STAGE REVIEWS : Stereotypes Keep 'DuBois Sisters' From Swingin' : Strong voices and some comic acting can't buoy the caricatures in the O.C.-created musical at Hollywood's Groundling Theatre.


Cherie Kerr's "Ahh . . . Those Lounge Swingin' DuBois Sisters," at Hollywood's Groundling Theatre, starts out with a funny idea but defeats itself all along the line by thinking it's funny. It's the sort of thing that might have worked in early burlesque, with scenes that are little more than mini-sketches and humor that reaches for the lowest common denominator.

In this production, which was born and raised in Orange County, the four swingin' siblings, with four different fathers, warble their wares at Reuben's restaurant in Southgate and are pretty awful. But each is approached by a dubious type who wants her to go out on her own. So far so good.

So bad is the juvenile, look-how-crazy-we-are execution, from Kerr's script (co-written with Lauri Johnson and Gretchen Stahl) to the monotonous patter song score (Kerr and many others) to the distressing stereotypes Kerr has created and directed with knee-slapping yuks in mind.

Even a few somewhat decent comic performances don't help. Johnson, Suzette Coger, Cathy Shambley and Eleesa Weldon try to energize the action, but they're defeated by the simplistic ideas and development. Johnson is funny, and Coger and Weldon can belt a song impressively. (Weldon should have argued against the shuffling, finger-popping, sassy black sister forced on her.)

The hustlers who beleaguer them also should have fought against what they have to do. Ron Ruhman's gold-chained Hollywood sleaze at least takes aim at a true sleaze, but Eric Halasz's phony Brit with a pipe looks like a '30s Hollywood type. Wayne Burgos' pot-bellied (padded) red-neck is right out of "Hee Haw" (Robert Morris has since taken over this role from Burgos) and Russell Towne's Fairfax Jew is a crude and demeaning caricature we thought had disappeared decades ago.

The best and most bearable section of the show comes at the end, when the sisters return to Reuben's after their misadventures to take audience suggestions and improvise pop songs as sung by famous artists. Some of the improvs are very funny and make the preceding two hours look even worse.

* "Ahh . . . Those Lounge Swingin' DuBois Sisters," Groundling Theatre, 7307 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood. Plays Wednesdays at 8 p.m. through Sept. 30. $15; (213) 934-4747. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

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