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'Little Mary Sunshine' is professional quality at high school price

From the moment the curtain rises to reveal Doug Ham's wonderful outdoorsy set of the Colorado Inn, high in the Rocky Mountains, and we hear the whistle and jaunty marching song of the U.S. Forest Rangers who are clad in bright red uniforms, we are captivated by Rick Besoyan's "Little Mary Sunshine." This is now being presented by Ashland High School Performing Arts in its Mountain Theatre and is a smasheroo.

This light-hearted parody of the operetta-style musical in vogue in America and elsewhere in the late 1920s is beguiling; the more so when it is played, as Besoyan insists in the preface, "with the most warm-hearted earnestness"&

166;the characters should appear to believe, throughout, in the perfect sincerity of their words and actions." Thanks to director John Stadelman, his cast does so.

The story concerns Little Mary, the proprietress of the Colorado Inn, bought with the income from her homemade cookies, who falls in love with Captain "Big Jim" Warrington but lives in fear of Yellow Feather, a villainous Indian. Her maid, Nancy Twinkle, has her heart set on the jealous Corporal Billy Jester, and there may well be a late-discovered romance for an opera singer and a retired general.

The excellent Playbill, designed by Travis Walker, makes one understand the enormous number of students involved in this project &

some 40 actors, four choreographers &

Kelli Hatchett, Jim Giancarlo, David Dreyfoos, and Janis Rosenthal &

and backstage crew of 30. Then there's the orchestra of 22 musicians under the direction of Ross Otte, conducted by Holly Johnson. What a challenge it must have been for costume designer Emily Inget, for lighting designer Tanya Rist, and sound designer Jack Buchley. How excellent is their contribution.

Aubrey Bauer as Little Mary Sunshine is petite, coy, and altogether winsome, and uses her eyes expressively; her partner, Mikhail Pinyo as Captain "Big Jim" Warrington is shy and stalwart. They make a handsome pair. Alexandra Amarotico as Nancy Twinkle, Little Mary's maid, is lively, particularly in her Mata Hari routine, while her beau, Tom Miner as Corporal Billy Jester, has a flair for comedy in jealous manifestation and in his "Indianization" by Chief Brown Bear (Justin Williams).

There are scenes in the garden and on the primrose path. In these, Ham provides colorful floral background drops that are delightfully exaggerated. They are so right for Big Jim's declaration to Little Mary, "You're the Fairest Flower," and for Mme Ernestine von Liebedich (Mig Windows) who sings "In Izzenschnooken on the Lovely Essenzook Zee." Later in the musical she is joined by General Oscar Fairfax, Ret. (Josh Houghton), a diplomat in "Do You Ever Dream of Vienna?"

You can't have a dozen young rangers loose in Colorado without feminine company. Which is why Besoyan conveniently plants several young ladies in the Colorado Inn. They play croquet and swing out into the audience, bemoaning that "there's not a man in sight." Of course, that all changes when the rangers suddenly appear with their "How Do You Do?" One of my favorite songs is "Look for a Sky of Blue," an optimistic opus.

I'm old enough to have seen some of the operettas Besoyan picks on, notably "Rose-Marie" by Rudolph Friml that opened in 1924, with its "Indian Love Call" and "Song of the Mounties" and took London and Paris by storm. I agree with you, producer Betsy Bishop &

"Little Mary Sunshine" will forever be a sweet memory of success.

Performances are at 7.30 p.m. on March 15, 16, 17, with 2 p.m. matinee on March 18. Tickets available now at AHS Main Office, Tree House Books on the Plaza, and at the Music Coop on A Street. For information call 484-8771, ext. 112.