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REVIEW

In 'North,' an ensemble that's red-hot

March 20, 2003|David C. Nichols | Special to The Times

With the success of the movie "Chicago" sending Tinseltown scrambling for fresh musical projects, studio honchos should amble over to "North on South Central Ave." at the Stella Adler Theatre in Hollywood. Theatre Perception Consortium's evocation of the black club scene's heyday in 1940s L.A. seems a cinema extravaganza waiting to be developed, some textual awkwardness notwithstanding.

Drawing from actual events, director Karla Klark and her coauthors Tu'Nook and Larry J. Robinson build their double-layered scenario around Old Willie (the wonderful Michael Massengale). This former Mississippi field hand recounts his saga to an amazingly receptive modern teenager (Kareem Grimes).

Willie's story unfolds at the Club Alabam, where corrupt investors hound proprietors L.C. and Eloise Lomax (Demetrius Phillips and Adija Diamant) to the tune of 20 grand. This narrative, punctuated by floor-show appearances of legends ranging from Little Walter (Robinson) to Billie Holiday (the uncanny Bonita Brisker), swings and cauterizes, leading to an all-too-relevant somber coda.

The designs are resourceful, especially the swank costumes (attributed to the cast). The musical numbers crackle, thanks to Klark, choreographer Melanie Lee, a righteous band and certainly the red-hot ensemble.

Massengale and company are exhilarating. Their verve carries the lopsided, occasionally preachy libretto, which takes 20 minutes to get rolling and overdoes the linear exposition and historical explanation. Yet its core integrity and sheer excitement recommend this rip-roaring production.

*

'North on South Central Ave.'

Where: Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., second floor, Hollywood

When: Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m.

Ends: March 30

Price: $25

Info: (562) 868-8004, (310) 581-3907

Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

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