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Stage Review : This Time, 'One, Only' Flies Right

July 15, 1985|SYLVIE DRAKE | Times Theater Writer

Is it a sign of how starved we are for a really good musical or just that the second time around one savors more of "My One and Only's" breezy light-footedness? Whatever. This debonair show that barely got off the ground on Broadway two years ago soars at the Ahmanson.

A concoction of old music, new book, superior dancing and visual splendor, it has acquired a patina. Count it among the best of the manufactured musicals (i.e., constructed from existing and improvised parts). It seems fully recovered from its ailing beginnings, official and unofficial ministrations by umpteen show-business doctors (another story) and has blossomed into a cream puff of an entertainment: sweet and sassy.

Once you embrace the silliness of Peter Stone's and Timothy S. Mayer's book (that makes up in wit and period-spoofing what it deliberately lacks in substance), you're on your way with flying ace Billy Buck Chandler (Tommy Tune), channel swimmer Edith Herbert (Sandy Duncan) and their off-course amours that take them from New York and the silent movies to the beaches of Staten Island and the sands of murky Morocco.

Don't ask why (it's all in fun). What makes "My One and Only" take off is its delicate mix of flapper-era whimsy (we're in 1927), its stitched-together best-of-Gershwin music, dance as romance language and the show's sure sense of style, no matter how begged, borrowed or stolen.

This was no foolproof formula.

Co-choreographers/directors Thommie Walsh and Tommy Tune, stuck with disparate elements, invented inspired ways to pull those elements together.

Starting with such unbeatable (if randomly assembled) music as "Soon," "He Loves and She Loves," "Funny Face," "High Hat," "Strike Up the Band," etc., they capitalized on other available talent--Tune's own as charmer and dancer, wedded to the eloquent tap-dancing of Charles (Honi) Coles as Mr. Magix, whose sorcery is all footwork. Their show-stopping second act "My One and Only" is dance as subtext in Morse code.

There's nothing quite like Tune's gangly grace. He doesn't move, he glides; he doesn't dance, he floats; he doesn't smile, he turns on the light. It's a total act of seduction.

Duncan is a lot more solid than was Twiggy as the unhappy Edith. You believe this one crossed the English Channel under her own steam. You also know she could fend off the advances of nefarious Prince Nikki (Don Amendolia in full mustachioed bombast) with a fast right to his solar plexus.

Visually, the show fairly drips Art Deco. Rita Ryack's flapperesque costumes glitter with the vulgarity of the period. Adriannec Lobel and Tony Walton have designed sets that veer from self-spoofing cartoon cutouts to pop-the-panel moving parts: slide 'em up, down, sideways, out. Combined with Marc B. Weiss' stunning lighting effects (including the "High Hat" black-light number), they please the eye and serve a million less probable functions.

Otts Munderloh's sound, Michael Gibson's orchestrations, Wally Harper's musical concept and dance arrangements (a credit shared with Peter Larson) round off the aural polish of the show.

From its opening shot--a cleverly staged delivery of "I Can't Be Bothered Now," by three scat singers in tuxedos--to the outer limits of its mock-patriotic finale, "My One and Only" is a triumph of style over content. At the Ahmanson through Aug. 18.

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