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Love buds but doesn’t bloom in ‘60s revival

Times Staff Writer

With its sweetness, optimism and naivete, Al Carmines’ “The Song of Songs,” at the Fountain Theatre through June 26, embodies a bygone era -- the 1960s endless summer of love.

The show premiered in 1967 at Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square in New York, seminal site of experimentation in dance and visual art. This 50-minute pop-music opera with dance has been revived for its West Coast premiere by two of the original participants. Deborah Lawler, co-founder of the Fountain, was one of the three original dancers. Aileen Passloff, now a professor at Bard College, choreographed it and danced in it.

They enlisted Los Angeles-based composer, pianist and singer David O to create a new opening piano introduction and a new closing chorus. Passloff has revised the choreography to include five dancers. The commitment of all concerned, however, doesn’t rescue the work for contemporary audiences: It’s too much flower power for the 21st century.

Carmines took his text from the Bible’s Song of Solomon, that incongruously joyful celebration of physical love that theological exegetes insist is really a metaphor for the love between the Israelites and God and the church, or God and the human soul.

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The production is a fluid but rather bland series of 15 vignettes in which singers in biblical costumes often shadow or react to the dancers. The choreography takes most of its cues from the texts without amplifying them. Everyone seems to find someone to pair off with -- chastely, it should be noted.

The single moment of dramatic tension is set to the line, “I opened to my beloved, but my beloved had withdrawn himself and was gone.” Dancer Shari Washington Rhone asks for help finding him. The answer, “What is there about your beloved that is different from anyone else’s beloved?”

It’s a serious question that demands a serious answer. But Carmines provides a jaunty, mock-Handelian aria in response. Elsewhere, in “O Prince’s Daughter,” he writes in ragtime. The mix of musical styles, which also includes ballads and arias that don’t linger in the mind, keeps the 50-minute work entertaining but light.

The cast at the Fountain was also mixed and uneven. The singers, besides O, include Debra Lane, Alan Porter Rackley, Diana Tash, A.J. Teshin, Gabrielle Widman, Risa Larson and Andrew Lidestri. The dancers, in addition to Rhone, include Christy Bolingbroke, Steve Doss, Albertossy Espinoza and Julie Webster. Their belief in what they were doing was clear, but it wasn’t enough to make this bit of nostalgia work.

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‘Song of Songs’

Where: Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hollywood

When: Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m.

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Ends: June 26

Price: $26

Contact: (323) 663-1525


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