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Theater : STAGE REVIEW

Rock Paradox

O.C. Children's Theatre tale of '50s may be sapped by generation gap.

May 08, 1997|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LONG BEACH — Unlike a lot of youth theater groups, the Orange County Children's Theatre tends to think big. Sometimes, it leads to trouble, like the company's much too serious and unwieldy musical production of "Little Women." As the title of the new show suggests, "Rock 'n' Roll Will Never Die" isn't serious at all, just lighthearted nostalgia--of a sort.

The paradox is that most adults who will be bringing their kids to see the show at Cal State Long Beach's University Theatre are too young for this silly tale of '50s youth to bring back memories. For the kids on either side of the stage, who have at best caught "Happy Days" reruns, all this bobby socks and roller skates and ducktails stuff must feel like ancient history.

Even so, the story traces a course even the youngest will be able to follow: Artie (Peter Young) and Jigsy (Jerome Boroff) start their own band, the Crescendoes, but run up against the Rev. Georgia Wally (Stephanie Lewis), who proclaims, (in, ironically, one of the show's best tunes) "The Devil Made Rock 'n' Roll."

Will the guys overcome the stuck-up Rev, win the school's battle of the bands contest, and fall in love with cute Linda Lou (Lisa Clayton) and talkative Betty Jean (Rebecca Rainboldt, a dazzler in the show's hardest role)?

Even though it's Artie and Jigsy's tale, Clayton and Rainboldt steal the show from Young and Boroff at every opportunity, especially with their sweet, too-short "As Close as We Get to Love," which nicely captures '50s youth yearnings. You begin to wish that the show was about Linda Lou and Betty Jean starting their own band, especially since Clayton and Rainboldt also have the cast's best voices.

Narrator Artie concludes the two-act show (at just over 90 minutes) with an "American Graffiti" kind of flash-forward telling how these kids grew up, and lost their innocence. In composer-lyricist Bill Comeau's otherwise lighter-than-cherry Coke book (with additional music and lyrics by Rob Carlson and Vincent Pasternak), this is a thoughtful nod to the adults who are listening in, something that will pass the kiddies right by.

The only other thing here that might make the young ones scratch their heads is the long blackouts between scenes; the price paid for putting on bigger productions than most children's theater companies may be bigger sets (amusingly done here by Steve Lewis and Jim Blaylock) that take longer to change. Whatever the reason, the scene changes drag down a show that should pump along like a cool guitar lick.

Director Marla Gam-Hudson's young cast feels relieved to do something that lets them play air guitar, jump and scream and sing and twist.

Of course, with so many unpolished youngsters on stage, there's a lot of unevenness in the playing and some tough traffic jams in the scene movement. But they're well-rehearsed, know their characters and cues, and end the show on a fine peppy note. Even the musty Reverend gets the spirit.

BE THERE

"Rock 'n' Roll Will Never Die," Cal State Long Beach University Theatre, 7th Street and East Campus Drive, Long Beach. Friday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 2:30 and 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 2:30 p.m. Ends Sunday. $6-$8. (714) 502-2244. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.

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