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STAGE REVIEW : Fix for Show Song Addicts : Musical: Bucking summer trend, Old Town production of ‘Starting’ sticks to basics.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ahhh, just what the San Diego summer theater needs--another musical.

Virtually every major theater in town is either in the midst of staging a musical, has just finished presenting one or has plans to mount one soon.

The Starlight Musical Theatre, Moonlight Amphitheatre, Old Globe, La Jolla Playhouse, San Diego Repertory, Gaslamp Quarter, Bowery and Lawrence Welk companies all fall under this strain.

On Thursday night, The Theatre in Old Town joined the chorus line, albeit with a subtle twist. While most of the companies in town are staging actual musicals--character-rich, plot-filled shows like “Evita” or “The Rocky Horror Picture Show"--the Old Town troupe began its season with a storyless, cabaret-style mini-musical.

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“Starting Here, Starting Now,” written by Richard Maltby Jr. and David Shire, is simply a collection of love songs. The writing team first presented an early version of this revue in 1976 under the name “Theater Songs by Maltby and Shire.” The previous title is more appropriate than the current nomenclature: “Starting Here, Starting Now” sounds as if it could involve a story line, when, in fact, none exists.

This production is quite endearing, particularly for those who cherish Broadway-style show tunes. The revue calls for three actor-singers to perform 25 Maltby-Shire songs as either solos, duets or trios. The songs aren’t famous or even memorable, but they are pleasant enough. Local actor-singers Teresa L. Alexander, Nancy Coulson and Kendall March all handle the material confidently and skillfully.

Under the direction of Theatre in Old Town Artistic Director Gordon Cantiello, the performers create a viable context for each number. “Beautiful,” for instance, is about a man who can’t decide between the two women in his life. The three performers act out this conflict as they belt out the song. First, March caresses Coulson, then he coddles Alexander. When the women find out what he’s up to, they both dump him.

Each of the songs contains a similar progression, and most of the numbers are fun to watch.

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Coulson breathes life into the witty ballad “Crossword Puzzle,” a song about a woman whose intellectual fervor scared her lover away. In the song, Coulson observes that she always “helped” her departed man complete the puzzles, and that “perhaps he wanted to do the long ones himself.”

Coulson also impresses with her characterization in “Travel,” a song about taking the perilous first step in a relationship.

March plays the dumbfounded guy next door in most of his numbers. His everyman demeanor and comic timing bolster amusing numbers such as “I Don’t Remember Christmas” and “We Can Talk to Each Other.” In the latter song, March repeatedly reminds his lover that he’s a great communicator, even though he interrupts her at every opportunity.

Alexander is the most technically adept singer in the cast, but her voice is also the least emotive. Alexander revels in her solo “I’m Going to Make You Beautiful"--a song about a brutish department store make-up counter worker, but she struggles to communicate the subtler passion within tender songs like “Autumn” and “Watching the Parade Go By.”

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In all, “Starting Here, Starting Now” has 25 songs and little more. The dancing, choreographed by Candace Wright, is an afterthought and thankfully sparse. Production design is also understated. The costumes and lights are purely functional, and, aside from a few stools, the stage is empty for most of the show.

Cleverly, the cast pokes fun at the show’s minimalism. At the start of Act II, March bursts onto the stage and announces that the show needs “production values.” Just then, tiny light bulbs encircling the stage flash, flicker and then suddenly stop.

So much for spectacle, let’s hear another ditty.

“STARTING HERE, STARTING NOW”

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Lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. Music by David Shire. Director is Gordon Cantiello. Musical director is Kirk Valles. Choreographer is Candace Wright. Lights by Mark Sell. Costumes by Chris Fair. Stage manager is Kerrina Koltz. With Teresa L. Alexander, Nancy Coulson and Kendall March. At 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday, with 2 p.m Sunday matinee, through Aug. 25. At The Theatre in Old Town, 4040 Twiggs St.. Tickets are $12. 688-2494.


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