For his next magical trick Walt deFaria is conjuring a theatrical revue benefit for the MPC Theatre Company, one of Monterey County’s premiere producers of high quality dramas, comedies and musicals. So why a benefit? Following a very costly renovation of the company’s Morgan Stock Stage, the Monterey Peninsula College president and board decided its theater company held a lower priority than their other objectives.
To that end, deFaria is putting together a fundraiser for the MPC Theatre Company’s 2015 season. The goal is to raise $50,000 (of which $13,000 has already been secured). Some 65 local participants, including 37 performers (actors and musicians) and support volunteers are engaged for the MPC Follies, scheduled for February 6, 7 and 8. “We’ll have songs and dances from MPC musicals going back to 1970s,” he says. “Some recreated, some restaged and others brought back from their originals.” The Follies will include scenes from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Cabaret, Hello Dolly, Annie Get your Gun, plus two recent successes, Oklahoma! and Les Miserables. “It’s a variety show,” he says, but, in response to my question, “No tap dancing.” DeFaria has engaged Steve Tosh as music director, which will no doubt attract his own following. “He and I have worked together for years,” deFaria says with pleasure. Recently, deFaria wrote and directed Hello Broadway, a revue with Tosh staged by Pacific Repertory Theatre that featured several well-known musical artists including Reg Huston and Suzanne Mentzer.
Though he takes pains to disguise the hard work and often fraught circumstances, deFaria has been in the magic-making business since he “started out as a page at CBS.” That was back in the days of live radio when “it was transitioning into television.” He was fetching coffee for “people like Jack Benny, and Burns & Allen.” He then went to a new television station in Fresno owned by the McClatchy newspaper family. “Eleanor McClatchy loved theater and the arts and had seen me direct some plays in Sacramento. She commissioned us to write original material and put it on the air.” He describes the station facilities as “like a major mini-studio, everybody involved there was new.”
He explains, “That’s how I got to learn about live television drama. First thing I did was called Denny Buries a Dinosaur.” The shows were all done live. “It wasn’t until the Lucy show that they started to tape retakes” in order to fix glitches, he explains. From Fresno, deFaria found work on the Mickey Mouse Club as a writer, “in something called the Newroom Division.”
If you were to look up deFaria on the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDb) you’d find him named as the producer of entertainment primarily aimed at children. “Probably everything I’ve done in TV and motion pictures is family fare,” he says. “But I try to get the adults to enjoy it too.” He explains, “I was raised as a nice Catholic boy, from grammar school to high school and college. You hope you get some values along the line.”
Those values served him well when the Monterey Symphony engaged him to direct its production last season of the opera Amahl and the Night Visitors. Some of us who attended the daytime performances at Sherwood Hall for sold-out audiences of 4th and 5th graders were anxious that the youngsters would quickly grow bored and restless, but their rapt attention throughout dispelled any such fears. And maybe it proved deFaria’s own assessment, “It’s a family-friendly opera and I can’t think of any family that wouldn’t find this utterly beautiful and inspirational.”
In 1972, deFaria negotiated the rights to produce The Borrowers, the series of popular books by Mary Norton. “She was very clear about what she wanted to see on the screen,” he says. It’s the story of “a secret family of four-inch people living inside the walls of a house who must save their home from an evil real estate developer. The Borrowers has been part of deFaria’s life ever since. “A musical version was written but never happened.” Several films have been made. The 1973 Hallmark Hall of Fame original drew five Emmy nominations. Stand-alone versions and serial episodes have followed. “It’s done very well,” he says. Meanwhile, “We’re now in discussions with a French company that wants to do another.” He recently sold the rights to Working Title pictures, but retains the title of Executive Producer, which means, “I have the material but other people do all the work; it’s a kind of hands-off overseeing. I see the script before they do it then I look at the film before it’s finished.”
An executive producer does more than just provide the money, deFaria explains. “He will buy the book, find a director and convince a studio to do it. Then he has to find a non-executive producer who will stick with the production until it’s done.” He adds, “Even the producer will use a ‘line producer’ who’s on the set every day.” Other variations and permutations on the ‘producer’ theme are rife in the film business.
DeFaria decamped Hollywood for the Monterey Peninsula in 1988, explaining that while he enjoyed the movie business the time had come “when no one was paying attention.” But theater’s siren call could not long be ignored. “First thing I did here was a set for a grammar school production of The Boy Friend.” That was for the Junipero Serra School of Carmel Mission.
Long an ardent supporter of the Forest Theater, deFaria has lately taken a “livelier” role in getting Carmel by the Sea to restore the shuttered venue into a safe working condition. “I’m delighted that something is happening,” he says, “that things are moving.” In that, he’s not alone. The outdoor Forest Theater has been missed by many producers and audiences as well as the restaurateurs and merchants of Carmel who cater to their ancillary needs.