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Bottoms Up, Everyone

Mad magazine-style 'Poseidon Adventure' musical is best after the ship goes topsy-turvy.

June 27, 2002|DARYL H. MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When your world gets turned upside-down, you've got to pick yourself up and start climbing.

Recognize the message? It was delivered in a seminal film from 1972: "The Poseidon Adventure."

And you thought it was just a disaster movie.

Recognizing the film for the cultural icon that it is, writers Bill Robens and Genemichael Barrera playfully pull it apart and put it back together in "The Poseidon Adventure: The Musical!" It's a fun idea, though its potential is reached only in fits and starts in this Opiate of the Masses production at the Tamarind Theatre.

Robens and Barrera's Mad magazine-style treatment is a virtual scene-by-scene replay of the movie, with some elements exaggerated for comic effect. It's a significantly reworked version of the "Poseidon Adventure" musical that they developed with different collaborators three years ago. Its spirit is much the same as last year's "The Towering Inferno: The Musical!," also an Opiate of the Masses production and co-written by Robens, with many of the same performers.

The talky setup bits are pretty lame, but once a tidal wave flips the passenger ship Poseidon upside-down, Kiff Scholl's direction helps keep things interesting. The big scene in which passengers are thrown onto the ceiling of the grand salon is one of the best, as a strobe light reveals flickering images of the cast scooting, tumbling and cartwheeling from one side of the stage to the other.

From then on, a small band of survivors climbs toward the upended bottom of the ship. The water that relentlessly advances toward them is evoked--as was the fire in "Towering Inferno"--by dancers.

Here, the sea god Poseidon (Miguel Montalvo) directs chorus girls (Leanne Fonteyn, Erika Gardner, Josie Gundy and Amy Roulet) through fluid, Busby Berkeley-style numbers choreographed by Fonteyn. The cleverest is a fan dance that encircles Monica Carbery's Shelley Winters character during her heroic underwater swimming sequence.

Carbery gives the most winning performance as Winters' Belle Rosen, while Scholl gamely dances through a big production number on a shattered leg as Roddy McDowall's steward, and Marin Van Vleck channels Carol Lynley for a groovy rendition of the movie's pop theme, "The Morning After."

The new songs--written in a pastiche of styles by Robens, Barrera and Scholl--are OK, but the cast's lack of singing talent makes most a trial on the ears.

"The Poseidon Adventure: The Musical!," Tamarind Theatre, 5919 Franklin Ave., Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Ends Aug. 3. $20. (323) 960-5755. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

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