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Re-creating Mgm's Mickey, Judy Musicals In 'Babes'

July 14, 1987|LYNNE HEFFLEY

"Of course I like your song, Mickey. Even Helen Forrest would love it!" Sound familiar? Everything about "Babes," a young teen musical at Theatre of Arts, is meant to evoke those MGM Rooney-Garland musicals, where a hit Broadway show evolves from a soda shop dream.

In that, the show succeeds. Bow ties, slicked-down hair, plaid skirts and sweaters; faithful Judy, glamour girl Lana, spoiler June, the big producer's son and big-talent Mickey; boogie, tap and torch numbers; young love spurned, young love returned--nothing is missing.

Nothing, that is, except the movie musical magic where every kid was a polished pro, Paul Whiteman led the orchestra, songs and dances could blossom into Busby Berkeley extravaganzas and nobody could beat Garland's voice or Rooney's timing.

"Babes" is more earthbound. Attractive teen-agers, the 18 cast members under Glenn Freeze's direction are undeniably troupers--even the tiny Theatre of Arts space, an airless, steamy shoebox of a theater, didn't dim those 100-watt smiles. These kids can dance (Julie Tea choreographed), some can sing and a few have real presence on stage--Stephanie Block as man-hunter Nancy and Damion Dietz as Doug, her target, shine in one of the show's best numbers, "Let's Get Lost."

Amy Buxton as little sis Betsy is a captivating, dark-haired sprite with a big clear voice. She and Shannon Roy (as Judy) share a sweet sisterly duet entitled "Tomorrow a Rainbow." Darren Fields in his small role as goofy Purvis seems solidly grounded in his profession.

Others say their lines, but don't yet know how to mean them.

The plot moves along--writers David Cuthbert and Bob Bruce have the formula down pat. "Dynamite When We Dance" and "Big Band Boogie" come closest to bringing the '40s era to life, but Ruth Moore's score, while tuneful enough, is memorable for the wrong reasons, giving the cast some awkward lyrics to deliver. "Barely past our puberty, we're feeling rather Shuberty" goes one remarkable line.

If an eager-to-please show and an endearingly energetic young cast is all that's required, "Babes" delivers. Some of these kids should, and undoubtedly will, pursue a career in show biz. Friends and family can be proud of their efforts. For the general public, however, a $12 ticket makes the show a high-priced amateur venture.

Performances continue at 4128 Wilshire Blvd. through Sunday, then move to Anaheim's Grand Dinner Theatre July 27-Aug. 31, the William Bristol Civic Auditorium in Bellflower July 31-Aug. 1, La Mirada Civic Theatre Aug. 28 and 29 and Garden Grove's Gem Theatre Sept. 11 and 12. (213) 480-3232. $12.

Note: Proceeds from the shows in Bellflower and the Aug. 24 and 31 performances in Anaheim will be donated to teen drug abuse projects and youth counseling services.

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