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Theater | STAGE REVIEW

Gusher of Laughs

The giddy class reunion spoof 'Oil City Symphony' is back on the road, providing joy, nostalgia and good fun.

June 11, 1998|PHILIP BRANDES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It isn't just any old place that you get to hear "Flight of the Bumblebee" pounded out on an accordion, or a perky housewife re-create the drum solo from "In-a-Gadda-da-Vida" in all its plodding, repetitive glory.

It's an experience mercifully confined to an old high school gym (masquerading as the La Mirada Theatre), where those middle-age alumni of the "Oil City Symphony" have regrouped at a class reunion, for a nostalgia-steeped rendition of their old hits.

Representing "127 years of combined study," the self-proclaimed professional musicians once again set aside their day jobs to draw with equal dexterity--or lack thereof--from Bach, Mozart, Jerry Lee Lewis and John Philip Sousa. Their repertoire is inexhaustible even if their talent isn't--but that's the hook in this riotous spoof from the creators of "Radio Gals" and "Pump Boys and Dinettes."

Don't let the band's hopelessly square, amateur efforts to be "hip" fool you--"Oil City" is one slick piece of work. Author-composers Mike Craver, Mark Hardwick, Debra Monk and Mary Murfitt recognized that half the potential fun of popular music lies in the people who groove on it, so they incorporated them into their shows.

Though the creators are no longer part of the touring ensemble, they've left their brainchild in the hands of an impeccable cast, staged with exactly the right mix of wacky sincerity by Denise Cooper. Laughs erupt like a geyser of Texas tea as the quartet takes us down memory lane.

Repeating their performances from "Oil City's" 1993 Pasadena Playhouse engagement are Emily Mikesell as Mary, the tongue-tied virtuoso violinist, and Klea Blackhurst as the beaming homemaker-drummer Debbie, who trades one of her pink pumps for an athletic shoe to kick off the concert.

Mark (Michael Rice), the thick-spectacled spokesman, is nerd-dom incarnate, though it never dampens his enthusiasm as he tickles the ivories along with our funny bones. And Mike (John Farley Ogden), the ponytailed electronic keyboardist, parlays his experience from the Summer of Love (when he played in a rock band called Thursday's Grief) into some far-out riffs.

Whether harmonizing their way through a wistful ode to their "Double Date" in more innocent times, thrashing through "My Old Kentucky Rock-and-Roll Home" or enlisting the audience for a "free style" hokeypokey dance, the Symphony's endearing charm is irresistible.

And there's even punch and cookies in the lobby afterward.

BE THERE

"Oil City Symphony," La Mirada Theatre, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada. Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2:30 and 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Ends June 21. $33. (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

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