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VALLEY WEEKEND | THEATER REVIEW

'You & Me' at Its Best in the Bloom of Youth

The musical, which tracks two friends from age 5 to over 50, begins with energy but fizzles with middle age.

February 29, 1996|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

During one song in the new Lloyd J. Schwartz-Ben Lanzarone musical, "You & Me," Hughie (Gary Imhoff), a go-getter entrepreneur-turned-mayor, complains about "middle-aged spread." Though it isn't visibly affecting Hughie, middle-aged spread is all over "You & Me."

Director-choreographer Randy Brenner's production at the Ventura Court Theatre follows the musical's lead throughout; thus, when things are peppy and spry early on, the energy level suggests that we're in for a lively show about two lifelong friends, Hughie and Russell (Dan Sachoff). But when middle age starts rumbling in along with more internalized drama, the gas leaks out of this show like an old, wheezing car. When Hughie, Patricia, his ex (Kirsten Benton), Russell and wife Donna (Ilene Graff), exit singing about "so many days ahead," we can't see them coming. Everyone's best days seem long gone.

Schwartz's book tracks Hughie, the confident leader, and Russell, the worrying follower, from 5 to 50-something, through boyhood, high school football games, war, running a hardware business and winning a mayor's race. Schwartz flashes back and forth, sometimes clumsily as the complications settle in with Donna (cheerleader, loyal housewife) and Patricia (class valedictorian, career-driven). The story predictably shows the buddies going through a repetitious pattern of triumphs followed by breakups followed by makeups--drama on a graph chart.

As cut and dried as a lot of this is, strange incongruities keep popping up that indicate that Schwartz and Lanzarone never agreed on a unified style or period. "It's So Easy to Say I Love You," a cute doo-wop number (with Brenner's freshest directing touches), pegs the characters as being in high school in the '50s. But when Hughie and Russell are drafted for war, they're sent to France during World War II. "You & Me" is all about time passages, but we don't think that also includes time travel.

Lanzarone's derivative music isn't a problem early on--the complicated singing patterns, unexpected minor keys and mood swings keep things alert even as they borrow heavily from Sondheim. By Act II, the verve is gone, replaced by grinding slow and mid-tempos, with only Benton's impassioned "I Will Never Know" hitting a dramatic vein.

The cast tries to keep things moving, but the story and songs won't let them. Imhoff is all tautness and over-achievement, a good counterbalance to Sachoff, who injects a level of sadness that the book never earns on its own. Graff and Benton have strong voices but are stuck in strictly subordinate roles, and Benton's acting comes alive only when she's singing.

Some built-in jokes on Raymond G. Storey's garage set are more curious than funny, while John D. Palmer's bland lights don't help the cause. Why Lanzarone's music is half on tape and half live is just one more oddity in a musical that cries out for rethinking.

DETAILS

* WHAT: "You & Me."

* WHERE: Ventura Court Theatre, 12417 Ventura Court, Studio City.

* WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 7 p.m. Sunday; 8 p.m. March 8 and 15; 3 and 8 p.m. March 9 and 16; 2 p.m. March 10 and 17. Ends March 17.

* HOW MUCH: $15-$20.

* HOW: (213) 466-1767.

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