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THEATER BEAT

'Chapin' Struggles to Find Lyric Unity

July 26, 1996|SCOTT COLLINS

Harry Chapin, the folk-pop singer who died in 1981, was a latter-day troubadour who wrote of ordinary people: taxi drivers, dry cleaners, deejays and the like. Sometimes Chapin managed to draw fascinating portraits of these plain folks, and sometimes . . . zzzzzzz.

Both modes are on display in International City Theatre's revival of "Harry Chapin: Lies & Legends," a somewhat overdone, 20-song tribute. Though meant to be moving and nostalgic, the show is often like Chapin's weaker numbers: competent and well intentioned but kind of dull.

The five-member cast--Ciro Barbaro, Dan Collins, Hilaire Lockwood, Kevin Loreque and Kathryn Skatula--yield fine theatrical interpretations of Chapin's biggest hits, including "Taxi," a wistful story song that worked because of a tight narrative frame and a good melodic hook. But in general the numbers are too self-contained to work as musical theater, where lyrics are by nature open-ended and full of wordplay.

Director Caryn Morse has maintained high production values throughout, including a multitiered, faux-wood set by David Wisniewski. Collins provides the fanciful choreography, and Darryl Archibald directs the five-piece orchestra.

* "Harry Chapin: Lies & Legends," International City Theatre, Long Beach City College, Clark Street and Harvey Way, Long Beach. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Aug. 25. $20. (310) 420-4128. Running time: 2 hours.

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