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Itinerary: American Musicals

March 01, 2001|ROBIN RAUZI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A show called "The Black Crook" in 1866 is often cited as the start of musical theater in America. But it was the 1879 premiere of "H.M.S. Pinafore" that popularized comedic operettas. Musical revues--in which a theme ties together songs and sketches--came along in 1894. And in 1907, Florenz Ziegfeld produced the "Follies of 1907," starting an annual ritual of chorus girls and elaborate dance numbers.

Tastes haven't changed much in 100 or so years.

The still-running "Lion King" and "Mamma Mia!" (see Best Bets, Page 2), a new musical created from hit songs by ABBA, are probably the biggest new shows in L.A. right now, but the city also abounds in opportunities to get a taste of classic American musicals.

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Thursday

The Reprise! Broadway's Best series has, with great success, been reviving classic musicals in a semi-staged format since 1997.

Its latest production is "Strike Up the Band," a satire that failed in its Broadway tryout in 1927, despite its pedigree: George and Ira Gershwin wrote the songs and George S. Kaufman wrote the book. The concert version's script was written by David Ives, and Charles Nelson Reilly heads the cast as the head of a cheese company who hatches a war with Switzerland to help business. "Strike Up the Band" continues tonight through Saturday at 8 p.m., with 2 p.m. matinees Saturday and Sunday at UCLA's Freud Playhouse (Parking Lot 3; enter Hilgard Avenue at Sunset Boulevard, Westwood. $55. [310] 825-2101).

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Friday

Two current revues pay tribute to the two players of musical-making: composer and lyricist.

Johnny Burke, who penned the words to such well-known songs as "Pennies From Heaven" and "Misty," didn't write much for musical theater, but his songs have been collected in the revue "Swinging on a Star" presented through March 11 by International City Theatre at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center (300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach. Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. $27 to $35. [562] 436-4610).

Composer Jerome Kern, one of the fathers of American musical theater, was the first to use contemporary dance music on the stage in the teens. His work on "Show Boat" (with Oscar Hammerstein II) showed that not all musicals had to be funny. Kern's songs for movie musicals are among the most enduring of the genre.

His work will be feted at "Jerome Kern, Life Upon the Wicked S.T.A.G.E." (Luckman Theatre, Cal State Los Angeles, 5151 State University Drive, L.A. Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m. $30 to $200. [323] 656-9069). See Best Bets, Page 3.

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Saturday

Kern was actually at work on "Annie Get Your Gun" when he died in 1945, so the popular show has songs and lyrics by Irving Berlin. Herbert Fields and Dorothy Fields--who was originally to write the lyrics with Kern--wrote the book.

The highly fictionalized account of sharpshooter Annie Oakley's time with "Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show" wound up featuring some of Berlin's best work, including "There's No Business Like Show Business," "You Can't Get a Man With a Gun" and "Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)."

A touring production, starring Marilu Henner in the title role and Tom Wopat as rival marksman Frank Butler, is running at the Wilshire Theatre (8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. Today and Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. $42 to $67. [213] 365-3500). Mezzanine and balcony seats are still available. See review, Page 42.

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