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THEATER BEAT

'Cleopatra's' Reach Exceeds Its Grasp

June 23, 1995|PHILIP BRANDES

Perhaps "Cleopatra, the Musical" would have fared better as the campy romp its title might suggest. Unfortunately, creators Miguel Santiago (book and lyrics) and Bronwen Jones (music) had a loftier ambition--a serious re-envisioning of the Queen of the Nile as an early feminist martyr. That goal far exceeds the implementation in this non-professional production trapped in its mid-sized, high-profile venue at the Hollywood Playhouse.

In the title role, Jill Niemela proves a talented and compelling singer, (so does Luzzie Rose Militante as her loyal handmaiden, Iras). But it's hard to sustain a serious tone when Cleo presents herself to Caesar (Kip Driver) wrapped in an early precursor of an Ace Bandage and crooning "A Woman Always Knows What a Man Wants" to the early percussive precursors of Latin-tempo castanets.

Caesar's subsequent assassination with an early precursor of a steak knife derails the temptress's plans to install herself as Queen of Rome (the legal technicality that no such position exists under Roman law notwithstanding). She begins a romantic alliance with Mark Antony (Michael McNeil) in a second ill-fated power-play, and the rest is somewhat dubious history. Painfully earnest performances mean any laughs are unintentional.

* "Cleopatra, the Musical," Hollywood Playhouse, 1445 N. Las Palmas, Hollywood. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 and 7 p.m. Ends July 2. $25. (213) 466-1767. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

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