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THEATER REVIEW

'Hello Muddah' a Pleasant, Nostalgic Musical Comedy

August 14, 1996|PHILIP BRANDES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Long on nostalgic appeal, the whimsical "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh!: The Allan Sherman Musical" at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza achieves two feats that eluded the late comic lyricist and performer--moving beyond the parody-song medium that established his overnight fame in the early 1960s and effecting a comeback after his just-as-rapid slide into obscurity.

In its West Coast premiere, this agreeable musical comedy by Douglas Bernstein and Rob Krausz strings together some of Sherman's most glittering efforts in a flimsy but serviceable history of Barry Bockman (Jim Doughan) and his childhood sweetheart, Sarah (Leslie Klein)--characters inspired by Sherman's "Frere Jacques" parody, "Sarah Jackman." Thematically grouped (and in some cases shoe-horned) into a progression of life stages, Sherman's songs chronicle the conundrums encountered by this average couple through childhood, youth, marriage, raising a family and old age.

*

In multiple roles, Karen Needle, Richard Zimmer and Eric Leviton skillfully entangle the couple in the tentacles of suburban Jewish American neuroses that fueled so much of Sherman's wit.

The creators show considerable ingenuity in paying homage to the comic tradition that spawned their icon, lacing their story with plenty of Borscht Belt routines. In the midst of a hilarious sendup of a Jewish wedding reception, Barry, returning from the emergency room after sustaining an injury during the ceremony, shrugs off his bandaged foot with a laconic "You should see the glass. . . ."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday August 15, 1996 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 13 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
'Hello Muddah'--In Wednesday's review of the play "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh!," a member of the ensemble was misidentified. Don Lucas substituted for Eric Leviton. Lucas will perform in the play for the rest of the run.

Appropriately, Doughan's Barry maintains a state of ongoing befuddlement--after all, Sherman traded heavily on his persona as the chubby, off-key, thick-spectacled nebbish at the mercy of summer camp horrors, TV repairmen and obnoxious relatives. Barry is the perfect Shermanian archetype, while Klein complements him with a sassy Ethel Merman-style delivery. Needle capably takes on the show's more demanding song and dance routines.

Still, the real stars are the songs themselves, and co-creator Krausz's staging keeps the focus squarely where it should be. The intellect lurking beneath Sherman's professed schmoedom is evident in the acronym soup of "Harvey and Sheila" (sung to "Hava Nagila") and the singular/plural eccentricities of "One Hippopotami" ("What Kind of Fool Am I?").

Other high points include the homesick letter in the famous title number, a department store sale in which rabid shoppers "Jump down, spin around, pick a dress of cotton," and nervous parents fretting about the trouble their teenagers are getting into "Downtown."

Of course, their parental worries center on dented fenders and crazy dances like the Frug rather than kids packing semiautomatic weapons. Such trivial concerns may seem like alien territory to post-boomers, but for anyone who remembers them, the show offers a return trip to a far-less-complicated era.

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* "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh!: The Allan Sherman Musical," Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza Forum Theatre, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks. Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 and 8 p.m.; Sundays 2 and 7 p.m. Ends Sept. 8. $17.50-$19.50. (805) 583-8700; (714) 740-2000; (213) 480-3232. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

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