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Theater : 'Our Song' Hits a Flat Note

March 07, 1994|DON SHIRLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the late '70s, singles had discovered the importance of talking about their relationships ad nauseam but had yet to learn the meaning of co-dependency.

That's the world of "They're Playing Our Song," a musical comedy set implacably in that era. Since its premiere in Los Angeles and its subsequent Broadway run, it hasn't been seen very often. They haven't been playing its songs with any regularity.

No wonder. There are only nine of them, and except for a couple of numbers near the top, most are generic pop ditties. They have a hard time grabbing a theater audience, especially in a hall as gigantic as the Terrace Theater, where Long Beach Civic Light Opera has chosen to disinter them.

For a show that was reportedly inspired by the relationship between its own composer and lyricist--Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager--the songs here are remarkably impersonal.

And sometimes even worse. The first act finale, "Just for Tonight," apparently was added late in the process--it's listed on the Broadway program but not on the original Los Angeles program. Yet it's the low point of the score, with impossible lines like "I'll be my feelings, and I know they'll lead me home."

Neil Simon's book isn't much more memorable. It contains his usual supplement of one-liners, and perks along capably enough in the first act, but it falls apart in the second.

It's a boy-meets-girl, girl-loses-boy, boy-returns-to-girl story. The main problem is that the middle chapter is too lopsided in favor of the boy.

Sonia Walsk is a mess, hopelessly co-dependent on her unseen ex-lover, often showing up as much as a day late for appointments with her new partner Vernon Gersch. While Simon made up a few references to Vernon's flaws as well--something about his professional jealousy of Sonia and how that interferes with their love life--there is no onstage evidence that Vernon's problems amount to much. Sonia is the one who would drive anyone crazy.

So her second act lecture to Vernon about her needs sounds like so much hot air. And their reconciliation is a hollow attempt to give the audience a supposedly happy ending.

Lorna Patterson, assisted by a parade of costumes that broadcast her dizziest side, is a strong Sonia, with a voice that's equally at home in a recording studio or on a stage. But Jack Wagner's Vernon lacks a distinctive comic charge like the one that Robert Klein brought to the original production.

Each lead is backed by a trio of singing and dancing "voices," alter egos who enliven the action occasionally, as does a parade of images on a screen at the back of the stage. Glenn Casale directed.

But generally this show is perilously thin. While it might have been less of a stretch in the smaller Center Theater next door, here it pales in comparison to the Kopit/Yeston "Phantom"--which it replaced on the season schedule in an attempt to cut costs.

* "They're Playing Our Song," Terrace Theater, Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday matinees, 2 p.m. Ends March 20. $14-$38. (310) 432-7927. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes. Jack Wagner: Vernon Gersch Lorna Patterson: Sonia Walsk Brad Aspel, Roger Castellano, Steve Moore: Voices of Vernon ReNae Larsen Davis, Ivy Fox, Tracy Lore: Voices of Sonia

A Long Beach Civic Light Opera production. Book by Neil Simon. Music by Marvin Hamlisch. Lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager. Directed by Glenn Casale. Musical direction by Dennis Castellano. Choreographed by Wanda Richert-Preston. Scenic Consultant Bradley Kaye. Lights by Tom Ruzika. Costumes by Garland Riddle. Sound by Jon Gottlieb and Philip G. Allen. Hair and make-up by Elena Breckenridge.

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