Theater Reviews

AUDITION! THE MUSICAL Between her third and 12th birthdays, 1950s child star Evelyn Rudie earned an Emmy nomination, a Walk of Fame star, and the highest salary of her peers. Decades later, a musical by Rudie and her husband, Chris DeCarlo, rehashes the horrors she and her competition faced as they grinned their way to the top. Playing a black-hearted casting agent, a has-been, and a host of never-will-bes, Rudie and energetic co-stars Rebecca Coombs and Serena Dolinsky burn through a dozen wigs while belting out ditties about stage moms, back-stabbers, narcissism, self-doubt, desperation and the impossibility of being yourself. The tinny, synth simplicity of Rudie and Matt Wrather’s tunes (musical direction by Linn Yamaha-Hirschman) only underscores the elementary insights in the lyrics, and despite the players’ enthusiasm, this scattered and nearly plotless j’accuse is repetitive and overlong. (In the night’s best number, Rudie chants the names of deceased child actors — Jonathan Brandis, Dana Plato, Judy Garland — who lost their battles with Hollywoodland.) Rudie has passionate sympathies for their plight, but in her opening monologue, she takes pains to separate herself from the rabble. “I never had to audition,” she declares — an actor’s ultimate trump card. SANTA MONICA PLAYHOUSE, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat., 7:45 p.m.; Sun., 6:45 p.m. (note: arrive at least a half hour early for complimentary preshow dinner); thru Jan. 28. (310) 394-9779. (Amy Nicholson)

BUON NATALE! CHRISTMAS EVE ITALIAN STYLE Writer-director Rita Andriello builds her amiable comedy around an old-fashioned Italian papa (Richard Branco), whose stern dictates cause friction with his grown-up children. Long estranged from his daughter, he’s beside himself one Christmas Eve when his son Vittorio (Carmine Manicone) brings home a buxom blond bimbo (Sharon Grambo) and introduces her as his wife. That same evening a second son, Luigi (Al Coronel), decides to come out. Familiar but engaging, the script comes peppered with amusing one-liners, many delivered by Sandra Kinder as the clueless patriarch’s sardonic sister-in-law. Unfortunately, only Kinder and Patrick Feren (in a droll, nuanced performance as Luigi’s gay partner) do much to enable the comedy. Under Andriello’s direction, the timing is frequently off, while some performances range from anemic to irritating. NOHO ARTS CENTER, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 23. (323) 969-4761. (Deborah Klugman)

THE CHASE LOUNGE Recalling Charles Ludlum’s The Mystery of Irma Vep, in which two actors play eight roles, writer-director David Rackoff’s comedy features one actress portraying five characters. The very funny Heidi Sulzman ably handles the challenge, racing through multiple parts in overdrive. Danny Cistone’s set includes several doors (mostly slamming) for one character to exit and another to enter. The play also employs various stage tricks (a large hat, a fake leg, a wheelchair covered in fabric) to suggest the presence of another person on stage, and these devices amp up the hilarity precisely because they look so cheesy. The improbable plot about three sisters vying for a bag of diamonds is really beside the point. In addition to playing the sisters, two of whom are twins, Sulzman also plays their mother and the one-legged lesbian partner of one of the sisters — all without pace-hampering costume changes. While Sulzman is more than proficient at spoken dialects, her attempts at ventriloquism are side-splittingly inept. 68 CENT THEATRE, 5419 Sunset Blvd., Suite D, Hlywd.; Tues.-Thurs., 8 p.m., thru Dec. 21; reopens Thurs., Jan. 4, 8 p.m.; perfs Thurs., 8 p.m.; indef. (323) 960-7745. (Sandra Ross)


JACKSON FROST There’s no logical connection between Jack Frost and musicians named Jackson, but that’s no problem for actor-director Matt Walker and his merry gang at The Troubadour Theater Company: They’ve built their career out of such unlikely juxtapositions, including Little Drummer Bowie and Santa Claus Is Coming to Motown. Here they marshal Michael Jackson and all his ilk for a zany musical about that chilly elf Jack Frost (Michelle Anne Johnson) who must compete with the arch-villain Krubla Krause (Walker) for the hand of the beautiful but vapid Elissa (Audrey Siegel). And other Jacksons, including Jackson Browne, Mahalia Jackson, Jesse Jackson and Andrew Jackson, are shoehorned into the mix, along with an oversexed dog named Humper (Andy Lopez), a busy groundhog (Joseph Leo Bwarie), weatherman Fritz Coleman (Walker), and a stilt-walking Father Winter (Beth Kennedy) who bears a striking resemblance to the Crypt Keeper. The deliberately slapdash script comes packed with puns and room for improvisations and inside jokes, and it’s enlivened with dizzily eccentric performances (by Jennie Fahn, Lisa Valenzuela and Matt Morgan, among others), puppets, ventriloquism, black light, flying actors, audience participation, and athletic, hip-hoppy choreography by Nadine Ellis and Bwarie — and, of course, the songs associated with the various Jacksons. Troubadour Theater Company at THE FALCON THEATER, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Dec. 30. (818) 955-8101. (Neal Weaver)

PAGEANT OF THE FOUR SEASONS, A 99¢ ONLY MODERN SOME-THING! Ken Roht’s annual 99¢ Only shows suggest a demented blend of low-budget Ziegfeld Follies, an earth-bound Cirque du Soleil and the kind of performance neighborhood kids put on in somebody’s garage. Ann Closs-Farley’s grand and kitschy costumes and Karen Steward’s sets are made mostly of items from the 99¢ Only stores. Christmas-tree ornaments, tissue paper, plastic wastebaskets, garbage bags, shopping bags and coffee filters are conjured into wildly inventive attire that suggests all the world’s cultures, combined and scrambled into an homage to the four seasons. Summer features Mother Nature, fish and other pastoral creatures. Fall follows, with evocations of falling leaves. Winter suggests falling raindrops and light reflected off ice and snow, with trancelike music. And spring is an exuberant outburst, featuring giant flowers, insects and a song that proclaims “Hi-Ho, I’m Alive!” Roht provides the direction, script and choreography, with music by Marc Jackson, Curtis Heard, Roht and O-Lan Jones. The music is so densely layered that lyrics aren’t always comprehensible, but that hardly matters in a show so filled with spectacle and eye candy. An Orphean Circus Production at BOOTLEG THEATER, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 7 & 9 p.m.; Sun., 5 & 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 17 (then Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Jan. 4-28). (213) 389-3856. (Neal Weaver)

RUDOLPH THE RED-HOSED REINDEER With book and lyrics by David Cerda and music by Cerda and Scott Lamberty, this yuletide comedy sends up Rankin and Bass’s beloved stop-motion animation classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Narrative duties still rest with Sam the Snowman (Jim Keily, channeling Burl Ives), but everything else in Christmastown has changed: Santa (Danny Lopes) is a cruel tyrant; Mrs. Claus (Marina Mouhibian) is a drunk; Santa’s elves are gay, gay, gay; and Rudolph (Eric Bunton) is a cross-dresser. Closely following the plot of the original, Rudolph runs away with oddball elf Herbie (Jeffrey Christopher Todd), but in this version, Herbie is a misfit because he’s not gay enough. Shrewdly directed by Richard Israel, the comedy is hilarious because the source material is so recognizable. Cerda’s lyrics and Cerda and Lamberty’s music amusingly parody the original’s songs, while Cerda’s dialogue is laugh-out-loud funny. Among a terrific cast, Brett Hren stands out in three roles: Elfano, the head elf; Coach Comet; and the Half-Naked Cowboy on the Island of Misfit Toys. Mark Landres makes a fabulous Abominable Drag Beast, while wearing one of Mouhibian’s clever costumes. The SpyAnts at the ELEPHANT THEATER, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Jan. 13. (323) 860-8786. (Sandra Ross)

SLAVA’S SNOWSHOW See Stage feature.


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