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Donald’s weekend pick: more theater

I got started on this kick with yesterday’s “To Do” suggestion, and now I continue the theme: There’s lots of theater this weekend. I write about the four musicals opening in today’s 7 cover story. My own theater plans: I saw “The Wizard of Oz” last night in Clovis (and will post a review later today). Tonight I see “Dreamgirls.” Tomorrow I plan to see the matinee performance of “Rancho Tesoro” in Visalia. And I’m hoping, if I can fit it into my schedule, to catch “The Aristocats” next week (though I won’t be reviewing because it’s a smaller-kid show).

There’s an interesting cover story this morning on “Rancho Tesoro” in “{Talk” magazine (produced by The Bee’s custom publications department for South Valley readers; you can pick it up on racks in the South Valley). It’s not available online, but I’ve posted the text version after the jump.

And if those aren’t enough theater options for you, don’t forget about a couple of titles already running, including the last two performances of Woodward Shakespeare Festival’s “The Merchant of Venice” and Good Company Players’ “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” which I featured yesterday on the Beehive. Here’s a video promoting “Merchant” at Woodward Park:

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‘Rancho Tesoro’: The Musical

By David Mirhadi
Special to {Talk

With its setting on a California ranch, there’s plenty of agrarian charm in the Tulare County Office of Education Theatre’s production of “Rancho Tesoro” — written by TCOE Theatre Company director Brian Roberts and opening tonight at the L.J. Williams Theatre in Visalia.

But it’s not exactly “Oklahoma!”

There are culture clashes between the Hispanic owners of the fictitious farm and the white newcomers who arrive there to revive a troubled youth’s life.

But don’t expect “West Side Story,” either.

What “Rancho Tesoro” is, the principals will tell you, is an original script and score, an organic story of love, of redemption and a coming-of-age tale where the school-aged actors — all of whom live in the ethnically diverse, agriculture-driven Tulare County — are forced to stretch their talents to play characters older and hardened by life in ways they haven’t been.

It’s a challenge, Roberts says, but it’s one this seasoned group of 40 cast members should have no trouble fulfilling.

Roberts began writing the script four years ago. Initially, it was a sort of cowboy “High School Musical,” paying homage to the area’s agricultural heritage.

As he began writing the story, he realized that the typical California cowboy was equal parts John Wayne and vaquero — the Hispanic cowboys who settled the Golden State’s wild spaces and made them fertile ranches and farmland.

“I always wanted to… write a story that was distinctly Californian and a celebration of our multiculturalism,” Roberts says. “I grew up watching cowboy movies, and (the actors) were all white. But in truth, Mexican cowboys came to this area long before the white ones did.”

Roberts says he wrote the play as a tribute to both Hispanic and white ranchers and the interplay between both groups.

“The story really is about the fact that both cultures owned the cowboy story, and how both groups come together at Rancho Tesoro.”

Roberts says “the biggest challenge is to write these characters in their own voice.”

The character of a man named Davis, a hardened, yet wise cowboy, is a character from Roberts’ own heritage of what once was called “Okies” and “Arkies” who came to California during the Dust Bowl in search of a better life.

“These people didn’t go to a lot of school, but they have a remarkable horse sense,” he says.

“Rancho” is a production with the book and lyrics penned by Roberts; musician Bill Thornbury wrote the score and lyrics.

Musician Dan Kehler orchestrated the show.

The musical, which means “Ranch Treasure” in Spanish, centers on a father and son who have come to the ranch because the son, a 17-year-old named Matthew, is ordered to serve his penance there after a drunken-driving conviction. Bill and Matthew meet Rosa and her family, who have owned the ranch since the 1800s, as well as Katy, Rosa’s daughter who develops a relationship with widower Bill.

The father and son also meet a cast of characters including Davis, a wise, aged alcoholic cowboy who tries to steer Matthew on a redemptive path, and ranch foreman

Javier and his spitfire wife Maria, Katy’s cousin.

While many of the student actors in the play haven’t had to face such modern-day struggles, the themes are universal, Roberts says — and he knows the cast can push themselves beyond roles many of them have traditionally played.

“An audience member should come to our performances and leave slack-jawed. Most audiences don’t expect to see what happens here. These are young people who are capable of producing a show that’s compelling and rich,” he says. “You want these students coming in here and performing on a par with people who will be doing this (for a career).”

Nearly everyone with a stake in this production feels an extra motivation to successfully pull off what will be a world premiere.
Mount Whitney High School graduate Makenda Bickmore, 18, plays Katy in this, her fourth TCOE production.
“You want to get it right,” she says of the premiere. “It’s the first time this character has ever been brought to life. It’s intimidating, but exciting.”

Golden West High School senior Jeffrey Prosser, 17, plays Davis, the hardened cowboy with a message for young Matthew. Prosser’s not a cowboy, so he watched Clint Eastwood Westerns and became a John Wayne fan as part of his preparation.
“I have to observe a lot because I haven’t seen it all, and he (Davis) has,” Prosser said. “You have to really imagine what it’s like to be that old.”

Playing the role of Maria gives 16-year-old Kate Moon a chance to stretch her acting and comedic talents.
“I love the chance to play someone who’s not like yourself,” she says of her character, who’s a bit salty and harps on her husband’s overabundance of Mexican machismo.

Each expressed a desire to bring ideas that embody so many of the themes familiar to people in the San Joaquin Valley, to the stage and do their director, Roberts, proud.
“I’ve never been in anything like this before, and it’s an incredible experience,” Prosser says. “For us to take (Roberts’) creation and live it, is awesome.”

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