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STAGE REVIEW : 'HOT TKTS!': Musical Banquet of Broadway in the '80s

February 15, 1988|MARK CHALON SMITH

The timing for "HOT TKTS!"--UC Irvine's spirited revue of the decade's top musicals--couldn't be better. It's not often that Broadway dominates the entertainment psyche, but just that seems to be happening these days with the recent opening in New York of "The Phantom of the Opera" and the imminent Los Angeles arrival of "Les Miserables."

"HOT TKTS!" enthusiastically rides the wave of this interest. Written and directed by drama instructors Dennis Castellano and Gerard Babb and performed by a likable and mostly adept student cast, the show is a banquet.

More than 80 songs from such box office burners as "Cats," "Little Shop of Horrors," "La Cage Aux Folles," "Nine," "Starlight Express" and--yes--the moody "Les Mis" and the operatic "Phantom" have been wedged into a bit more than two hours.

Most are just snippets, which can be frustrating, especially when a personal favorite is cut off after the first chorus. But, since the goal is to provide a comprehensive overview of themes and styles, it makes some sense. "HOT TKTS!" accomplishes what it sets out to do.

It underscores how much the musical theater's resurgence owes to the Brits, especially composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. But it also carries a suave to silly American accent. From the cool-as-a-blue-note "Sophisticated Ladies" to the sprawling, countrified "Big River" to the goofy "Little Shop of Horrors," tunes turn up to emphasize that the musical itself, like jazz and the blues, is an American original.

Any argument to the contrary is squashed by a section devoted to Broadway history, featuring numbers from "Can-Can," "Mame," "Porgy and Bess," "West Side Story" and "Oklahoma" among others.

Castellano and Babb bring an almost scholarly leaning to the proceedings, having their cast introduce segments of the show under such titles as "British Invasions," "Relationships" and "Trends and Directions." The (thankfully) non-talky prefaces emphasize that '80s musicals have been more provocative than their predecessors, routinely taking on such subjects as homosexuality, feminism, class consciousness and poverty.

Other segments--like "Fascinatin' Rhythms," a giddy homage to such dancing extravaganzas as "The Tap Dance Kid," "42nd Street" and "My One and Only"--are pure entertainment. Mark Knowles' strutting choreography, good fun throughout, sparkles most when played out in tap shoes, and Richard Triplett's sherbet-colored costumes help generate the fizz.

The busy, 16-member cast can boast several well-scaled voices that, for the most part, interpret the songs nicely. Steven Benson, to name one, has the kind of warm to hot, personality-rich baritone that belongs in musical comedy. There are some lapses, a slipping out of key or a dramatic posturing every now and then. But more often than not, "HOT TKTS!" is a tasty sampler. "HOT TKTS!"

UC Irvine's original revue of songs from musicals. Directed and written by Dennis Castellano, Gerard Babb and Mark Knowles. With Kitty Balay, Steven Benson, Terrence M. Carey, Sarah Dacey, Martin Drobac III, Kelli Evans, Suzi Freeman, Suzanne D. Harrer, Alisa Hayashida, Scott McKay Hayes, Heather Hoppus, Jim Hormel, Paul Horne, Nicholas Johnson, Loren Silber and Earl D. Weaver. Choreography by Mark Knowles. Musical direction by Dennis Castellano. Costumes by Richard Triplett. Set by Cesar Holguin. Lighting by Craig A. Pierce. Plays Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. with Saturday matinees at 2 p.m. through Feb. 20 at the campus' Fine Arts Concert Hall. Tickets: $9 and $8. (714) 856-5000 and (714) 856-6616.

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