Any production of "Song of Norway" had better be well sung. The dramaturgy in this slab of aging shmaltz is primitive, and the spectacle--at least as designed for the Long Beach Civic Light Opera--is dull. However, Edvard Grieg's melodies still survive, despite the silly lyrics added by Robert Wright and George Forrest, so it's possible that interesting voices could make the thing worth sitting through.
Only one of the Long Beach voices, Ann Blyth's, comes close to justifying the experience. Her dark-hued solo of "North Star--Solveig's Song" in the second act is the show's only scene that casts any sort of spell. Perhaps she also deserves some credit for the fact that her character, ostensibly the villain, is marginally less tiresome than the others.
As Grieg, the purported central character, Bill Hayes seems utterly inconsequential--and a couple of decades too old. Lowell Harris, playing the best friend, is a likelier leading man, though his voice sometimes sounds tight. Susan Watson makes pretty sounds, but her character remains a stick. Even Traveller, the current USC horse, projects none of her usual charisma in her brief appearance.
Stuart Bishop's staging is of the sort in which three people, swearing eternal togetherness, look at the audience instead of each other. But the musical lines, directed by Steven Smith, are surprisingly clean. It's too bad that the Long Beach Ballet appears only in the not-so-grand finale--when the prospect of yet another scene is hard to stomach.
Performances are at 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8:30 p.m., with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:30, through March 17 (436-3661 or 714-534-7723).
'ROTONDI' AT BOYD STREET
Fans of the "SCTV" series will never forget those two ever-smiling polka players, the Schmenge Brothers. On "SCTV," of course, the comedy took precedence over the music. But now another funny polka act has surfaced--at the Boyd Street Theatre--and this time the music is as important as the joke.
It's called "Rotondi," named after the late Pietro Rotondi, a Los Angeles theosophist and chiropractor. Six instrumentalists and one manic singer perform numbers that are aptly described as "new wave polka," written by Paul Lacques and Richie Lawrence. The oom-pah-pah is fairly steady, but the melodic lines and half-understood lyrics enter territory that's unfamiliar to most polka bands. Not even the Schmenges' "Power to the Punk People" is a precedent, for "Rotondi" is less of a lampoon--the foot-tapping is genuine.
The pink-suited singer, Tony Patellis, looks a lot like Eugene Levy's Schmenge, but his style is more aggressive. He throws kisses, clutches the air, and chews raw garlic between numbers. His exertions provide most of the laughs, but the reactions of the other members of the band are also worth occasional glances.
An attempt to create suspense, by introducing a rival band leader in the form of "the Polish Queen" (Robin Ginsburg) just before intermission, is dropped, without any sort of resolution. But no one seems to notice, for "Rotondi" is a party more than a play. And as members of the audience join the action on the polka-dotted dance floor, champagne glasses in hand (what--no beer?), it's apparent that this party is a success.
The festivities, directed by Chris Monger for Pipeline Productions, continue at 305 Boyd St. on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., through April 6 (629-2205).
'FUNNY YOU SHOULD ASK'
Nearly every improv group does the bit in which a single situation is put through the wringer of many theatrical and cinematic styles. Suggestions for styles are usually solicited from the audience before the sketch starts; someone from the group then selects the specific cues to be used. The result is that the same, safe styles--such as Shakespeare or soap opera--are always chosen. It becomes predictable.
"Funny You Should Ask" has revivified this old game. The narrator asks for the cues during the sketch, while the actors are temporarily frozen. His requests are focused: "Give me a film director," he'll say. The first suggestion is always accepted.
Last Wednesday, at the group's new home in the Melrose Theatre, the actors were asked to do a sketch (about a family's confrontation with lint) in the styles of John Hughes and Sam Shepard, among others. The results weren't always hilarious, but they were always interesting.
The troupe tries to put a fresh twist on stale suggestions, and frequently they succeed. John Bates and Hennen Chambers were quickest with the quips on Wednesday, and the funniest faces belonged to Michael McManus and Doris Hess. Neil Thompson and Bernadette Birkis also contributed lively impersonations. The weakest piece was the only one that didn't rely on audience cues: an old geezer routine from McManus and Thompson.
They're at 733 N. Seward St., Wednesdays at 8 p.m. (851-3771).
'CIRCUS OF LAO' AT FACTORY PLACE
The audience serves as the roustabouts at "The Circus of Dr. Lao," an L.A. Theatre Works production at the Factory Place. We walk from scene to scene, each of us dragging a milk carton, which is all we're given to sit on. By the end of the performance I saw, almost half of the spectators had discarded their cartons, preferring to stand. It was the easiest way to see what was going on.
There wasn't much to see, though. There is no mystery, no fear and trembling, no startling imagery, no sense of period in David Kaplan's adaptation of Charles Finney's Depression-era book about the temporary transformation of a small town by a traveling circus. To paraphrase a remark in the script, we get a lot of weak-kneed whimsy, but we don't get the point.
The final performances are tonight and Saturday at 8 p.m., at 1308 Factory Place. (827-0808).