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THEATER REVIEW : Songs of Sondheim, Familiar and Not : Theater review: Gem Theatre's musical revue is clever and enjoyable, but sometimes lacks panache.


GARDEN GROVE — Three men in tuxedos. Two women in white gowns and sequins. A pianist. And drapes. Drapes in many colors. Billowing drapes. Drapes everywhere. Enough drapes to make Christo jealous.

That's the cozy set-up at the Gem Theatre for "You're Gonna Love Tomorrow," a Musical Theatre Co. presentation of Stephen Sondheim songs, which opens with an appeal to the theater gods (the audience) to take pity on the players.

"You who sit up there in stern judgment/Smile on us," they sing. "You who look down on actors/And who doesn't? . . . Bless our play and smile."

And so we do.

The words that immediately come to mind to describe this production are clever, sweet, friendly, likable, pleasant, charming, sincere, cute, enjoyable, quaint, self-deprecating, jaunty (debonair would be a bit of a stretch) and not too long.

"Tomorrow," originally put together by Sondheim and Paul Lazarus for a composers' showcase at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1983, stands or falls, like all revues, on the strength and talent of its performers.

But this revue has the advantage of songs from the Sondheim catalogue that you may not have heard before--not only songs the aficionados know from shows you never see ("The Frogs" or "Saturday Night") but songs that were cut from shows you see all the time ("A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum") that maybe shouldn't have been cut.

For theater gods more interested in the familiar Sondheim standbys, "Tomorrow" has those songs, too: "Johanna," "Another Hundred People," "Being Alive," "The Miller's Son" and "Send in the Clowns."

Under George Quick's direction, the show also has fluency and pace. The continuity of mood and character develops at a comfortable tempo as the evening moves along.

On opening night, that felt best toward the end of the first act when the ensemble got off a neatly worked-out sequence of four comic vignettes that stood together on their own as a group of songs: "Pretty Little Picture," "House of Marcus Lycus," "Echo Song" and "There's Something About a War."

In other sections of the show, the performers could have used more panache and, it seemed, in the second act particularly, more musical rehearsal.

Despite Terence Alaric's fine piano accompaniment throughout, the ensemble lost vocal concentration. Some voices weakened; others had pitch problems. An attempt to turn "Send in the Clowns" into an a cappella chorale of some sort for the entire company went disastrously wrong.

Individual performances were variable, but each of the five performers was well-cast. And over all, D.C. Anderson, Christopher Carothers, Nancy Everts, Jeff Paul and Kate Staiger gave the impression that their sacred offerings were gifts for the taking.

* "You're Gonna Love Tomorrow, a Stephen Sondheim Evening," Gem Theatre, Grove Theater Center, 12852 Main St., Garden Grove. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends July 9. $20-$26. (714) 741-9550. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

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