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A few laughs over world history

Times Staff Writer

The musical “The Big Bang,” at the Norris Theatre, is more of a little bang. But at least it provides some bang for the buck.

Among its attractions are clever rhymes, surprising transformations of props and costumes, and two gifted practitioners of manic musical comedy.

But all of the above can’t disguise a gradual attenuation of the show’s amusement as it continues over two hours. “The Big Bang” lampoons overly ambitious musical productions -- but by extending its own modest charms too far without adding any more substantive elements, it contracts a mild case of the same pretensions it’s spoofing.

Written by Boyd Graham (book and lyrics) and Jed Feuer (music), the show casts the audience as wealthy potential investors in a proposed $83.5-million musical about the history of the world. We’re at the Park Avenue apartment of the Lipbalms (he’s a proctologist) to hear the extravaganza’s creators perform some of the numbers from the show in an attempt to get us to open our wallets.

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Bruce (Paul Kreppel) and Bryce (Larry Raben) frantically race around the stage, trying to play as many roles as possible in a show that’s designed for a cast of 318. If the money can be raised, their project will eventually extend over 12 hours, in four three-hour installments.

Even as they perform, they’re also trying to assemble rudimentary design elements from the household furnishings and other items they find in the Lipbalms’ apartment. And occasionally they demonstrate how their audience might take advantage of their show’s opportunities for product placement -- or they suggest that a particular investor’s daughter might be able to make her Broadway debut in their show.

The heart of the production is a series of musical numbers that use Richard Armour-style humor to discuss historical events or eras, beginning with the “big bang” that created the universe.

The lyrics are intentionally funny and anachronistic. Bruce and Bryce are not earnest philosophers who have become carried away with the urgency of their grandiose visions; they’re musical comedy mavens.

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While this creates more laughs on one level, it also makes you wonder how such apparently savvy entertainers could ever be so ignorant of the limitations on budget and cast size that exist on Broadway.

Still, such quibbles are easily forgotten for the first hour or so, as Kreppel and Raben go through their paces, about half the time in drag. They gallop through ancient Egypt and Rome -- and a dozen pop styles. They’re the mothers of Jesus and Gandhi, singing about their mutual problems. Kreppel plays a Christian-eating lion in Rome, while Raben depicts Attila the Hun as a lounge singer.

They skip quickly over the Dark Ages and resume the song sketches with Columbus and Isabella, followed by Henry VIII and a pre-intermission effect that mocks “The Phantom of the Opera.”

The second act feels more strained. With all of modern history to draw on, these guys come up with some odd choices.

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Pocahontas and Minnehaha sing about the dating crisis. Napoleon gets a funny hat but not much of a scene. A glimpse of the antebellum South is like a rejected “Carol Burnett Show” sketch. But the comedy meter rises slightly with an ode to the potato during the Irish Potato Famine and a torch song for Eva Braun (“for the longest while, I thought his first name was heil”).

Tracy Strickfaden directed and designed an elaborate set, inconspicuously laden with items that are later incorporated into the action. Pianist John Sawoski keeps the music moving.

*

‘The Big Bang’

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Where: Norris Theatre, 27570 Crossfield Drive, Rolling Hills Estates

When: 8 p.m. today and Thursday through next Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday and next Saturday

Ends: Next Saturday

Price: $32

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Contact: (310) 544-0403

Running time: 2 hours


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