THEATER REVIEW : 'One and Only' Marks a Stylish End to Civic Light Opera Era

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A tasty, tap-happy production of Ira and George Gershwin's nimble musical "My One and Only" marks a stylish end to shows produced under the banner of the San Gabriel Valley Civic Light Opera. Beginning Monday, the 10-year-old organization officially assumed a new identity: The Music Theatre of Southern California.

The reason for the new name, short of boosterism, is hard to fathom. Administrators claim that the San Gabriel Valley Civic Light Opera is no longer merely a San Gabriel theater but one that "draws audiences from throughout Southern California."

Well, OK, but it's still in San Gabriel, in one of the most historic and architecturally distinctive theaters in greater L.A.. The old name is surely more site-specific and colorful than the amorphous, bland-sounding Music Theatre of Southern California.

What's done is done. The show indeed goes on (in this case, through Sunday), and one might say it succeeds with almost everything the 1983 Broadway and 1985 L.A. Music Center productions enjoyed, except Tommy Tune. But the gangly, light-footed star at the San Gabriel Civic Auditorium, Roger Castellano, is almost as graceful and wispy as Tune (not to mention an uncanny, if shorter, look-alike). And that's saying a lot.

Based on the Gershwin brothers' 1927 "Funny Face," with an entirely new book by Peter Stone and Timothy S. Meyer, the show has previously (although not in this instance) been billed as "a new Gershwin musical." In other words, the great old Gershwin songs ("Nice Work If You Can Get It," "High Hat," " 'S Wonderful," among others) are sandwiched around a new and less silly story, all of it enhanced by updated staging techniques (warmly re-created under director Bill Shaw and choreographer Rikki Lugo).

Lugo has done a terrific job with the clattering feet of the New Rhythm Boys (Andre Garner, Mark Nordike and Sam (Red) Savage). But nothing tops the tap artistry of Greg Poland's Mr. Magix instructing Castellano's bushy-tailed Capt. Billy Buck Chandler in the creamy-soft rat-a-tat-tat seductive steps of the title piece, "My One and Only."

The dynamics of dance are further punctuated in the stars' splashy foot-duet in a pool of water on a deserted beach. As they playfully kick water on one another, their dancing is almost as much fun as watching Gene Kelly kicking up raindrops in "Singin' in the Rain."

This is the kind of easygoing musical they don't write anymore, complete with a rotund villain (Ric Stoneback) who's straight out of vaudeville. More original is the romantic lead (Castellano), an eager aviator attempting to be the first pilot to fly across the Atlantic to Paris. The object of his affection, in a cross-country romance, is an Aquacade star and English Channel swimmer, (the pearly-voiced, ideally cast Leslie Becker).

Becker looks just right in that flapper hairstyle, she dances passably well next to the gliding, champagne-and-black-tie panache of Castellano, her singing is sweet and strong, and she nicely captures her character's doubts and anxieties.

One minor but nagging complaint: Subtle tunnel chamber acoustical bugs often make the dialogue sound slightly tinny and metallic, calling undue attention to the hidden microphones.

Otherwise, what the going-going-gone San Gabriel Valley Civic Light Opera has here is a musical valentine floating on a balloon.

* "My One and Only," Music Theatre of Southern California, 320 S. Mission Drive, San Gabriel, Thursday through Saturday, 8 p.m., matinees, May 21, 22. Ends May 22. $20-$35. (818) 308-2868. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes.

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