Festival '90 : STAGE REVIEWS : OPEN FESTIVAL : 'Moneyman': Music Rich, Characterization Poor

Spawned in the aftermath of the Watts Riots, PASLA (The Performing Arts Society of Los Angeles) played a historic role in black L.A. theater until the company lost its focus some years ago.

Its first show in a year, "Moneyman," in the Dorsey High auditorium, is an ambitious Mardi Gras musical with flashes of talent between interminable dead spots.

The strength is music director Al Von Johnson's live band, with original French Quarter rhythms, rap and infectious blues (richly vocalized by Lloyd Robinson's flavorful minstrel man.)

The uncredited costuming is hot. But unevenness prevails. The one performer who lights up the stage every time she moves (dancer Tara Speights) is regrettably underused. She's the promise of what PASLA could be.

If Ron Daniels tightens up his book and director Vantile E. Whitfield snaps up the pacing, a good place to start would be with Cassandra Brown's scheming ex-hooker and Fitz Houston's entitled moneyman-pimp. These featured characters in the 20-member cast grow tiresome and repetitious.

Finally, where's the black community? The opening night attendance was shameful (40 people, in an auditorium yet!). Does anybody care about promotion?

Dorsey High School, at the corner of Rodeo and Farmdale; ends Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m. $5-$8. (213-734-2498.

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