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THEATER REVIEW

'Strut' Stands Out With Night of Boundless Energy

August 07, 1996|F. KATHLEEN FOLEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If you're in the mood for some fascinating rhythm, truck on down to "The All Night Strut!," currently raising the roof at the Cinegrill in Hollywood. A revue of music of the '30s and '40s, "Strut" is escapist entertainment of the highest order, performed by a butter-smooth ensemble of seasoned, sophisticated pros.

Creator-choreographer-director Fran Charnas has spent years touring her crowd-pleasing hit in theatrical venues from Detroit to Monte Carlo. The present company consists of Lori Flynn, Steve Gideon, Rachel Oliver and Lance Roberts--all "Strut" veterans who combine sizzling singing skills with the practiced ease of experience.

For Charnas also, familiarity breeds excellence. It's been almost 20 years since "Strut" first premiered, yet Charnas' staging is as crisp and vibrant as ever. The costumes and choreography in this "all-singing, all-dancing boogie-woogie celebration" exactly replicate Charnas' original staging. On the small Cinegrill stage, however, the full-on dance numbers are noticeably constrained, although the performers adapt valiantly to their limited playing area.

All onstage display unflappable savoir-faire and the stamina of draught horses as they gallop through their demanding rounds. When one considers they have back-to-back shows on Saturday evenings, appreciation turns to awe. Saturday's "Almost All Night Strut!" must require energy equivalent to an Outward Bound expedition.

Musical director Brad Ellis, who also plays the piano in the excellent three-piece combo, masterfully paces the musical numbers, which range in style from quaint period pieces to rollicking blues tunes.

Although the 1959 gospel hit "Operator" veers out of context, the husky-voiced Oliver (a former Miss Black America) rips off a rousing camp meeting version that transcends period--or is simply transcendent, period.

"I'll Be Seeing You" from 1938, which became a popular wartime standard, ends the first act. Whether wistful farewell or poignant elegy, Flynn's sweet-voiced rendition is definitive. The typically jocular Roberts turns effectively grim in "Brother Can You Spare a Dime?," a Depression-era lament that takes on a chilling immediacy--perhaps because what has been a nostalgic "period" chestnut for so long now seems dismayingly topical. Gideon possesses a mellow voice and the most nimble feet in this powerhouse production.

After all, it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing. So book your tables and hit that jive before this engrossing, hilarious and thoroughly entertaining evening sells out.

* "The All Night Strut!," Cinegrill, Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, 7000 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 10:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Ends Aug. 25. $25 plus $10 minimum. (213) 466-7000. Running time: 2 hours.

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