News Column

Redlands Theatre Festival kicks off with comedy [San Bernardino County Sun (CA)]

July 12, 2013

YellowBrix

Some of the best live theater in the Inland Empire is served up nightly, under a canopy of stars.

Surrounded by tall trees and nestled in a hollow of Prospect Park, the prestigious Redlands Theatre Festival site evokes images of a Shakespearean theatrical site in Elizabethan England.

Friday night the park rang with laughter as the festival's 41st year opened with the award-winning comedy "Dividing the Estate."

The play launches a summer season of five plays in repertory with shows that promise do deliver high spirits, smiles and more than a few surprises, says Cliff Cabanilla, festival founder/producing director and a retired professor emeritus from Crafton Hills College in Yucaipa.

The 70-plus member repertory company celebrates the old and new, as well as the tried and true, with five shows including Oscar Wilde's comedy, "The Importance of Being Earnest," the musical comedy "The Andrews Brothers," the Tony Award-winning musical "Hairspray," the comedy "Dividing the Estate," and the international hit "Love, Loss and What I Wore."

"Doing true repertory theatre requires a different side of the artistic temperament," Cliff said.

After more than four decades of presenting high quality theater in rigorous repertory, the ensemble acting cast, directors, technicians and designers are quite adept at shifting scenery and lighting and quick costume changes for a different production each night.

But how do they remember all that dialogue?

Nowhere else but in repertory can audiences see five different shows with alternating cast members, many of whom appear in several of the plays.

And when some actors are not on stage, they can be found working in other areas of the festival, including technical crew and as musicians.

Some actors even drive the tram that delivers audience members to the theater.

Each year, Cliff uses a successful formula to vary the season's productions -- a major Broadway musical, an Off-Broadway musical, a classic piece and two contemporary shows.

"Hairspray," of course, is the Broadway musical.

"'Hairspray is the 'Grease' of the day and appeals to young people," Cliff said. "The music is charming, it has a huge cast and an opportunity for a lot of people to participate and be challenged."

More mature audiences enjoy the Off-Broadway piece set during World War II, a fun, jukebox musical called 'The Andrews Brothers.'

"We do safe stuff, but we also like to do cutting edge, and the way we mount a show gives it a different look," he said.

This year's classic piece is "The Importance of Being Earnest," "Dividing the Estate" is contemporary and "Love, Loss and What I Wore" is new and actually a premiere.

The season has variety -- the proverbial "something for everybody" and a night under the stars is the perfect way to spend a summer evening.

Or, as Cliff says, "You could stay home and watch re-runs on TV - - and how many reality shows can you stand?"

The Redlands Theatre Festival is the longest-running outdoor repertory theater in Southern California.

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