This Saturday, May 15, at Ojai’s Libbey Bowl will be an event the likes of which has never been seen before in Ojai, or perhaps anywhere.
The artistic directors of Ojai’s Theater 150, Chris Nottoli and Deb Norton, are getting married, but that’s the just the start.
“The way I describe it is that, first of all, Chris and Deb are getting married,” said Jim Lashly, the Ojai actor and director who is producing the event. “For their ceremony, what they have chosen to do is write a musical theatrical production. And they’ve chosen to forgo the traditional wedding gifts in favor of doing all this as a fundraiser for the theater. So it’s a wedding, a musical and a fundraiser in which the leading characters do get really, really married.”
Lashly’s description, although accurate, doesn’t really convey the originality of the production, which, although limited by the shoestring budget typical of a small theater group, has attracted a small army of volunteers, many of them from theatrical and musical realms far removed from Ojai.
Steve Nicolaides, a retired movie producer (A Few Good Men), agreed to serve as stage manager for the event at Lashly’s request.
“In the 10 or so years I’ve lived in Ojai, my eyes have been opened to the fairly insane level of theatrical talent to be found in this town,” he said at a recent rehearsal. “I’m thinking of people like Jimmy Calire, who is in charge of the music, and Jim, who is in charge of the production. A lot of these people have become good friends, and I’m happy to do what I can to support the theater.”
In truth, the musical has to be seen to be described. Written by Norton, Nottoli and Valerie Levett, the story is about the unlikely romance of Nottoli, a former actor and mountain-climber, and Norton, a writing teacher and playwright best known for her comic romance The Whole Banana, which was one of Theater 150’s biggest hits and went on to play for months at a theater in Los Angeles. But the wedding show, which is designed to encourage audience participation, is anything but a standard boy-meets-girl story. Many of its best lines go to a talking dog, played by television sitcom star Betsy Randle (Boy Meets World). And because Nottoli is a fan of the spectacular, its special effects will also include a battle of Jell-O salads, cheerleaders, a Greek god and an inflatable sex doll.
Norton and Nottoli have been a couple for nearly six years, and have long intended to wed, but when they became co-artistic directors at Theater 150, they discovered they did not have the time for nuptials while trying to keep the theater afloat. After setting and then canceling three separate wedding dates, they finally decided that if they could not get married because of the theater, they would get married for the theater. They hope to raise at least $50,000 with the event.
“I do feel kind of sorry for Chris and Deb sometimes,” said Nicolaides. “I think it’s going to be a fun show, but they have the look in their eyes of scared Broadway producers.”
At a rehearsal, Norton admitted as much. “Well, it’s really terrifying,” she said. “But I’m sure I’m terrified for all the right reasons.”
The good news is that the theater has already sold nearly 200 tickets for the event, which has attracted a virtual avalanche of press coverage. Newspapers from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles, public radio and even television stations have covered the preparations, somewhat to the surprise of the couple themselves.
A television crew from KCAL in Los Angeles decided on the spur of the moment to feature the upcoming wedding. They told general manager Andy Gilman that they would like to interview Norton and Nottoli, and would be at the theater in less than an hour. Gilman called Norton and Nottoli, and when they didn’t answer the phone, Gilman went with Niki Blumberg, the assistant artistic director, to their home. When no one responded to a knock on the door, Gilman and Blumberg snuck around the back and let themselves in, and heard Norton and Nottoli practicing songs from the show in the shower. Nottoli and Norton ultimately had to rush to the theater, hair still wet, in order to be interviewed.
This kind of all-out commitment seems par for the course at the theater, which has drawn a huge volunteer effort for the event, not just from musicians, actors and crew, but also from those who have donated cakes, produce, photography, decorations, a wedding dress and nearly all the other accoutrements of a wedding. Gilman estimates that about 100 people have given time, effort or materials to the event. The hope is that the revenue generated from ticket sales, which cost $50, will help solidify the theater’s financial footing. After a recent rehearsal, Norton sounded almost tearful as she thanked the cast and crew for “helping us do this insane thing that can’t be done – but we’re doing it!”
For tickets and more information about Theater 150 and the wedding, please visit www.theater150.com. Tickets may also be purchased at Libbey Bowl the day of the event..