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Vintage 2000

The Colony's new home in Burbank sparkles, but its 'Dandelion Wine' is more of an acquired taste.

August 31, 2000|MICHAEL PHILLIPS | TIMES THEATER CRITIC

With its revival of the Ray Bradbury-Jeffrey Rockwell musical "Dandelion Wine," the Colony Theatre Company has traded its cozy, smallish digs in Silver Lake--now being used by Knightsbridge Theatre--for a spacious, nicely scaled, gently rounded thrust stage facility in Burbank.

The Colony serves as anchor tenant of the Burbank Center Stage, around the corner from Ikea. Park in the East Garage ramp on 3rd Street, follow the signs, and you'll walk straight from the parking structure into the theater lobby itself, a high-ceilinged and roomy layout. I predict for the Colony what the 1957 Bradbury novel's mechanical fortuneteller predicts for the semiautobiographical protagonist, Douglas Spaulding: "A long life and a lively one."

The inaugural show may have it tougher.

Bradbury's 1957 memoir is a fragrant collection of boyhood memories, affixed to the northern Illinois burg of Green Town (i.e., Waukegan) circa 1928. Young Douglas experiences one rite of summery passage after another: friends lost, lessons won, sometimes hard, often easy, in dreamy, nostalgic fashion.

Many love Bradbury's book, in which an idyllic pre-Depression small town serves as a golden place of inventors, fantasists and, yes, a serial killer, long before the phrase was coined. Determined to give Douglas' loosely connected adventures some narrative drive, Bradbury and composer-lyricist Rockwell add a fantasy overlay, involving a mysterious boarder staying with the Spalding clan. Also, there's a menacing climax that makes young Douglas (Matt Raftery, a strong singer but pushy performer) directly responsible for the fate of a new major character.

The writers can't make enough sense of these mood swings. (The novel stuck to a narrower tonal range.) Some of the songs show promise: "Movin' Along" in particular boasts a gently catchy melody as well as a knack for opening a second act. Elsewhere Rockwell strains for fancier, darker melodic effects, and his craft isn't up to his ambition. The lyric lines get jammed up and overloaded as well.

Of the 23-member cast, backed by a five-person band, I most enjoyed Whitney Rydbeck's cartwheeling, horn-rimmed shoe salesman, Mr. Sanderson. He's a zesty and versatile performer, yet he doesn't overplay his hand--at least not the way D. Ewing Woodruff does as wacky inventor Leo Auffman.

Director Terrence Shank's 1981 production proved a hit for the Colony, and this revision may again tickle plenty of fancies, while soothing a fair share of easily rattled early 21st century nerves. I may not have bought it, but I did buy the new theater, all the way. The Colony now has its chance to stretch out.

BE THERE

"Dandelion Wine," Colony Theatre Company, Burbank Center Stage, 555 N. 3rd St. (at Cypress), Burbank. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Dec. 10. $22-$28. (818) 558-7000. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.

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