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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Slam Dunk by Abdul on Home Court

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If Paula Abdul’s long-awaited debut headlining tour finally isn’t quite as consistently spectacular as those of nearest rivals Madonna and Janet Jackson, she does at least bring with her the advantage that those sisters-from-another-planet don’t. She’s able to put on a Barnum ‘n’ Berkeley-sized really big shew yet still seem not a step removed from the veritable girl next door.

An exotic girl next door, mind you, whose alluring beauty and non-WASPish heritage almost seem at odds with her Valley Gal-made-good patter.

And, of course, the ex-Laker Girl next door, of which there were plenty of reminders during her triumphant homecoming Thursday at the Forum, a return to the scene of the crime where Abdul first danced and pomponed before cheering thousands.

Basketball hero Magic Johnson, greeted with his inevitable standing ovation, appeared during the encores to announce that Abdul’s Laker Girl uniform has been retired, to take its framed place on the Forum wall alongside the jerseys of past Forum greats. Following a naturally comic hug (at eye level, her feet dangle somewhere near his knees), Johnson contrasted the anonymous cheerleader he knew back when with “the new and the super-great Paula Abdul.”

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Super-great singer and record-maker? ‘Course not, though she’s come up with close to half a dozen nifty bubblegum singles over the course of two albums, which isn’t a terrible starting track record for an admitted non-musician.

Super-great showwoman? You bet.

Perhaps more quintessentially than any other pop performer on the scene, Abdul is a video-age product who may help serve to someday redefine the term original soundtrack , given how her recordings--even the best ones--typically don’t really come to life till seen flashily complemented on MTV.

In terms of production values, this show--whose three-night stand at the Forum wraps up tonight--didn’t disappoint. The opening “Spellbound” had Abdul coming down to the stage atop a diagonally descending light bank, and mixing it up with some daddy long legs-type stilt walkers.

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“Vibeology” had her hoofing it with bizarrely costumed characters who looked to be either out of “Alice in Wonderland” or a particularly wiggy Paris fashion show. “Opposites Attract” featured a duet with the recorded voice and animated image of MC Skat Kat. (A subsequent solo number by a live-action, costumed Kat brought the concert uncomfortably close to Disneyland Main Street Parade territory.)

Though certainly lively enough, the choreography between Abdul and her eight dancers was on the more predictable side, reaching a low point with a hokey ballet-style tandem on the otherwise winsome “Will You Marry Me.”

Still, there was at least one number worth the proverbial price of admission alone: “Blowing Kisses in the Wind,” a lovely ballad that had Abdul simply standing on a workbench-type platform in front of a bank of video screens merging to form a blue sky with gorgeous, fast-mo cloud cover. This above-ground image was entrancing enough; added to it on the stage level below were two dancing couples, with one partner each suspended on flying wires that allowed for exhilarating, lighter-than-air romanticism, aerial somersaults and all.

For the record: As promised, Abdul appeared to be singing almost entirely live and--though her strength admittedly isn’t as a crooner--hit a difficult sustained note in “Rush Rush” with impressive ease. (So there, world!)

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Living up to its unpromisingly misspelled name, opening act Color Me Badd represented a mixture of old-fashioned harmonic innocence and contemporary sleaziness that’s peculiar to the ‘90s but far from peculiarly interesting.


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