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Stage Review : Musical 'Dorian' Doesn't Capture The Big Picture

June 18, 1986|DON SHIRLEY

Did Stanley Livingston read "The Picture of Dorian Gray," or at least a synopsis of it, before he updated it for his new musical "Dorian"?

The most basic element of Oscar Wilde's story--that Dorian's portrait decays while his body remains young--apparently eluded Livingston. In "Dorian," at Harman Avenue Theatre, the portrait never changes. Nor does the personality of the "Dorian" character, a rock 'n' roll chanteuse named Jennifer--at least not as much as you would expect. This is a "Dorian" without the decadence.

The narrative trips in its first scenes, when Jennifer rejects her faithful boyfriend-- before she's truly tempted by wealth and fame (which have replaced everlasting youth and sensuality as Dorian's goals). Her action isn't explained, but she certainly isn't committing a callous act of betrayal. In fact, we don't know why these two were ever an item. When they sing, "I Only Remember the Laughter," we don't even remember that much.

Having wasted the opportunity for Jennifer to jilt her guy when it would matter more to the audience, Livingston is at a loss for other mean stunts for her to pull. Finally, long after she's a star, she spends a night with her best friend's gentleman caller. The friend responds with a positive ditty about changing her life and then turns around and tries to kill herself--not because she would do that sort of thing, but because Jennifer needs a reason to feel wretched.

Actually, it takes another incident, in which Jennifer is the victim instead of the villain, for her to get the message. This scene has more in common with "Looking for Mr. Goodbar" than with anything Oscar Wilde wrote.

The book is full of missteps and holes, and the other ingredients of the show reflect the strain of Livingston's stumbles. Take Deborah Tranelli's performance as Jennifer, for example--the quivering chin, flared nostrils and bulging eyes indicate an actor who's trying to force-feed the degeneracy that Livingston left out.

Likewise, John Barrett Henry's choreography and Miles Clayton's costumes look like parodies of depravity instead of the real thing. On the other hand, Dan Alvy's score is as benign as the heroine. Some of the tunes are pleasant enough, in the middle-of-the-road manner, yet they don't fit well into the story.

Even "Movie Moguls," the one number that worked well the other night, came out of nowhere. It features amusing mugging by Kelly Britt, but it also misleads us about her job title.

Scott Hardy directed, hazily--observe the confused blocking when Jennifer learns of her friend's suicide attempt. Performances are at 522 N. La Brea Ave., Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 7 and 10 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m., through July 13 (213) 851-3771).

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