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5/1/2004

Show is fun parody on Oakland politics

Agambling casino in the Fox Theatre?

Never say never. Anything can happen and usually does in Oakland, where there's much ado about everything and in the end nothing gets done. That's one of many messages in "Casino."

This is a very funny, all-Oakland musical by Judith Offer, librettist, and Joyce Whitlaw, composer and accompanist, with a cast of Oakland celebrities like Mayor JB and his aide Jack Az, Councilmember Nancy Tenacity and a demanding casino developer, Ace Trumps, who insists casinos are for a sport called gaming, not gambling. If these names sound vaguely familiar, you're in the right town.

The storyline pokes fun at what happens in Oakland when JB and the developer hatch a plan to create a casino in the Fox after other ideas, such as filling in Lake Merritt, are discarded.

Ace Trumps, the developer played by Robert Sholty, is a parody of real life's Phil Tagami, developer of the Fox. JB, of course, is Jerry Brown, Tenacity none other than Nancy Nadel. And more.

The musical at the Glenview Performing Arts Center opens with this lyric: "We need a casino, whatever it takes, like changing the parking or filling the lake. Oakland is stagnant, it needs some more cash. Casinos are proven wealth in a flash."

I caught the dress rehearsal of "Casino" Thursday night. I couldn't resist a political satire on City Hall politics. Fictional comedy cuts pretty close to the real bones.

With cabaret seating, the show will go on today at 8 p.m. and Sunday 2 and 7 p.m., with performances at the same times the following two weekends on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Call 531-0511 for more information.

Jack Az, played by C. Conrad Cady, steals the show with his takeoff on Brown's aide of many years, Jacques Barzaghi. His character hangs out in the wings of the stage when he's not groping the sexy Lupe Guzman, played by Lisa Pan.

He sings, "I'm the harem meister of City Hall, in number of wives, I'm above all. If you're under 30, give me a call."

Lupe fights off his attention, much preferring Sam San Miguel, played by Abraham Aviles-Scott. The two fall in love, but it turns out they're on opposite sides of the mayor's plan to build a casino in the Fox Theater.

The duets of Sam and Lupe make beautiful music.

Bailey Keyes, played by Erika Bowman, runs a book shop in the Fox Theater neighborhood. She teams up with Councilwoman Tenacity to fight the casino. They cry out: "Call an emergency session, they want to put a casino in Oakland."

They sing, "If you think that gambling will help our city thrive, boy, are you mistaken. A casino will turn our struggling town into one big gambling dive. We'll have every gang lord here on the make. Setting up an Uptown Branch for a chance to horn in on the take."

Penelope Quigenbothem, played by Claudine Jones, is an Oakland preservationist, in cahoots with Councilwoman Tenacity. She sings: "Don't tear down the buildings with our city's story, more than bricks are lost when historic buildings crash. Don't forget the decent folks that came before us. Don't ignore the beauty they did create. Don't destroy the remnants of our city's story, more than bricks are lost when the rescue comes too late."

Preservationists and a band of citizens who go to City Hall looking for information are confronted with know-nothing administrators who direct them to another department and then another.

When they take their protests to an Oakland City Council meeting, they're told by the council president they can speak no more than one minute. (This scene was so real it wasn't funny, it was maddening).

"You have only a minute. If you can't get in it what you wanted to say, it really doesn't matter because we aren't going to listen anyway."

I shouldn't give the ending away but I will repeat some of the final song that's a grabber.

"The casino was another big nothing. Thank goodness, nothing got done. The mayor's grand plans are out of his hands, and everything is left just as it stands."

Then the whole cast sings together: "We're happy for another big nothing. We're happy that nothing got done."

E-mail Peggy Stinnett at pstinnett@angnewspapers.com .

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