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Times drama reviewers look back on Los Angeles’ smaller and children’s theater productions in 1988 : Entertaining Spirit in Little Musicals

Most of the highlights of my year of reviewing were in the genre of little musicals.

The year began with a spirited revival of the Bock-Harnick trilogy of one-act musicals, “The Apple Tree,” at Long Beach’s Studio Theatre: a production that treated the show’s big themes and small frivolities with equal conviction and success.

The revue “Bittersuite: Songs of Experience” appeared in June and is still playing (after cast changes) at the Back Alley. Composer Elliot Weiss and lyricist Michael Champagne write tart and tuneful songs that occasionally sound alike but more often paint wickedly precise sketches of people growing older but not necessarily wiser. Rick Roemer’s staging is virtually seamless.

Another little musical, “Angry Housewives,” wasn’t much of a show, but it almost redeemed itself with the funniest single scene I saw all year. A few of the numbers from the “Blame It on the Movies” revues almost did the same. “Hair” finally found its way at the Heliotrope, though it took two openings before this production got it right.

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A couple of worthy but seldom-seen Broadway musicals found their way to the outskirts of Los Angeles: “Baby” at the San Bernardino Civic Light Opera and “It’s a Bird . . . It’s a Plane . . . It’s Superman!” at the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts. Both deserve bigger and better productions in the city itself.

Not one new play I reviewed this year would receive my whole-hearted endorsement. Milcha Sanchez-Scott’s “Roosters” at Los Angeles Theatre Center and David Michael Erickson’s “Appetite” at the Cast came closer than most. James Johnston’s “The Goldfish Bowl” was a surprisingly scabrous barroom one-act, at the Mise en Scene.

Michael Holmes’ adaptation of “Acting: The First Six Lessons,” at Chandler Studio, was a fascinating adaptation of material that isn’t particularly stage worthy. ComedySportz, “Hamlet Improvised” and Thin Ice offered some new angles on the improv genre, more or less in that order of success.

A few solo performances broke through the solipsism and tedium that too often paralyze the form. The most successful was Kedric Robin Wolfe’s “Let Me Explain” at the Wallenboyd, which is now part of his ongoing “Flights of Fear and Fancy” at the Odyssey. Ralph Hunt’s “Two Alone” at Stages has some exceptional moments.

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Revivals: Room for Theater closed with graceful stagings of Preston Sturges’ “Strictly Dishonorable” and Elmer Rice’s “Dream Girl.” The ongoing “How the Other Half Loves,” at the Tiffany, features peerless work by Paxton Whitehead, Yeardley Smith and Ron Boussom. Rick Cluchey’s staging of Samuel Beckett’s brief “Come and Go,” at Ensemble Studio Theatre, was haunting.


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