The Contra Costa Musical Theater resumes its activities

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This week, I have the pleasure of doing something I haven’t done in a long time: announcing the rebirth of a theater company! I seem to be mostly mentioning businesses that are closing, but not this week. Contra Costa Musical Theater (CCMT) is once again among the Contra Costa County businesses providing quality entertainment.

“In December 2019, thanks to AB5, we suspended our operations,” said Elizabeth Wood, founding member of the company and current president. “Then COVID hit; we would have turned 60 in 2021, but instead we were closed for two years.

Assembly Bill 5, California’s controversial “gig workers” bill, required many independent contractors to become employees. The extra expense and paperwork was too much for several local theater groups, which either scaled back or stopped their operations. Wood says CCMT has revamped its operation and is AB5 compliant.

“We have a new board with lots of young people taking us into the 21st century – new website, social media. All kinds of new systems. It’s very exciting,” Wood said.

Maintaining quality productions is a top priority for CCMT. The company will start with smaller cast shows and fewer musicians, a major expense for theaters.

“Our first show is ‘(The 25th Annual Putnam County) Spelling Bee.’ With just nine cast members, eight in the orchestra, and basically just one ensemble, that’s perfect,” Wood said. “With the smaller shows and budgets, we can lower our ticket prices as well.”

CCMT will take the shows to various parts of Contra Costa County rather than just performing at the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek as it has done in the past. “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” will take place Nov. 4-20 at the newly renovated El Campanil Theater in Antioch at 602 Second St. John Maio directs.

In the spring, the company will produce “Ain’t Misbehaving” with approximately six performances at Lesher, 10 at El Campanil and eight at Danville’s Village Theatre. For more information, visit ccmt.org.

Orinda: Malcolm Cowler continues his love of all things Oz with another adaptation of a story by L. Frank Baum. “The Marvelous Land of Oz” begins after Dorothy returns to Kansas. The Scarecrow now rules the Emerald City with the Tinman in charge of a neighboring estate.

The Scarecrow has become lax in its governance, however, and the women of Emerald City are in revolt. Knitting needles in hand, they dethrone the stuffed king, forcing him to take refuge with a charming young boy named Tip and the creations Tip brought to life, Jack Pumpkinseed and Sawhorse.

Cowler’s adaptation, produced by the Orinda Starlight Village Players, has lots of colorful characters, witty dialogue and clever song lyrics. Cowler uses a large screen that projects the characters’ journeys through the Land of Oz. It’s a great device for keeping set pieces to a minimum and scene changes fast.

Unfortunately, the night I saw the show, there were several technical issues. Quick thinking by Vanessa Melendrez (Tip) turned one of those into a positive. When the video cut to a halt as Tip and Miriam Michels (Jack Pumpkinseed) traveled to the Emerald City, Melendrez improvised an entertaining dance lesson for Michels. When the video resumed, the innovative pair received a well-deserved round of applause.

Melendrez was the highlight of the show not only for his improvisational skills, but also for his enthusiasm, acting ability, and charismatic stage presence. Hopefully she will return to Starlight in the future. Other notables in the cast include Dan Phillips (Sawhorse), Todd Wolf (Tinman) Tom Westlake (Scarecrow) and Ariella Folks (Jinjur).

A nice addition was that music director Deborah Dahl Shanks would play at the shows rather than using recorded music. Unfortunately, most of the actors couldn’t sing, so it was hard to appreciate Cowler’s lyrics or composer Rice Major’s melodies. The “Wonderland of Oz” runs through August 11 at the Park Amphitheater at the Orinda Community Center, 28 Orinda Way. For tickets, call 925-528-9225.

Berkeley: A unique production by 17th-century Mexican poet, playwright and theologian Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz runs through August 14 at the La Val Underground Theater, 1834 Euclid Ave. in Berkeley. “House of Desires”, translated by Catherine Boyle, is a little-known romantic farce outside of Latin America. The production is directed by These Women Productions (thosewomenproductions.com).

“Suppose the Three Stooges are feminists,” said art director Elizabeth Vega, “and they got together with William Shakespeare to write a version of ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ and you’ve got the right idea.”

Castro Valley: Plethos Productions invites everyone to an entertaining wedding reception at the nuptials of William Ray and Betty Miller. Prepare for the celebration to turn into chaos and for someone to drop dead in this immersive theatrical experience.

Guests will interview actors to uncover the murderer while tasting wine pairings from TwiningVine Winery and MAD CreationZ. Guests are encouraged to wear 1920s costumes. The fun takes place at 7 p.m. on August 5 and 6 at TwiningVine Winery in the Castro Valley. Visit plethos.org for more details.

Sally Hogarty can be contacted at [email protected] Read more of her reviews online at eastbaytimes.com/author/sally-hogarty.

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