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A faithful Beatles flashback

A particularly elaborate entry in the burgeoning genre of celebrity tribute acts, “The Fab Four” at Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities offers a nostalgic -- if borderline creepy -- trip down memory lane broadly aimed at several generations of fans, most of whom never got to see a live Beatles concert.

It’s not “Beatlemania” but an incredible simulation -- one that faithfully re-creates the experience of watching Beatle impersonators re-create the experience of watching the iconic band perform some of its most popular hits.

What distinguishes these faux fabs from their competition is an impressive dedication to musical skill and accuracy. Without recourse to tape or lip syncing, the lads perform in the style of their respective Beatles -- on authentic period instruments, no less. The show’s 35 songs reproduce the George Martin arrangements and chord progressions that transformed even simple ditties into pop classics. For the more complex second-act orchestrations (from the “Sgt. Pepper” era and later), musicians from the Civic Light Opera stable join the group onstage.

In their characterizations, Ron McNeil’s John Lennon leads the pack in voice, personality and inflections. Though less convincing as Paul McCartney, Ardy Sarraf’s capable left-handed guitar and bass provides the sugared melodic counterpoint to Lennon’s rough edge. Michael Amador’s George Harrison is, appropriately, the most musically proficient, while Rolo Sandoval uncannily evokes Ringo Starr’s signature “human metronome” style of drumming.

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A quartet of go-go dancers, appropriate costumes and newsreel footage of rabid fans conjure up the ‘60s look and feel. Paul Terry’s emcee turn as Ed Sullivan overstays its welcome, as does the overreliance on audience sing-and-clap-along -- this act should follow the courage of its convictions and trust the audience to buy into the experience without the need for prodding with every other song.

-- Philip Brandes

“The Fab Four,” Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach. 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Oct. 2. $42.50-52.50. (310) 372-4477. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.

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Into the inferno of family dysfunction

Dark truths dart among the stylized twists of “Beggars in the House of Plenty,” presented by VS. Theater Company at the Victory Theatre. John Patrick Shanley’s fiercely precocious 1991 memory play blurs family dysfunction into a rowdy, absurdist Rorschach test.

“I look like the Bronx inside,” says occasional arsonist Johnny (Johnny Clark), across whose psyche “Beggars” cavorts. He adds, “I could vomit up a burning car,” and Shanley (“Doubt,” “Moonstruck”) lets his autobiographical Fitzgerald clan demonstrate why. Starting with a Christmas scene, “Beggars” follows its Irish-American prototypes into hell, here the basement (courtesy of set designer John G. Williams).

Pop (the great Eddie Jones) is a narcoleptic neighborhood butcher. Ma (Annie Abbott) is a bastion of chipper fatalism. Johnny’s sister, Sheila (Kimberly-Rose Wolter), avoids Pop’s disturbing attentions through marriage. Visiting aunt and nun, Sister Mary Kate (Amanda Carlin), typifies Shanley’s iconoclastic wit. Stakes elevate with eldest son Joey (the superb Jeffrey Stubblefield), home from the Navy to serve as bad-boy pivot.

Barring a slack opening, director Anita Khanzadian connects with Shanley’s dank irony, and her cast is stellar. As Johnny, Clark exposes his marrow; very touching against Stubblefield’s riveting Joey. Jones gives Pop enormous power, and Abbott is typically expert. Wolter and Carlin have wry satirical heft (Robyn Cohen and Liz Herron alternate) as well.

Designs, though lean, are evocative, including Gelareh Khalioun’s costumes, Carol Doehring’s lighting and Brian Benison’s sound. Such aplomb trumps blips in tone and tempo, making this red meat for Shanley fans.

-- David C. Nichols

“Beggars in the House of Plenty,” Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Oct. 9. $25. (818) 841-5421. Running time: 2 hours.

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A glossy, generic ocean cruise

Notable polish attends “Tight Quarters” at the Whitefire Theatre. Some slick pros approach this self-delighting musical with high verve, but that doesn’t make it buoyant. First produced in 1996 at the Tiffany Theater, “Tight Quarters” runs its predictable passage aground on the shoals of logic and point.

The main culprit is the synthetic book by LeeAn Lantos and lyricist Jeff Lantos. It follows plastic surgeon Natalie Benson (Heidi Godt). After her corporate-driven fiance (Gary Franco) bolts at the altar, she heeds his cellphone plea and heads down the Amazon to marry him, putting the heart before the course.

Enter Harvey Benson (Tom Schmid), a widowed scientist with two children (Rachel Hirschfeld and Sterling Beaumon), in pursuit of a rare Amazon butterfly. A booking mistake leaves the two unrelated Bensons in the same cabin, along with a stolen Incan necklace that compels the wearer to passion and the tango. Seriously.

That ludicrous device incorporates three outre jewel thieves (Rick Stockwell, Ali Spuck and Benjamin Sprunger), a nutty captain (Eddie Driscoll), a nuttier ensemble and some pleasantly generic songs (music by Bill Augustine). Jules Aaron’s vaudeville-and-chenille staging and Kay Cole’s loopy dances are clever, albeit self-aware. Musical director Brian Murphy and the entire design roster do impressive work, and the cast, especially the strong-voiced, appealing Godt and Schmid, is valiant.

Regrettably, this talented crew lends “Tight Quarters” far more gloss than the butterfly-weight cruise ship vehicle ever repays. Proceeds go to Rainforest Relief, the principal reason to embark on this sitcom trek.

-- D.C.N.

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“Tight Quarters,” Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Oct. 30. $22-$25 (323) 960-4410 or www.plays411.com. Running time: 2 hours.


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