For the 20th straight year, audiences in Astoria can sigh with young lovers, hiss their displeasure for dastardly villains, express their admiration for sturdy women and exercise their long-dormant popcorn-tossing muscles.

"Shanghaied in Astoria" is celebrating two decades of performances with a summer season full of reunion casts and special events.

"As long as there are people to do it, it will draw an audience," said Del Corbett, one of the creators of the show and a director this season. People are drawn to "Shanghaied" because of its traditional melodrama structure and the historical content, he said.

Can-can girls, played by, from left, Carletta Lewis-Allen, Maren Berg-Rooper and Hannah Bunnell, kick up their heels."It's a spoof on the early history of Astoria, of the Scandinavians and other groups that lived here," said Corbett. He created the play with six others who wanted to see something different on the Astoria theatrical scene. So they wrote a musical melodrama with a local setting.

The story follows Eric Olsen, a young cannery worker and fisherman who is, as they say, "sweet but dumb." He's in love with Virginia Sweet, who is also the object of the villainous Max Krooke's affections. To get Eric out of the picture, Krooke and his henchman, Sneak, plot to have him shanghaied, or kidnapped on a boat sailing to distant lands.

"I love sturdy women," says Ben Shaffer, left. Dan Nagali, center, and Dan Allen, along with Shaffer, have performed many seasons in "Shanghaied in Astoria."Shady business dealings, blossoming relationships, midsummer festivities and saloons with trapdoors in the floor also factor into the story.

"The first time I saw it in '95, I had never seen anything so bizarre," said Michael Link, who was in the show during the summers of 1999 and 2000, and this year plays Sneak in a reunion performance. "I still think it's bizarre, but that's why I like it."

To mark the 20th anniversary of the show, production manager Judith Niland, who has worked on the show for all of those 20 years, asked some of the actors who had appeared in previous productions to return to the stage.

Michael Link, left, playing Sneak, is confronted by Shaffer, Nagali, Brad Thompson and Nick Reed. Allen, playing Eric Olsen, lies on the ground."It really is fun doing this - everyone here is family," said Mike Wangen, a veteran of 11 seasons who came from Portland to play his favorite character, Krooke, on opening weekend. "Every season is something new, even if it's the same cast."

"I like to see the different groups of people get together and make such fun changes and fun interpretations of the parts," said ChrisLynn Taylor, who came out of "retirement" to play Miss Macie, who she describes as a "good-hearted businesswoman." Taylor was in the show for nine years beginning in 1991, and said she is willing to step in whenever needed.

Pianist Rita Smith, who remembers how nervous she was when she first accompanied the show in 1993, said that her vantage point next to the stage allows her to watch the reactions of the audience enjoying the show. What amazes her, she said, is that when the master of ceremonies surveys the crowd to see who has never seen the show before, she estimates that half of the audience raises their hands.

Michael McCusker and Kathy Matthews' characters find some midsummer romance.Fans come back year after year, and visitors plan their vacations around the chance to catch a show, said director Corbett. The cast appears to be unable to stay away as well.

"It's addicting," said Chenaniah Covell, who played Rosie this year. "You get so tired by the end of the summer, but then when it's audition time, say 'I want to be in it again.'"

"Shanghaied in Astoria" will be playing at the Astor Street Opry Company's theater at 279 W. Marine Drive every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night through Sept. 11. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show starts at 7:30. There will be Sunday matinees Aug. 22 and Sept. 5, with the show starting at 2 p.m. For tickets, call (503) 325-6104.

In addition, the Astoria Elks Lodge will host a "Shanghaied in Astoria" costume ball from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 7, featuring the "Swing Inc." dance band. For more information, call (503) 325-2806.


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