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Entertaining Nostalgiain 'The All Night Strut!'

August 10, 2001|F. Kathleen Foley

Originally conceived by Fran Charnas, "The All Night Strut!" is one of those crowd-pleasing perennials that crop up regularly in small and large theaters. Now, Charnas' workhorse musical revue, a retrospective of popular standards from the 1920s to the 1950s, gets brushed up and taken for an enjoyable canter at the mid-size West Valley Playhouse, a far-flung Equity venue in Canoga Park.

The ensemble cast includes Noel Britton, who also directs and choreographs; Matisha Baldwin, who also is Britton's co-choreographer; Richard Brown; Sharline Liu; and Robert R. Long II.

A five-piece orchestra, spearheaded by keyboardist Michael Rocke, lends a full-bodied sound to this eclectic sampling, a diversity of vintage tunes ranging from up-tempo toe-tappers to slow, weepy torch songs. The 1933 classic "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" goes for the sentimental jugular, while 1938's "Minnie the Moocher" segues from steamy blues number to poignant cautionary tale without missing a beat. Other selections, such as "Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer" and "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square," span the social spectrum as well as the decades. During the penultimate number, "As Time Goes By," classic film clips, starting with a scene from "Casablanca," underscore the nostalgia.

It's a witty touch, as close to a showstopper as this production gets. Collectively, the cast manages some tight harmonies, but there are no real standout solos in a show that provides ample opportunities for them. And the pacing lags badly in the World War II medley that closes the first act.

Otherwise, this is a smoothly professional outing that entertains. Britton and Baldwin's period choreography is its strength, expanding on Charnas' original staging, and is crisply executed throughout.

*

"The All Night Strut!," Woodland Hills Theatre at the West Valley Playhouse, 7242 Owensmouth Ave., Canoga Park. Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Ends Sept. 1. $18. (818) 884-1907. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

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