It was an evening of reincarnations. The six-sided, domed seaside landmark in San Clemente that formerly housed the Casino ballroom and more recently Sebastian's West Dinner Playhouse has been rechristened Southampton Dinner Theatre and given a spiffy face lift. The Southampton made its debut last weekend with another successful blending of the old and the new--"My One and Only," the 1983 musical constructed with a glorious hodgepodge of memorable old Gershwin tunes.
It was clear on opening weekend that the production is still jelling. But the extended forecast looks good--once the technical clouds clear. All this show really wants to do is dance, and dance it does. Director Jeff Calhoun has the cast he needs to pull off this likable tribute to tap.
The story line is so flimsy it would blow away if anyone so much as breathed on it. Timothy S. Mayer has pasted together a "new" plot based on the oldest of situations: boy meets girl (in this case, hick Texas barnstormer meets English Channel swimmer); boy loses girl (thanks to evil, domineering manager); boy wins girl back (and how). But it is still the Gershwins' music and the dazzling original choreography and staging of Tommy Tune and Thommie Walsh that set this show apart.
The immediate question is how well this show translates from the relatively wide-open spaces of theaters such as Los Angeles' Ahmanson to the confines of a dinner theater. Not badly, as it turns out. Calhoun has scaled it down, but just enough to adapt to the smaller space. This show is pure artifice, determinedly and unabashedly theatrical, so the nightclub atmosphere at Southampton seems entirely appropriate.
And the magic of this production is in its feet. Everything else simply falls away when Joseph Jones as the young pilot Billy Buck Chandler gets a courting "lesson" from Arthur Duncan, playing the mystical Mr. Magix. The tap duet that follows is a study in anticipation, leading to a freewheeling finale that begs for an encore. That number comes close to making the rest of the show irrelevant.
Jones' dancing anchors the show, making it all look effortless, and his hayseed ingenuousness just adds to the effect. Judy Clark as the celebrated swimmer Edythe Herbert makes an appealing lead, starry-eyed but determined, and she contributes a strong voice that can produce winsomeness on demand. The solid leads get solid support--notably Duncan's cagey Mr. Magix, a portrayal tinged with sly ennui.Nevertheless--and bearing in mind that both the theater and the show are in their first week--there are still some technical problems to be solved. The lighting cues were noticeably off throughout the show. The vocal work is thin in spots and often can't compete with the live five-piece orchestra; lyrics and even dialogue were occasionally indecipherable. And most distracting of all was the voluminous smoke that billowed out of a bogus train, engulfing the front rows and drowning out the dialogue in the ensuing commotion.
"My One and Only" will play through Jan. 18 at Southampton Dinner Theatre, 140 Avenida Pico, San Clemente. Information: (714) 498-7576.