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Stage Reviews : Oh, Those Fluttery 'Heart Beats'

August 12, 1986|DAN SULLIVAN | Times Theater Critic

"Heartburn" is Meryl Streep. "Heart Beats" is Amanda McBroom: a 90-minute revue of her songs at the Matrix Theatre, performed by McBroom and four friends: George Ball, Mara Getz, Daniel McDonald and Stacey Lyn Shaffer.

It makes, as they say, a nice little summer show. The performers sing well, relate to each other and seem to believe the material. Gerry Hariton and Vicki Baral's set is nifty, with its black onyx stage and its jackstraw light patterns. Madeline Ann Graneto's costumes evoke Melrose Avenue without being too trendy about it. Director Bill Castellino devises an action line for every song, so that each number seems to be getting somewhere.

And McBroom's songs (some have music by other people) aren't bad. Her best known one, "The Rose," from the Bette Midler movie, is simple and haunting, like a folk tune that was always there. It makes a strong almost-finale for the ensemble.

Earlier, McBroom gives us a chic, sad suburban lady who wastes so much time "Dreaming" that her husband still desires her. Getz, in her orange punk hairdo, sings the hell out of "Lie Down and Lose." The guys agree that there are moments when you feel so bad that you want to spread it around ("Hurt Somebody Blues"). McDonald and Shaffer find that they aren't so "Perfect" for each other after all.

These songs fill up the time pleasantly, but disappear in the mind without a trace. In general, McBroom's melodies tend to be a little too meek, somewhat in the way of Dory Previn's. They purl without finding a distinctive pattern or interval to hook the mind. ("Anyone Can Do the Heartbreak" does find one, but its tune is credited to Tom Snow.) We need a little more crunch.

McBroom's lyrics are better-crafted than most pop lyrics today, but they rarely fix on an original image or a rhyme that makes you sit up and take notice. Though her musical language is from the '70s, her lyrical language sounds like Your Hit Parade--"This old heart of mine," etc. If McBroom needs to mention the ocean, you can be sure it will come out "the seven seas."

Perhaps there isn't anything new to say about "the way of the heart," her general subject, but why not write about something else? Her funniest and most original song (sung by her) concerns a woman who adores buying stuff at the market but hates coming home and putting things away.

That's quirky and recognizable. I certainly identified with it. What a disappointment when McBroom widens her problem into that of a woman who can't put away her memories of a lost love. Anybody can write about love. It takes talent to write about frozen peas.

David Steven Rappoport's "The Rapids," at the International City Theatre in Long Beach, ends with this tantalizing image: a door opening onto whatever year one would like to enter, as long as it's before 1945.

The family being given the offer isn't sure it wants to go back to 1945, and there's real suspense as we watch them make up their minds. Another of Rappoport's ideas pays off nicely: that of an invisible "voice from the next room" that gives advice to each member of the family, like a Greek oracle.

But this is clearly an early draft of a play that needs a lot more thinking out. We're not sure whether Rappoport's absurdist plot is a comment on how haywire American life has become since the first A-Bomb went off at Hiroshima, or suggests that it always was haywire. In any case, none of it makes sense from the word go, bringing the tedium that random silliness on the stage always does bring.

If "The Rapids" started out with a nice Norman Rockwell family that gradually fell apart, the viewer would have a place to put down his feet, and the business with the gay uncles, for instance, could be even wilder. Brett Douglas and Francie Brown head a good cast, who know their sitcoms and also know how to play real drama. Jules Aaron directed. "The Rapids" plays Fridays-Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 and 7:30 p.m., at Long Beach City College, Clark and Harvey Way, Long Beach. (213) 420-4279.

'HEART BEATS' A musical by Amanda McBroom, and others, presented by Joseph Stern and Actors for Themselves at the Matrix Theatre. Directed and choreographed by Bill Castellino. Production supervisor Sam Weisman. Musical arrangements Bill Elliott. Set and lighting Gerry Hariton and Vicki Baral. Musical director Jerry Sternbach. Costumes Madeline Ann Graneto. Stage manager Catherine Carney Hart. Additional music and lyrics by Michele Brourman, Bill Elliott, James Dunne, Tom Snow, Jeff Silbar. Coordinators Chip Johnson and Theresa Bentz. Sound design Bill Hewlett. With George Ball, Mara Getz, Amanda McBroom, Daniel McDonald and Stacey Lyn Shaffer. Plays Wednesdays-Sundays at 8 p.m., with Saturday shows at 7 and 9:15 p.m. Closes Oct. 11. Tickets $12.50-$15. 7657 Melrose Ave. 213/852-1445.

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