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THEATER REVIEW : Cupid Skewered by Romantic Favorites : Cast of eight delivers the tunes with style and grace, a dash of comedy and irony thrown in.


NORTH HOLLYWOOD — A singing, dancing ensemble of four men and four women in formal evening attire affectionately embody the perils, if not the improbability, of pure romantic love in the musical roast "Cupid Flambe . . . With a Dry Whine," at the Group Repertory Theatre.

The production, charmingly written and directed by Mareli Jean Mitchel, is a stylish pastiche of Broadway, blues, classical and swing standards delivered by eight attractive performers who are exceptionally easy on the eyes and the ears.

Alternating with steamy, blissful and ironic songs about romantic love (ranging from Stephen Sondheim's "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" to Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner's "I Could Have Danced All Night") are deliciously choreographed numbers. These are comically buoyant dances that switch from the whole troupe to duets and quartets (as in the delightful all-male treatment of "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me").

Against a simple backdrop of dark curtains, high wooden stools and a podium, this war between the sexes effortlessly flows, glides, entangles and disentangles. The result is a sense of motion that creates crucial physical variety to help distract from the show's singular flaw: its top-heavy vocal agenda--a total of 32 numbers, perhaps a good eight or more than is necessary to make Cupid's devilish point. In this case, less would be more.

Meanwhile, also sparking diversity are dramatic monologues on sex (bittersweetly intoned by Bethany Carpenter), the pain of marital breakup (the vivacious-looking Ellie Valleau and music director Paul Cady) and halting withdrawal. In the last instance, a man hesitatingly explains to someone who loves him that he wishes to back off from the intensity of their relationship but, look, it's nothing personal, he'd still like to be friends (a bull's-eye impression by Dom Salinaro).

The show's casting is particularly flavorful, each performer distinctly drawn, including Beverly Allen's towering "dumb blond," James Stellos' rubber-faced demeanor, Lisa Standish's sterling vocal power and Brent Gettelfinger's beaming affability.

Under the moody dark lighting of Van Boudreaux and accompanied by two musicians visible off stage (pianist Derek Breshears and drummer Robert Mills), the production conveys the polish of a classy nightclub act in some posh uptown watering hole.

Though none of the songs is original and on a few occasions actually they escape the vocal range of the performer, it's hard to resist the ebullient delivery of such oldies as "Makin' Whoopee," "Stuff Like That There" and "The Trolley Song."

Where and When

Location: Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood.

Hours: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Oct. 30.

Price: $12 general, $10 senior citizens and students.

Call: (818) 769-PLAY.

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