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THEATER REVIEW : NOBODY’S GETTING OFF THIS NEW ‘STOP THE WORLD’

If wishes were horses, there would be a stableful neighing at a tiny but determined little theater space up the stairs at Busalacchi’s Ristorante.

A local actress, Paula Pierson, is renting the spot for “Stop The World--I Want To Get Off” through July 26. This dated but often charming Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley musical into which Pierson is throwing her energy, money and hope is the very first production of her theater company, Chrysalis Productions.

If luck can rub off, she’s in the right place.

The show is being performed on the charmed floorboards of the 7-month-old Potpourri Theatre, whose founder, Ricque Williams, a day manager and night-time waiter at Busalacchi’s, will soon close his doors to take his very first show, John Herbert’s “Fortune and Men’s Eyes” off-Broadway in New York. It is scheduled to open at the Actors Playhouse Oct. 6.

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It’s an incredible story (and another article) that came about because of an unlikely visit by a New York producer who just happened to love the show.

While there isn’t much chance of that lightning striking again for “Stop the World,” one can feel the energy of the dream rising up from the floorboards into the actors and flooding the stage. In the case of the very talented Paul James Kruse, who is both star and director of the show, the energy often overwhelms the modest 80-seat space.

Kruse plays Littlechap, Newley and Bricusse’s ambitious Everyman who falls in lust, marries, makes money, makes love and doesn’t realize until his first heart attack that he even has a heart.

The weakness of the show lies in the male/female stereotypes of Littlechap and his wife, Evie. With Evie’s talents evidently limited to getting pregnant and nagging, Littlechap’s selfishness seems less like a fault than self-preservation.

While part of the problem with the husband/wife dynamic lies with the writing, some of the fault also rests with Robin Fuller Plummer as Evie. Plummer is funny in her multiple roles of Evie and of Littlechap’s French, Russian and American girlfriends (right down to nailing the distinctive comic accents and walks), but she neglects to invest Evie with sufficient feeling. And without that feeling, Littlechap’s ultimate softening has little emotional resonance.

If the men and women seem cliched, the structure of the play is refreshingly modern. The entire cast of nine is dressed up as mime performers in whiteface to tell the story of Littlechap’s life.

Under Kruse’s strong direction, the talented ensemble moves smoothly from individual characters to crowds to inanimate objects. One moment they are can-can dancers or children in a playground; the next they are trees in a forest.

The high points of Sylvia Baer’s fine choreography are the scenes in which the ensemble plays machines in Littlechap’s factory-- pushing, pulling and wheezing in a variety of poses that suggest pipes and pistons perfectly.

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Acting and story aside, the three most crucial elements of any “Stop the World” production are the worn but wonderful songs “Once in a Lifetime,” “Gonna Build a Mountain” and “What Kind of Fool Am I?” Kruse does an excellent job with them.

Under the musical direction of Terry O’Donnell, the ensemble (Dayna Beddow, Anna Marie Villegas, Brenda Waldrop, Melanie Pribyl, Mary Craft and Gina Morgavo) comes through with strong musical support.

Another pleasant note is provided by young Jacy Essoffier in his professional debut as cab driver, dream son and grandson, among others. While this precocious 5-year-old is not quite sure enough of himself to be completely natural, he is completely cute.

The Potpourri will close down when “Stop the World” stops, to look for a new space when Williams returns from New York.

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Wherever Chrysalis and Potpourri go next, it’s nice to see this new company begin and this lucky little space close with a bang, not a whimper.

“STOP THE WORLD--I WANT TO GET OFF”

Book, music and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. Director is Paul James Kruse. Musical director is Terry O’Donnell. Choreographer is Sylvia Baer. With Robin Fuller Plummer, Dayna Beddow, Anna Marie Villegas, Brenda Waldrop, Melanie Pribyl, Mary Craft, Gina Morgavo, Jacy Essoffier and Paul James Kruse. At 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday through July 26. Chrysalis Productions the Potpourri Theatre, 3683 5th Ave., San Diego.


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