With all the theatrical activity in Ojai and the numerous professional show-business people living in the area, one might wonder why the two don't come together more.
One reason some of the professionals haven't performed more often with the amateurs is that . . . nobody asked. But the situation is beginning to change. That's the case with "Beggars!--the Musical," which will have its world premiere Friday night at the Ojai Art Center.
In addition to many faces familiar to local theatergoers, the cast includes performers who have found fame elsewhere. One of them is Julie Christensen, a singer who has performed everything from punk rock to swing to cabaret material, as well as recorded and toured extensively with Leonard Cohen. Another is John Cowsill, a drummer and singer whose family band recorded five top-10 singles (among them, "The Rain, the Park and Other Things" and "Hair") in the '60s. The Cowsills were the prototype for TV's Partridge Family.
Both Cowsill and Christensen, and their respective families, have been Ojai residents for some time.
"I grew up in Iowa," Christensen said, "and wanted my kid to grow up like I did, with a creek in his backyard and getting real annoyed when it was time to come in to dinner. My husband (John Diehl, a character actor with 50 films on his resume) and I had visited Ojai when we were courting."
Cowsill said he moved to Ojai from the San Fernando Valley because his wife wanted to live where she could keep her horse. And, because "it's a great place to raise kids; you can breathe here."
Both Cowsill and Christensen were introduced to "Beggar!" director Taylor Kasch by the show's musical director, Jimmy Calire, who attends the same church as Cowsill. Calire plays with the Pontiax, who perform at 66 California restaurant in Ventura, as does Christensen from time to time. (Several members of the Pontiax, including lead singer Mitch Kashmar, also are participating in the show.)
Says Christensen: "Jimmy told me that he was working on a new adaptation of the play (John Gay's 1728 'The Beggar's Opera') that became 'The Threepenny Opera,' and I asked him, 'Have you cast it yet?' The first time I met Taylor was at auditions."
Both Christensen and Cowsill have limited acting experience. She has performed with her husband in a small professional production in Hollywood. And last year they spent three months in New York, performing in a well-received program of Sam Shepard one-act plays. She has also been involved with acting teacher Kim Maxwell-Brown of Ojai's Theater 150. Cowsill "acted" as a band member whenever his friend, John Stamos, in the casts of TV's "General Hospital" and "Full House," had an opportunity to sing.
The singers-turned-actors speak highly of director Kasch. And they both lauded the skills and talent of local actor Gary Best, who plays the show's lead. "An incredible talent," Christensen said.
"Beggars!--the Musical" opens Friday and continues through March 27 at the Ojai Art Center, 113 S. Montgomery St. Performances are at 7 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, with matinees at 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets for all performances are $20; $15, students and seniors. Not recommended for children. For reservations or further information, call 646-8353. Julie Christensen's Web site is http://www.stonecupid.com
PHOTO: MAJOR PLAYERS: Professional singers John Cowsill, left, plays Macheath and Julie Christensen portrays Pirate Jenny in the world premiere of "Beggars!--The Musical," an adaptation of "The Threepenny Opera," that opens Friday.; PHOTOGRAPHER: ANNE CUSACK / Los Angeles Times