If comedy really is hard, then musical revues must be nearly impossible. Think about it. Not only must a revue be funny and topical, it also has to have a few good tunes, brisk pacing and, occasionally, a catchy dance step or two.
Since it had few of those qualities, it's not surprising that lyricist Irwin Rubinsky and composer Danny Bergen's "Hangin' On by a Thread" fell flat more often than it hit the mark in its opening at the Hollywood Roosevelt's Cinegrill Wednesday night. Little more than a string of not especially inspired tunes structured around the "petty annoyances that surround us all and make us human," the show moved in fits and starts, appearing to end two-thirds of the way through, then, almost as an afterthought, adding three other superfluous and disconnected numbers.
When "Hangin' On by a Thread" worked, which was rarely, it was mostly because of outstanding performances by Sharon McNight and Rende Rae Norman.
McNight, a Tony Award nominee in 1989 for "Starmites," continues to be one of the great wonders of the musical stage, blessed with a strikingly accurate, uniquely quirky voice, and the kind of quick timing and loony presence that brings touches of satirical innuendo to every line she sings. She made the best of her one-joke feature, "I Love Art," but she moved into high gear with an anthem to Lorena Bobbitt, aptly titled "No Hard Feelings."
Norman is a strong singer with a captivating image and a lush sound that ranges easily from a bar-room baritone to a high, folksy soprano. Like McNight, she brought grit and vinegar to largely inconsequential material.
Paul Keeley and George McDaniel, dependable and competent performers, had less luck, rarely rising above the mediocre level of the songs.
* "Hangin ' On by a Thread," Cinegrill at the Radisson Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, 7000 Hollywood Blvd. March 22 and 29, 8 p.m. $12 plus two-drink minimum. (213) 466-7000. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.