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Theater | Theater Review

Going Solo With Doris, Lucy

October 10, 2002|DAVID C. NICHOLS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A humanizing approach to celebrity adulation underpins a noteworthy pair of current solo shows. Diametrically different in format and polish, Kathy Morath's "Day Dreaming: Channeling Doris Day" and Dan Tirman's "I Live Lucy" provide equally accessible views of their respective icons.

"Day Dreaming," a bubbling salute to Hollywood's favorite girl next door, is slightly misleading in its subtitle. The petite Morath--a ringer for Olympic figure skater Janet Lynn--does not channel Doris Day; rather, she sketches Day's essence in pastel tones.

Her smooth set at the Masquers Cabaret in West Hollywood offers an ingratiating demonstration of piano bar expertise. Morath supplies just enough biographical information to support her optimistic mission, avoiding the darker facts of Day's life and career.

Dressed in vintage '60s fashions (including a coat whose fur trim she hastens to identify as fake), Morath knows celebrity, her father being ragtime pianist Max Morath. This nominally explains her effortless ability to charm an audience, working the old-style supper club room with evident pleasure.

Morath deftly replicates Day's phrasing, as in the audience-participation treatment of "Everybody Loves a Lover," or her spot-on "Secret Love," wryly introduced by way of same-sex unions. Her actual vocal timbre is less imitative, a potent, straight-toned soprano more suggestive of '50s nightclub canary June Ericson than of Day's sliding alto.

Still, although Morath's banter with able musical director Bruce W. Coyle seems a tad practiced at times, and her embrace of Day more decorative than incisive, "Day Dreaming" offers swell entertainment.

Tirman's "I Live Lucy," at the Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center in North Hollywood, is bare-bones by comparison. However, he acutely delineates the object of his affection, the immortal Lucille Ball. She is a lifelong fixation, as his self-directed workshop staging makes clear from the start.

The autobiographical narrative charts Tirman's first Long Island-based exposure to the queen of television comedy, teenage in-person encounters and a psychic link-up with Ball upon her demise.

He interweaves this stream-of-consciousness account with excerpts from "Bill Frawley Sings the Old Ones," lip-syncing to key passages. At the finale, Tirman appears in late-period Lucy drag, admonishing the audience to "love yourself first."

His lower-case Cliff Gorman quality is endearing, and his writing shows considerable promise and integrity. What he requires for progression to the next level is an outside eye. Many of the back-and-forth dialogue passages are unnecessary, obviating points better left implied.

Although Tirman's restraint is commendable, his impersonation wants more exaggeration to fully land. For example, his traversal of the three phases of Lucy--"from squeaky to throaty to gravel-toned"--lacks definition, reducing comic impact.

This does not diminish Tirman's achievement, nor his work's potential; as Lucy would say, he just needs a good show doctor.

*

"Day Dreaming: Channeling Doris Day," Masquers Cabaret, 8334 W. 3rd St., West Hollywood. Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Ends Oct. 19. $10, plus $12 refreshment minimum. (323) 653-4848. Running time: 1 hour.

"I Live Lucy," Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. Fridays, 11 p.m. Ends Nov. 15. $5. (818) 623-7211. Running time: 1 hour.

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