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A Musical Way to Spend a ‘Lovely Evening’

Don’t look for a connecting thread in “A Lovely Way to Spend the Evening,” beginning previews tonight at the Coast Playhouse.

It’s a tribute to the songs of lyricist Harold Adamson and composer Jimmy McHugh, written for revues and movies in the ‘30s-'50s. Most of the selections were written jointly by the pair. Others were written by either Adamson or McHugh, with other collaborators.

When asked to describe the theme, director David Galligan (“Blame It on the Movies” 1 and 2) suggested “the old story about a girl who can’t find a man and finally does. But it’s pretty much just a revue. Although all of the songs have a beginning, middle and end, because I work a lot in backstories.”

Bill Hutton, Marti Muller, Marguerite Lowell, Dan O’Grady, Dean Butler and Caitlin Hopkins will perform nearly 40 songs, plus a “monster medley of 10 songs.” Under the musical direction of John McDaniel and choreographer Kay Cole, the ensemble also plays a variety of instruments, from ukuleles (“a problem at first, but they got used to it”) to kazoos, washboards, drumsticks, bongos, gourds, castanets and maracas. “Often, they’re their own rhythm section,” the director said proudly.

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Galligan (whose show favorites include “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” “An Affair to Remember” and “I’m in the Mood for Love”) is simultaneously preparing for his directing duties at the 7th annual S.T.A.G.E. benefit for AIDS Project L.A., taking place Friday and Saturday at the Embassy Theatre downtown. Titled “An Evening with Rodgers, Hammerstein and Hart,” the lineup features performances by George Hearn, Donna McKechnie, Georgia Brown, Lucie Arnaz, Lu Leonard and many others. S.T.A.G.E. information: (213) 480-3238 for $20 and $60 tickets; (213) 962-1600, Ext. 201 for $100 tickets.

THEATER BUZZ: It’s sort of a theatrical free-for-all this weekend, as nearly 30 shows open over a four-day period, battling each other for press coverage.

Last Thursday featured Noel Coward’s “The Vortex” at the Doolittle, Philip Kan Gotanda’s “The Wash” at the Taper, Lillian Garrett’s “The White Rose” at the Old Globe and nine other openings. Thirteen openings were scheduled for the following night, including Robert Morse in “Tru” at the Henry Fonda. And tonight, a touring “Les Miserables” at the Pantages shares opening night with Gary Bohlke’s “Double Cross” at the Pasadena Playhouse.

Why the glut? Theater openings pretty much slow to a standstill during the winter holidays, followed by a flurry of activity in January. This year--and this week--just happen to be especially busy. Publicist Rick Miramontez, handling “Tru” and David Rabe’s “Goose and Tomtom” (opening Monday at the Stella Adler) admits moving “Goose’s” opening back one day: “The 20th was just too busy.”

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As for “Les Miz,” publicist Anne Abrams says, “It was originally supposed to open the 19th, but we changed because of the Golden Globes. When we changed to the 20th, we checked around--including the Pasadena Playhouse--and they hadn’t announced ‘Double Cross.’ Literally moments after we made the change, they announced their opening.” Abrams hopes that more comprehensive, ongoing networking among local publicists “will prevent this kind of traffic jam from happening in the future.”

The Center Theatre Group also had to do a little fiddling to accommodate the openings of both “The Vortex” and “The Wash.” But Taperpress rep Phyllis Moberly stresses that the decision to split the openings--by holding press night for “The Wash” on Thursday, not the standard Wednesday--was made long in advance: “So there was never a change in the schedule, only a change in what’s traditional for the Taper’s opening week. We’ve got a subscription audience, so we’re really locked into our dates.”

THEATER BITS: “Inherit the Wind,” which had been slated to open in a downtown courtroom on Jan. 30, is on hold because an underwriter pulled $50,000 in financing shortly before Christmas. Producer Leonard Grant said the cast has remained intact, for now, while he seeks additional funds.


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