OK, movie buffs, time for a trivia quiz. Which actress crooned love songs to Nelson Eddy? What was Sonja Henie's trademark footwear? And for the bonus point--who were Richard Whiting and Sidney Clare?
Jeanette MacDonald; ice skates, and the songwriters responsible for "On the Good Ship Lollipop," of course.
And what do all of the above have in common? They are among the many film figures paid irreverent tribute in "A Day in Hollywood / A Night in the Ukraine," a salute to the golden era of the silver screen.
This madcap revue from 1980 is, as its title hints, an imaginative and quirky combination, and it is staged with skill and exuberance by the South Coast Musical Theatre. The material resists dissection, but here goes: Act I is a musical sendup of the movies circa 1930-45, and Act II is a sendup of Chekhov (that's right, Chekhov) as if performed by the Marx Brothers.
There is not a lot of rhyme or reason to this mix, and that eventually trips it up. But the cumulative effect is a little gem of a show that is wicked one moment, wide-eyed the next, playing fast-paced and funny under the direction of Daniel R. Trevino.
The script takes some risks that pay off in big laughs, notably in a wry comment on movie censorship delivered by tap dancers who recite the motion picture production code. "I Love a Film Cliche" recalls all the trite lines uttered into B-movie perpetuity, and "Jeanette MacDonald" tosses barbed musical harpoons at "Nelson Eddy."
Whimsy is rampant: Feet dance on oversize piano keys in sync with the notes of "Beyond the Blue Horizon," and precise vocal harmonies are accompanied by chopsticks tapping out the beat to "Japanese Sandman." This show is packed with visual wit, nicely executed and complemented by the uncluttered lines of the staging, set and costumes.
"A Night in the Ukraine" throws the cheeky "Marx Brothers" into a sketch involving a rich Russian dowager and her beautiful daughter, who falls in love with a lowly coachman. The plot is tongue-in-cheek Chekhovian, but plot really couldn't matter less. The ensuing high jinks are what matter, and they are remarkably reminiscent of the nonstop zaniness of the Marx Brothers' films. But the story pushes on too long after its point is made and eventually starts to collapse under its own weight.
The players in the fine cast double as singing and dancing ushers in Act I and featured players in Act II. Roger DeWitt as Serge B. Samovar (a.k.a. Groucho), Jennifer Billhimer as Gino the gardener (Harpo) and John Massey as Carlo the footman (Chico) turn in inspired performances. They get good support from Loren Silber as the flighty daughter, David Hickey as her fervent suitor and Nina LoMonaco as the comically imperious dowager.
'A DAY IN HOLLYWOOD / A NIGHT IN THE UKRAINE' A South Coast Musical Theatre production. Book and lyrics by Dick Vosburgh. Music by Frank Lazarus. Director Daniel R. Trevino. With Jennifer Billhimer, Roger DeWitt, David Hickey, Nina LoMonaco, John Massey, John Rizza, Julie Seaborn, Loren Silber. Musical director Daniel R. Trevino. Choreographer William Lett. Set design Ronald Kennihan. Costume design Rodney Munoz. Lighting design Milton Markey. Plays at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, with 2:30 p.m. matinees on Sundays. Closes Nov. 1. Tickets $8; $6 students and seniors. Little Theatre, University High School, 4771 Campus Drive, Irvine; (714) 640-6306.