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Theater Review

Over the Top, Not Over the Rainbow

January 24, 2002|DARYL H. MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Someone is killing Los Angeles' Judy Garland impersonators. Called to the scene of the latest murder, the man who coached the victims--himself a great interpreter--wails, "How many more times does Judy Garland have to die?"

Meant to pass for humor, the line serves instead as an epitaph for the new comedy "Doing Judy!," which subjects Garland's memory to a thousand deaths.

In this visiting production at the Matrix Theatre, first-time playwright Dan Evans tries for a '40s film noir-style mystery, set in a comically improbable milieu. Problem is, he never finds quite the right tone. His characters--many of whom are gay--tend to come off as tart-tongued stereotypes, and he bungles the central mystery by providing plenty of red herrings but too few real clues. A murder-mystery is no fun if the audience can't play along.

Tom Pardoe's staging struggles to keep up with the shifts in mood. But its best moments achieve a playful film-noir quality, thanks in part to the moody designs of Frank McKown (lights), Terry Gordon (costumes), Bernard Vyzga (sets) and David Lee Kelting (sound).

Todd Sherry finds vulnerability and heart in an otherwise larger-than-life role as the impersonation coach. Among his pupils, Sammy Williams (a Tony winner as the original Paul in "A Chorus Line") suffuses his aging impersonator with equal amounts of dignity and quiet desperation, and Patti Allison goes wonderfully unhinged as a sorrowful mother with a rage problem.

Jim Pirri is appropriately stiff and square-jawed as a police detective who struggles with conflicted feelings while investigating the case, and Francesca P. Roberts is deliciously brassy as his no-nonsense captain.

But poor Judy Garland comes out worse for wear, reduced to a mere sight gag as impersonators of all sizes--and wildly varying degrees of ability--have a go at her.

*

"Doing Judy!," Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends March 3. $27.50-$29.50. (310) 289-2999. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

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