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FUN, FROTHY `SWORD OF ZORRO' IS `Z' PLAY TO SEE

Desert Star Theatrics doesn't have matinees, which is a little ironic because the ensemble has developed a first-class matinee idol in Shawn Maxfield.

Clean-cut, handsome, great voice, just the kind of guy any father would be pleased to have his daughters bring home someday (especially in lieu of some of the rock stars that they paper their walls with).The DST troupe, in a fairly short time, has progressed into a competent, professional, dependable company with a core of friendly, familiar faces - the kind of ensemble that should guarantee returning patrons.

Much of this professionalism, I'm sure, came from the careful nurturing of DST's former artistic director, James Gooden, whose work in Tucson, Ariz., provided much of the inspiration for Desert Star Playhouse. Gooden just recently resigned from Desert Star to return to his Arizona roots, but the company he left behind appears to be on solid footing.

What you get at Desert Star Playhouse is light, tongue-in-cheek melodramas with good music (thanks in no small part to the gifted Val David Smithson) and terrific scenery (Frank Ackerman), set in pleasant, good-time surroundings.

And no surprises.

This is a place where you can take the kids and know you'll just have a lot of fun.

Take "The Sword of Zorro," for example.

In our heart of hearts, we know that the nasty villain, Captain Ramon, and his bumbling henchman, "Sergeant-at-Arms-Length" Garcia, will certainly be defeated by the dashing Zorro, alter ego of quiet Don Diego.

Throughout the entire show - filled with romance, action, suspense, more action, heart-wrenching drama, and even more action - the cast keeps pace with Jansen Davis' tight direction.

Eric Jensen, who can sneer with the best of them, is the ultimate dastardly villain, and Troy Lunt, a newcomer to DST (but familiar to many Salt Lake theatergoers), is perfectly cast as his slow-on-the-uptake cohort, with Sharon Kenison in sharp form as Isabella - the conniving villainess and "one hot tamale."

Those are the bad guys.

The good ones, besides Zorro/Don Diego (played with masterful coolness by Maxfield), include sprightly Alisa Harris as Estrella Santiago; Gary Winterholler, who is hilarious as Bernardo, Zorro's mostly silent partner; Jeffre Darling, as Estrella's doddering old father; Mary Parker Williams, as Estrella's ditzy friend, Marguerite, and Steven Luck, in the dual roles of peasant Pedro and Spanish magistrate Don Jalisco.

Maxfield, during his opening-night curtain call, proved without a doubt just how professional he is. It took more than a leap of faith when he bounded onto the stage and suddenly found that his pants weren't as strong as they "seamed." Quick-thinking Kenison draped one side of her long skirt in front of him while the cast took its first bow, then Maxfield quickly rearranged his cape and mask for the next curtain call.

When Eric Jensen came out to announce the short intermission between "Zorro" and the troupe's olio acts, he apologized for Maxfield's hasty exit.

"He had to split," he quipped.

The finale, the playhouse's traditional olio revue, was just as entertaining as the melodrama, including Williams and Harris' comic duet of "He Shouldn't-a, Hadn't-a, Oughtn't-a Swang on Me" (the Dorothy Provine ditty from "The Great Race"); Maxfield's beautiful rendition of "Ghost Riders in the Sky"; the men's glee-club style medley of "Give Me My Boots and My Saddle," "Cool, Clear Water" and "Tumbling Tumbleweeds," and the ensemble's "Don't Fence Me In."

Movies and TV have Looney Tunes and now, thanks to Jensen and Winterholler, the stage has "Spit-oons." In a hilarious olio segment, which Dickens might have labeled "Great Expectorations," the two gave "spitball" a whole new athletic meaning while demonstrating their prowess.

After a few more songs, the show closed with DST's traditional finale, "Happy Trails."