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Stage Reviews : Some Sweet Memories Of A Bawdy Era

October 03, 1986|CATHY DE MAYO

"Sugar Babies" at the Grand Dinner Theatre recalls the bawdy days of burlesque with an obvious affection for this chapter in American entertainment history. The routines haven't improved any with age, but this production gives them a generous shellacking of fresh enthusiasm in a staging that wisely goes for the guffaw rather than the snicker.

Nostalgia is the major draw in this revue, conceived by Ralph G. Allen and Harry Rigby as a tribute to burlesque in its heyday, 1905 to 1930. The emphasis is on comedy drawn from original burlesque routines, featuring sketches that re-create the humor of the day in all its lewd glory. Sight gags abound, as do baggy pants, fright wigs, seltzer bottles and cream pies. The assumption seems to be that if one sexual innuendo will do, throw in 20 more for good measure.

This production, directed by Kirby Ward, gives the venerable routines the respect accorded old age, exhibiting a galloping appreciation for material that is decidedly thin in the seat but still funny. His likable cast carefully walks the line between tribute and spoof by sidestepping condescension, even where the corn grows the thickest. And likability is a crucial component in a show that spends as much time leering as this one does.

Most effective is the front man, E.E. Bell. His tireless clowning as the "top banana" is as good-natured as it is frenetic, underscored by a geniality that makes the raunchy material far more palatable. He makes an effective transition to crooner in Act II, offering a warm rendition of "I Can't Give You Anything but Love, Baby." Backing up Bell are Joe Shea as the hefty second banana, who milks his deadpan expression for all it's worth, and then some; Bill Mullikin as the smooth master of ceremonies, and Lon Huber as the agile fourth banana (for whoever's counting).

Madilyn Clark juggles the multiple demands of female straight man, femme fatale and lead dancer with mixed results. The vocal score poses some problems for her, but her tapping is terrific. One of the brightest spots in this show is provided by magician Dana Daniels, whose routine built around a pet bird is rapid-fire, inventive and very funny. The only jarring note is his contemporary appearance, which clashes with the otherwise consistent period feel of the production.

"Sugar Babies" will run indefinitely at the Grand Dinner Theatre, 1 Hotel Way, Anaheim. For information, call (714) 772-7710.

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