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Good News! The '20s Are Still Roaring : Fullerton Light Opera Finds a Gem in Dust

February 22, 1996|T. H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

FULLERTON — There's an awful lot to like about Fullerton Civic Light Opera's production of the DeSylva-Brown-Henderson classic musical "Good News." But first you have to accept the fact that this was the way they wrote 1920s musicals, with coloring-book plots and no traumas on the horizon larger than winning next Saturday's big game.

Even though the more ambitious "Showboat" was already stunning Broadway audiences, they were still flocking to musicals such as this, and the reason is obvious. It takes no effort to enjoy, the tunes are memorable--did any show produce more standards?--and the football players dance as trippingly as the sorority girls.

There has been some minor fiddling with the show in this new adaptation by Mark Madama--who also directs--and Wayne Bryan. But nothing that changes the show's sparkle. And a few latter-day uturistic predictions that weren't in the original ("College football is a passing fad, nothing that will make any money") provide new yuks and somehow seem to fit.

This version started out at Music Theatre of Wichita and uses that production's sets and costumes, which are pretty jazzy. These include period football uniforms and collegiate baggy pants--and flapper frocks skimpy enough to grab the attention of any tired businessman forced into the theater by a culture-hungry wife.

But it is Madama's breakneck pace that sets the show's tone, along with the brisk conducting of musical director Lee Kreter, who once again makes his group sometimes really sound like a Broadway pit band.

Madama has even given the young cast a fine veneer of Jazz Age naivete and Roaring '20s elan. They seem to know how thin the book is and that the only way to play it is full out. They handle the tunes with a similar sense of abandon, which is perfect for this score, which includes "The Best Things in Life Are Free," "Just Imagine" and others.

Robert Townsend is just right as Tom Marlowe, the stalwart simpleton of a football hero who can't play ball without being able to spot his girl in the stands, if and when he decides which one is the right girl.

Catherine Best is the snooty one and is funny along with being charming despite her character's obnoxious surface. She is overshadowed by the simple honesty and sheer spunk of Elna Binckes as the girl Tom really loves (and who helps him pass astronomy so he can play) and tries to spur him on from the stands.

The members of the supporting cast bubble and gyrate very nicely and move like lightning in Rob Barron's athletic choreography (though where in the world is that big tap number?).

The show is almost stolen by Jim Raposa as bumbling bench bum Bobby Randall, and Babe, the girl he winds up with, played by Heather Hoppus. Not only do they have the '20s down pat, they look like they've been reincarnated from 1928 Broadway in the full bloom of their collegiate idiocy.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Robert Townsend: Tom Marlowe

Elna Binckes: Connie Lane

Jim Raposa: Bobby Randall

Heather Hoppus: Babe O'Day

Catherine Best: Patricia Bingham

A Fullerton Civic Light Opera production of the DeSylva, Brown and Henderson musical, adapted by Mark Madama and Wayne Bryan, with additional lyrics by Bryan. Directed by Madama. Musical direction: Lee Kreter. Choreography: Rob Barron. Lighting design: Donna Ruzika. Costume coordination: Ambra Wakefield. Production stage manager: Donna R. Parsons. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

* What: "Good News."

* When: Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. Ends March 3.

* Where: Plummer Auditorium, 201 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton.

* Whereabouts: Exit the Riverside (91) Freeway at Harbor Boulevard and head north to Chapman, then turn right; or take the Orange (57) Freeway to Chapman/Fullerton exit and head west.

* Wherewithal: $4 for adults, $3 for seniors over 60 and children under 13.

* Where to call: (714) 248-2027.

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