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Vintage ‘Great Magoo’ Is Thick With Sudsy Show-Biz Drama

First produced in 1932, “The Great Magoo,” a vintage potboiler by Ben Hecht and Gene Fowler, now at the 24th Street Theatre, is a Damon Runyon wannabe that would have been better off gathering dust in the archives.

The action opens in Coney Island at the height of the Great Depression. Nicky (Jay Karnes), a womanizing barker and songwriter, has fallen hard for hoochie-coochie dancer Julie (Julia Campbell), an ambitious entertainer whose sights are set on the Great White Way. For Nicky, Julie is the real “magoo,” i.e., the woman of his dreams. However, both lovers are Olympic-caliber boozers who swan dive into the gutter at the least hint of a romantic reversal. Irritatingly, the Sturm und Drang in this show-biz soap opera is primarily of their own perverse devising.

Matthew Jacobs’ set, an imposing edifice of unfinished wood, provides versatile playing areas for the constantly shifting scenes. Nadine D. Parkos and Sarah Zinsser’s costumes are glitzy yet ragtag, well-suited to these down-at-heel gents and soiled doves.

Plenty of colorful supernumeraries distract from the play’s basic klunkiness, and director Stephanie Shroyer adopts the witty device of interspersing the action with Hecht and Fowler’s actual production notes, spoken by two fast-talking “authors” whom we assume are Hecht and Fowler themselves. It’s not enough to distinguish this mediocre yarn, but it does give us some insights into the genesis of a bona fide, hard-boiled turkey.--F. KATHLEEN FOLEY

* “The Great Magoo,” 24th Street Theatre, 1117 W. 24th St., Los Angeles. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends Nov. 8. $15. (323) 667-0417. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.

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