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THEATER : What They Did for Love : The musical 'Personals' is a boy-meets-girl play for the '90s. The production will open tonight.

October 30, 1992|JANICE ARKATOV | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Janice Arkatov writes regularly about theater for The Times

"We all want love--and to be loved," announced Darrin Baker, who's directing the West Coast premiere of the musical "Personals," opening tonight at Actors Alley. "Sometimes we go to crazy extremes to find it. A lot of people turn to personal ads as a way to pre-screen blind dates."

The show takes the form of a series of vignettes--with a cast of six playing up to nine characters each--tracing the budding relationship of defensive, no-nonsense businesswoman Clare and all-American, likable-guy Sam, who'd been attracted to each other as neighbors but never formally introduced.

"One of the show's themes," Baker said, "is how love often falls in your lap when you're not looking for it."

With music, book and lyrics by a team of eight writers including Steven Schwartz ("Godspell"), Alan Menken ("Beauty and the Beast") and Michael Skloff ("A . . . My Name Is Alice"), "Personals" originally bowed in New York in 1986. "It did fairly well, and everyone who saw it said it was a little gem of a show," Baker noted. "But it's been untouched; no one's done it here. The nice thing is, it's even more timely now."

Each of the vignettes, he added, "is like a mini-play. Sometimes we tell the story with dialogue; some scenes are self-contained songs--but they play like scenes. A lot of the show plays light and spoofy, but there's also a wonderful underlying message: that whether we're in a new relationship or a 15-year marriage, we have to go back to square one, find the thing about that person we originally loved."

Baker, 27, an actor and director who established his career doing children's theater in his native Toronto, is not a member of Actors Alley, but lobbied artistic director Jeremiah Morris to let him take a stab at the show. "We've only got four weeks to get the show up," he noted, "so it's been a lot of hard work. But I'm thrilled, because I've got six of the most amazing musical-theater performers."

"Personals" producer and Actors Alley member Duchess Dale describes herself as a "musical theater fanatic--I love listening to show tunes at home. And the music in this show is wonderful: lots of ensemble pieces and some great solos for women. Most of all, it's a fun show; it doesn't take itself so seriously, nor make huge moral judgments.

"Boy meets girl--how much more traditional can you get?" she asked rhetorically. "This is about how you do that in the '90s." The producer is content to leave the veracity of the subject material to the show's writers. "I'm taking it on faith," she said with a laugh. "Yes, I did look at some personal ads in the L.A. Weekly. But beyond that, I might have trouble explaining any other research to my husband."

Where and When

What: "Personals."

Location: Actors Alley, 12135 Riverside Drive, North Hollywood.

Hours: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays, through Dec. 13.

Price: $18 to $20.

Call: (818) 508-4200.

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