needs — very identifiable heroines, villains, sidekicks and a very heroic hero.
Written by Charles A. Taylor around the turn of the 20th century and adapted and directed here by Eric Hoit, “From Rags To Riches” is a very entertaining melodrama. One of the unique items in this play is the hero, who is usually an earnest, sometimes clueless, nice guy with a big heart. However, here he is a cocky and strong-willed young boy, played very well by Christopher Jensen.
The youngster plays Ned the Newsboy, who is very protective of his older sister Flossie, played by Molly Laurel. The teenager more than holds his own among the adult cast.
Flossie and Ned are looking for their parents, who they were taken away from them several years before. Alex Sheets plays their father, Albert Cooper, a man who went to prison and now lives a lonely life of shame. Kat Endsley is Gertrude Clark, a nurse to a very rich man, Old Montgomery (Kraig A. Kelsey). Gertrude is heartbroken that she was forced to give her children away when her husband shamed the family but is trying to find them once more.
The evil Charlie Montgomery, who calls himself Prince, is played by Philip David Black. He is the mean-spirited nephew of Old Montgomery and is trying to take over the family mansion while also trying to make the innocent Flossie his bride.
Black does a good job playing the despicable villain, in cahoots with Arthur Brown (Steven Freitas), the nasty Flora Bradley (Crystal Davidson) and Gypsy Joe (Kelsey, in a second role). All of the bad guys are quite mean and funny at the same time, which is how you want it in a melodrama like this.
Rounding out the cast and helping the good guys is Von Cleve Lewis as Mike, an Irish beat cop. Mike is described as stalwart and true, and Lewis plays it tight to that description.
The action is fast-paced under the direction of Hoit, the former artistic director at the Melodrama who is making a triumphant return for the summer.
But the standout is Jensen. He is strong and crisp in his delivery and comes off very heroic. Most of the scenes in the play end with Ned making a strong declaration followed by a finger pointing into the air in triumph.
Another funny running gag is how many times Endsley faints as Gertrude.
The cast does a great job, and are all strong performances. The costumes by Renee Van Niel are also very good.
The vaudeville revue that follows is titled “Country Barn Dance Revue.” It is a fun little party as several characters from Oceano head to the farm for a good old time.
It was fun to watch several of the cast playing instruments in addition to the piano accompaniment by Mark Pietri. Laurel played the ukulele, Black played the guitar and Sheets was on the banjo throughout the revue, which featured references to Jeff Foxworthy and John Denver.
There are some nice songs and some good choreography, provided by Hoit, who also directed the revue.
At the end Endsley shows a strong and pretty singing voice that I hope to hear more of down the road.
Overall, “From Rags to Riches” and the “Country Barn Dance Revue” are both worth spending a summer’s evening in Oceano.
B+ on the Brad-O-Meter