Although the homespun atmosphere of the dude ranch belies it, the Circle Bar B Dinner Theatre in Refugio Canyon stealthily has become one of the region’s most ambitious small theaters. All of the shows in last year’s repertoire were regional premieres, and this weekend brings another very promising new play to the tiny stage by the barn. Tony & the Soprano is an original musical about an unlikely love affair between a New York auto mechanic and an opera singer. With a book and lyrics by Rachel Lampert of Ithaca’s Kitchen Theatre Company and music by Larry Pressgrove, Tony & the Soprano promises to be one of the most unusual and exciting theater events of the summer in Santa Barbara. With a cast that includes soprano extraordinaire Stephanie Sivers alongside such favorites as Leslie Story and David Couch, the play seems certain to be a favorite with Circle Bar B’s ever-expanding audience of tri-tip-loving theatergoers.
The story of how this show ended up at Circle Bar B is a family affair, specifically that of producers Susie and David Couch, but now extended to that of director Joseph Beck and musical director John Douglas. Circle Bar B discovered the show when the Couches were in Ithaca visiting David’s family. Upon returning to Santa Barbara, they began talking to actor/director Beck, who had gone to college in Ithaca at Cornell and had acted for Lampert in a Kitchen Theatre Company production of Our Town back when he was a student. With his Ithaca connection and strong interest in musical theater, Beck made a great choice for the role of shepherding this project from one small stage in upstate New York to another in the hills of Goleta. Adding in veteran musician Douglas brought in another exciting element in the form of his daughter, Nanda Douglas, who had just finished playing the title role in Annie at Dos Pueblos High School. Beck said that as soon as he heard her voice, he knew she would be perfect for one of the roles in this show.
Despite the title, not all of the music in Tony & the Soprano is taken from opera. According to Beck, there are “lots of things like tarantellas that sound as if they come from English folk music.” He went on to add that the opera used is “woven into the dialogue so that it has a dramatic context.” The show is a love story, he reported, and a comedy, but one “like Ah, Wilderness! or Moonstruck-with just enough darkness to make it interesting.” He continued, “It’s a deceptively simple show, with subtle comedy and observations that really make you care about the characters. The themes are togetherness and redemption, and the singing is glorious.”
Tony & the Soprano opens on Saturday, May 30, and plays at Circle Bar B Theatre through July 12. For tickets and information, visit circlebarbtheatre.com or call 967-1962.