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VALLEY WEEKEND | THEATER REVIEW

'Songs the Girls Sang' Strikes an Emotional Chord

The musical revue has men reinterpreting women's states of mind. Good acting and singing keep the show crisp.

August 22, 1996|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Straight folks who are puzzled by gay men's longtime cult attraction to Judy Garland might get some clarification watching the musical revue, "Songs the Girls Sang," at Ovations. The show has a surprising depth of passion. Through it, and David Perkin's segue songs, the gay male's fascination with womanhood receives a rare forum.

This distillation of Broadway numbers from "Bye Bye Birdie" to "Baby," confronts the need for emotional expression--and how women tend to be better at it than men. Perkins' key lyrics go, "When I was a little boy/I wanted to sing the songs the girls sang," which is why we have the performing trio of Alan Palmer (also director and choreographer), Tod Macofsky and Richard Brown singing songs written for women.

This isn't about doing a drag show--there's very little drag on view--but about men reinterpreting women's states of mind.

That makes it all sound heavy, when it's mostly as light as a feather boa. Director Palmer allows virtually no pauses in the intermission-less show, and keeps switching gears and moods without being mechanical about it.

Nevertheless, Palmer allows himself some of the show's more intense dramatic moments, especially in songs such as Michael Gore's ballad of a lonely woman, "When There's No One," and "Michael," William Dreskin's narrative song of a woman trying to win back her ex. Palmer's high, virtually soprano voice and good actor's sense create a fine poetry of loss.

Macofsky isn't the actor Palmer is, but he's a more commanding singer, as in one of the "Baby" numbers, "Story Goes On," and another Richard Maltby Jr.-David Shire tune, "I've Been Here Before." Indeed, Maltby-Shire are the songwriters of choice here, with six of the show's 24 songs.

This isn't terrific news to non-fans of Maltby-Shire, but taken selectively, their tunes hit on contemporary relationships in a way little of the Broadway musical world does.

*

Brown balances his colleagues with the sharpest comic chops, reaching dizzying heights in the amazing, tongue-twisting Stephen Sondheim number, "I'm Not Getting Married." And when Brown adds his voice to make three-part harmonies in such tunes as Maltby-Shire's "Three Friends" and Charlie Small's "Home," the evening takes on an extra dollop of show-biz pizazz.

A few hiccups mar "Songs," most easily remedied. An onstage mike wired to a buzzing offstage speaker gets in the way and is superfluous in this small room.

A section devoted to female clothing ends with Macofsky doing Maltby-Shire's "Miss Byrd" in a man's business suit. The finale, Sondheim's "Fox Trot," feels lame and disconnected to that which preceded it. Pianist-musical director Curtis Jerome simply sounds lost from time to time.

But the gay sensibility this show embraces lets you put the terms musical revue and courage of its convictions together in the same sentence.

DETAILS

* WHAT: "Songs the Girls Sang."

* WHERE: Ovations, 12747 Ventura Blvd., Studio City.

* WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Runs indefinitely.

* HOW MUCH: $14.

* CALL: (818) 506-1277.

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