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Theater Reviews : Errors of Comedy : At Saddleback, the Classic 'Boys From Syracuse' Falls Short of the High Style Rodgers & Hart Intended

March 16, 1994|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

MISSION VIEJO — "If it's good enough for Shakespeare, it's good enough for us" is the authors' disclaimer at the top of "The Boys From Syracuse" at Saddleback College's McKinney Theatre.

We could amplify that to "and if it's good enough for Rodgers & Hart, it's good enough for us."

Lorenz Hart was, with Cole Porter, the ultimately sophisticated lyricist of the 20th Century, obsessed by inner rhymes, intellectual puns and often by flawless lyric poetry. Richard Rodgers wrote more interesting music to Hart's patterns than he ever did to that corn-fed simplist Oscar Hammerstein.

The individuality of their combined talents in its giddy heyday was never more evident than in the light-fingered, escapist score they wrote for "The Boys From Syracuse," George Abbott's 1938 adaptation of Shakespeare's "The Comedy of Errors."

Two immortal love songs came from this score: "This Can't Be Love" and "Falling in Love With Love." The team's comic genius flowed into "He and She," their shameless will to entertain in the riotous "Sing for Your Supper."

Any revival of this classic--an example of the pure fun of musical comedy in a Great Depression that desperately needed a laugh--has to have a sense of humor, boundless energy and, most important, high style.

Director Gregory de Silva's staging definitely has its tongue in its cheek and enough energy to light up the city of Ephesus on a dark night.

But except for a few of the principals, there is little style here, presumably because those without it were never told how to do it.

To some it comes naturally. To begin with, conductor (and musical director with de Silva) Lee Kreter knows the Broadway sound and gets it from his orchestra.

He's also generally tuned into the tempos, although sometimes inclined to give the ballads an anachronistic gentleness, particularly in "You Have Cast Your Shadow on the Sea." In the show's period, even love songs had verve.

*

Style also comes naturally to Edward Snyder as Antipholus of Syracuse and his Dromio, John Petersen. Snyder has a fine, raucous comic sense and a vibrant musical-comedy voice that's perfect for the period, while Petersen knows his way around physical humor that comes out of character.

Richard Stauffacher is close to the mark as Antipholus of Ephesus but is enough distant from high style to take the edge off his performance. His Dromio, Tony Houghton, also knows his shtick, but it's just that, without a developed character to bolster it.

There is also a fine, period-style feel to the performances of Susan Crouse as Luciana, sister to Adrian (Olivia Anderson) who is the wife of Antipholus of Ephesus, and Beth Ann Monaco as Luce, shrewish wife of Dromio of Ephesus.

Crouse and Monaco have fine voices for the genre and understand the style. Anderson, like Stauffacher, is close on, but hasn't yet relaxed into the aura of the era. In the supporting cast, the style is best captured by Matthew John Snyder, as both the strait-laced Duke of Ephesus and the big-voiced but puppy-dog Sergeant who drags Antipholus of Syracuse off to the slammer in "Come With Me."

Wally Huntoon's entertaining settings are versatile and of the period, but Charles Castagno's costumes are ugly on both men and women and have little to do with either ancient Greece or '30s musical comedy; the two Antipholuses look like they're dressed for some lodge initiation. And Susan Errickson's unimaginative choreography looks recycled from an old Arthur Murray class.

* "The Boys From Syracuse," McKinney Theatre, Saddleback College, 2800 Marguerite Parkway, Mission Viejo. Wednesday-Saturday, 8 p.m. Ends Saturday. $9-$10. (714) 582-4656. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes. Edward Snyder Antipholus of Syracuse

John Petersen: Dromio of Syracuse

Richard Stauffacher: Antipholus of Ephesus

Tony Houghton: Dromio of Ephesus

Susan Crouse: Luciana

Olivia Anderson: Adriana

Beth Ann Monaco: Luce

Matthew John Snyder: Duke/Sergeant

A Saddleback College Department of Theatre Arts production. Book adapted by George Abbott from Shakespeare's "The Comedy of Errors." Lyrics by Lorenz Hart. Music by Richard Rodgers. Directed by Gregory de Silva. Musical directors: Lee Kreter and De Silva. Conductor: Lee Kreter. Choreography: Susan Errickson. Scenic design: Wally Huntoon. Costume design: Charles Castagno. Lighting/sound design: Kevin Cook. Stage manager: Brian Rupp.

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