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STAGE REVIEW : 'Bittersuite' Moves to Burbage, Adds 7 Songs

June 13, 1989|DON SHIRLEY

"Bittersuite," the musical revue that ran for months in Van Nuys, has moved over the hill to the Burbage in West Los Angeles, with the subtitle "One More Time" attached. Seven songs that weren't in the Van Nuys version have been added, and five were dropped in the move.

It remains an immensely entertaining introduction to two remarkable songwriters, Elliot Weiss and Michael Champagne.

Quibbling is permitted over the changes in the show. A couple of the new songs, "I'll Make a Place for You," and "Lonely Man/Lonely Woman" are bland, easy-listening numbers that add nothing.

Yet three of the new songs--"World Without End," "Flight of the Phoenix" and "Rank and File"--are at the opposite end of the spectrum: challenging numbers that are so different from the rest of the material that they tend to obscure the theme of the show: the bittersweet process of becoming middle-aged. Of course, those who felt the previous version of the show was too repetitive should welcome this.

In the first act, "World" and "Phoenix" explore mystical, transcendental feelings that are untouched by the rest of the show--and "World" does it in a minimalist musical context that suggests Philip Glass more than Stephen Sondheim. "Rank and File," which now opens the second act in place of the departed "Snap Back," adds a note of political satire.

None of these is entirely successful, but it's interesting to hear Weiss and Champagne venturing into new terrain.

The sequence of some of the older numbers has been rearranged. The opening number now states the primary theme of the show more clearly. "I've Got to Be Famous" is now the second number in the show (moving from the second act), perhaps to give us a few early laughs, although it's not quite as funny as when it followed a succession of more serious numbers. "I'll Be There" has been shifted and rechoreographed from a duet into a quintet, multiplying the song's inherent humor.

Two members of the original Van Nuys cast, Carol Woodbury and director Rick Roemer, register more strongly than the three more recent arrivals (though Woodbury's voice was a bit ragged Sunday). But everyone in the cast has a moment or two when the Weiss/Champagne score takes flight, carrying both singer and audience into a communion of hearts and minds.

An audiocassette recording of selections from the score is on sale in the lobby, featuring Roemer, Woodbury and three members of the New York cast.

At 2330 Sawtelle Ave., Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets: $15-$17; (213) 478-0897.

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