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Mesa Musings: No business like OCC's show business

August 08, 2011|By Jim Carnett

On a sweltering East Coast evening last week I took in a community production of Meredith Wilson's classic 1957 Broadway musical, "Music Man."

The performance was a delight, and brought back many wonderful memories.

I first saw the show in the summer of 1963 at Orange Coast College. Directed by John Ford, the production featured Newport Beach's Pete Ostling as Professor Harold Hill. I may be biased, but Pete's performance was every bit as compelling as Robert Preston's Tony Award-winning turn on Broadway.

Pete — later known as Peter Jason — left OCC for New York the following year and went on to enjoy a long career as a versatile stage, television and motion picture character actor. He's still performing.


Pete and I were OCC students together and, in addition to being a wonderful actor, I remember him as an enthusiastic student government leader and cheerleader.

Do you recall OCC's rich main-stage summer musical tradition? That tradition ran uninterrupted for 29 summers, from 1956 through 1984. It was revived briefly in 1993 after the renovation of Robert B. Moore Theatre, and again in 1998 to celebrate the college's 50th anniversary.

Lavish summer shows ran for one or two weekends every August.

Summer productions included "South Pacific" (three times), "Oklahoma," "Fiddler on the Roof," "Man of La Mancha," "Carousel," "Evita" and so many others. Casts were large and enthusiastic, and community support was amazing.

Many accomplished actors — and future stars — took part in OCC's summer shows. The summer following Ostling's 1963 "Music Man" performance Diane Hall — later known to the world as Diane Keaton — starred as Maria in "The Sound of Music."

I was fortunate to land supporting roles in the 1961 production of "Li'l Abner" and the 1993 show, "South Pacific." For me, those were magical summers.

Because of the quality of OCC's summer productions, the 1,200-seat Robert B. Moore Theatre was frequently sold out. In the 1950s and early '60s, OCC enjoyed "Only-Game-in-Town" status. In those days, there was no Segerstrom Center for the Arts, no South Coast Repertory, no Saddleback Civic Light Opera and no Irvine Barclay Theatre.

People flocked to Robert B. Moore Theatre from all over the Southland to attend summer productions.

There was one drawback, however. Until 1993, the venue had no air conditioning.

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