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Stage Review : 'Nite Club Confidential' Has Talent To Please

February 05, 1986|SYLVIE DRAKE | Times Theater Writer

It's so basic we tend to forget it. We make excuses. We invent reasons. But every so often we're pulled up short when a show hits town that does everything right and reminds us of what it takes to create good entertainment: talent--lots of it, in all the right places.

Case in point: "Nite Club Confidential" at the Tiffany. Not since "The Great American Backstage Musical" back in '76 has Los Angeles seen such a sharp and snappy mini-musical spoof.

This time we're back in the '50s, taking a look at pre-rock 'n' roll life on the semi-sleazy circuit, where such non-brilliant good-lookers as Buck Holden (Scott Bakula) get by in the good graces of--well, maturing stars and only have to figure out how to make a living when the going gets tougher, which, of course, it always does.

Forget the plot (a spoof-within-a-spoof, replete with singing groups, love triangles, smoking guns, booze, smoldering cigarettes and withering looks). It's the one-liners that count. Such dry goods as: "What does a guy with no talent and a great speaking voice do? Become an agent." No, we won't spoil the rest for you, especially since you really do have to be there to savor them.

This is one of those sleek, serendipitous packages of pure fun, as much a send-up of Mickey Spillanese as a tribute to the music of Loesser, Mercer, Van Heusen, Harolds Arlen and Rome, delivered by slam-bang talent and masterminded by the Wizard of Was: writer/director/composer Dennis Deal.

"Nite Club Confidential," which ran eight months Off Broadway, is his baby, start to finish. Not only has he made a winning selection of perennial hits from among the old standards ("Something's Gotta Give," "That Old Black Magic"), but he's made an even craftier one from less well-known parts of the repertoire: the Arthur Schwartz/Frank Loesser "Love Isn't Born, It's Made"; the Joseph Bennett/Jimmy Denton hyperkinetic "Black Slacks"; the Dan Shapiro/Sammy Fain "Nothing Can Replace a Man." (Does it look as if every song in this show is composed by two people? Just about.)

The best numbers, however, are often the ones Deal himself co-wrote with Albert Evans and integrated into the show so seamlessly that they feel totally of a piece with their period counterparts. Our favorites: "Put the Blame on Mamie" (a paean to the late First Lady's fascination with pink) and "The Canarsie Diner" (a hilarious guide to the diner lingo lexicon).

Then take casting. Fay DeWitt toplines (rightfully so), but there's nothing shabby about the rest of this gifted company of five. It's a superbly orchestrated ensemble, in which each performer has at least one starring number and manages to surpass expectation.

Individually, the actors are Tom Spiroff (a smash in "Black Slacks"); Steve Gideon (a co-producer of the show, who has a way with "Crazy Words"); Krista Neumann (the sometime "other woman" who also pulverizes lunch in "Canarsie Diner"), and Bakula, man-about-town/narrator/emcee, much given to a private-eye style of deportment and terse direct address.

DeWitt has a big, sometimes brassy voice and an even bigger presence that lend every one of her numbers (and there are a few) what Tim Rice in "Evita" called "star quality." But she even tops herself in Harold Rome's show-stopping "French With Tears," a DeWitt demolition derby that does as complete a job on the audience as it does on the memory of Edith Piaf and the entire French dictionary. All that's missing is the crucifix around the neck--a Piaf trademark she was never without.

Lindsay W. Davis did the swanky costumes and the stylish set (clever but simple, in black and white, with appropriate lighting by Greg Sullivan). The ubiquitous Jon Gottlieb is responsible for the good sound and the first-rate musicians are Joe Scrima, John Ward and Corey Allen (who also serves as musical director).

Oddly, in all this confluence of real talent and good ideas, there was one screamingly bad one--a fleeting final image in which Kay, having shot her faithless paramour (he deserves it and we're still laughing), indicates she might turn the gun on herself. This is a fundamental error in style that injects a totally jarring note of seriousness in a show that won't allow for it. It should be trimmed--and could be in less than the time it takes to read this. Everything else is much too right.

Performances at 8532 Sunset Blvd. run Thursdays and Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 and 11 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 and 8 p.m.; until March 16 (213-851-3771).

P.S.: The show richly deserves to be extended, and the new Tiffany and "Nite Club Confidential" seem absolutely made for each other.

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