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Stage Beat

'Showstoppers!' at Le Montage / The Groundlings' Sunday Company 'Moundbuilders' at Olio / 'First Breeze of Summer' at Theater of Arts

December 04, 1987|RAY LOYND

Unfamiliar tunes from Broadway shows cast a seductive light to hidden Broadway in the cabaret revue "Showstoppers!"

Indeed, this musical divertissement will soon be entitled "Hidden Broadway," a more apt title for a production that revives rich numbers from shows that flopped on Broadway.

"Showstoppers!" opened last June in a different dinner venue, and producer-director Michael Chapman has since moved his cabaret to the stylish Le Montage Restaurant in the Filmland Corporate Center in Culver City.

The dinner showroom seats 75 and the atmosphere suggests elegant nightclub scenes in old Hollywood movies. Younger patrons may find the formal decorum a bit daunting. The food, on the other hand, unlike any other dinner theater we've known, is excellent.

The momentum, the musical arrangements from a live trio, and the lyrical twists seem now even brighter. The talent is blade sharp. Of the three alternating quartets, the four performers reviewed (George Solomon, Susan Edwards, Richard Dornan and Maureen Mershon) vocalize with a vigor that suggests Gotham. This sense of Broadway is the secret of the show.

Where else can you hear the sardonic "Fran & Janie" and "Diary of a Homecoming Queen" (music and lyrics by Craig Carnelia) from "Is There Life After High School?" (a flop at the Ethel Barrymore after 12 performances in 1982). Or where are you going to catch the wonderfully bawdy "Phone Call" (a.k.a. "The Butler's Song," music and lyrics by Stan Daniels) from "So Long, 174th Street" (the Harkness, 1976, closed after 16 performances)?

Such unremembered showstoppers are mixed with numbers from such popular musicals as "Carousel" and "Woman of the Year."

The production rotates singers and numbers every night, which may explain why Chapman--in a show otherwise improved--still fails to give the patron a program that links performing talent with specific numbers and musicals. But theater buffs deserve it.

Performances at 1000 Washington Blvd., Culver City, are dinner, 7 p.m., show Thursdays, 9 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays, 9 and 11:l5 p.m., indefinitely. Tickets: $15, plus $10 minimum food and beverage charge; (213) 465-0070.

'Sunday, Funny Sunday'

The Groundlings have a new bunch of graduates in a Sunday Company called "Sunday, Funny Sunday." The 13 Sabbath comics are a bright adjunct to the Groundlings' first-string regulars.

These may be the fresh-scrubbed kids on the comedy block but, except for a few lapses in material, the new show seldom looks second string. The performers are both distinctive and uniformly engaging. Grads of the Groundlings School of Improvisation, the members are pretty good actors and funny most of the time. A few of their rehearsed sketches self-destruct (notably a sketch about writing trashy novels).

Others are wry and humorously satiric ("The Tiny Marabino Film Fest," sonorously celebrating such films as "Burn, Rubber, Burn"). On occasion a moment seems inspired (Claudette Wells' quick, face-saving alert, for example, in self-mocking her cumbersome work in a Shakespeare improv gone awry: "Who's that black girl who can't speak?" she yells at her imaginary Shakespearean self).

Patrick Stack and Peter Hastings are ripe as two orthodox Jewish jazz musicians, ringlets and all, in "Club Foote." Christie Mellor is altogether fresh and even fanciful in the opening number of a traditional Japanese singer warbling "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" And Bridget Sienna and D. D. Howard, in "Koffee Klutch," appear right out of Garrison Keillor's "Prairie Home Companion."

A rocking live score (musical director Willie Etra on keyboards, Greg Kanaga on drums) lends a strong touch. Performances at 7307 Melrose Ave. run Sundays at 7:30 p.m., indefinitely. Tickets: $8.50; (213) 934-9700.

\f7 'Moundbuilders'

Playwright Lanford Wilson's parable about the dangers of fooling with Mother Earth is difficult to watch unless the production develops the forbidding, inexorable power of the rising lake in the play.

That doesn't happen in director Bob Hughes' ambitious but failed production at the Olio. When the production does finally spark, it's too late to salvage this drama about an archeological dig and the impieties that swirl from it.

"Moundbuilders" (1975) is thematically provocative, with interesting liberal, self-absorbed archeologists sharing an old house on a dig in southern Illinois. They run afoul of a bitter and jealous young landowner (the production's single standout performance by Robert Fredrickson) who cherishes motels instead of Indian mounds.

But the pacing is agonizing. And too much of the acting is either undercooked (Bob McFarland's self-important and self-pitying scientist) or overdone (Krista Eulberg's sodden, tiresomely self-conscious and cynical intellectual).

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