'Girls' has equal parts charm and ham

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Showbiz veterans kicked up their heels as Musical Theatre Guild recently dusted off the Broadway chestnut, "70, Girls, 70" at Glendale's Alex Theatre.

Composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb, better known for their collaborations on "Cabaret" and "Chicago", brought this show to the Great White Way in 1971.

Set in New York at the Sussex Hotel, a retirement home of sorts, a group of senior citizens shun their traditional existence for a life of crime.

They shoplift and fence items in order to upgrade their residence and take in indigents who would otherwise be left on the streets.

Under the guidance of director John Bowab, musical director Steven Smith and choreographer Jeffrey Polk, this first-rate ensemble oozed talent, charisma and just the right amount of "ham".

Led by the charming Marsha Kramer as Ida, the gang's instigator, the audience was treated to a pleasant walk down memory lane through word and song.

Along for the stroll was Helen Geller as Ida's sidekick, Gert, a sassy old gal whose caustic zingers were a source of humor throughout the evening.

Geller did a bang up job with her second act opening number "See the Light" as she recounted, along with a trio of male singers, her days as a Bloomingdale's store detective.

David Holmes was word perfect in his patter song solo "The Caper" as his character, Harry, laid out the gang's first criminal escapade.

Rounding out this quartet of sticky-fingered shoppers was the cute-as-a-button Susan Watson as Eunice, a wide-eyed innocent who ultimately jumps into the schemes with abandon.

Providing transitional moments throughout the show were Deborah Sharpe-Taylor and Pamela Hamill as Melba and Fritzi, a pair of coffee shop waitresses who eventually hook up with our felonious foursome.

Their rendition of "Coffee in a Cardboard Cup" was a near showstopper as they detailed how the world just ain't what it used to be.

Special kudos go out to Roy Leake Jr., for his touching portrayal of Eunice's boyfriend, Walter, the lone holdout as the group pursues their underworld activities.

His duet with Watson, titled "Do We?" was a comic hit as they directly addressed the audience, a theatrical convention that the show's authors employed repeatedly throughout this script.

Supporting roles were handled nicely by the remainder of the cast including Chuck Bergman, Christopher Callen, Paul Keith, Michael A. Shepperd, Erik McEwen and the multi-faceted Barbara Minkus.

But the kicker to the evening was pianist Thomas Griep who, dolled up in an unflattering dress and bobbed, blond wig, played Lorraine, the leader of the production's onstage musicians.

And despite the occasional dropped line or musical miscue, this "staged reading" was a nostalgic treat in seeing this old warhorse resurrected.

Dink O'Neal, an actor and member of the American Theatre Critics Assn., resides in Burbank.

FYI:

What: Musical Theatre Guild's Stage Readings (Next up is "Hello, Again")

When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 8

Where: Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale.

Tickets: $30 to $40.

Contact: (818) 243-2539 or http://www.musicaltheatreguild.com

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