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THEATER REVIEW

`Only' actors give giddy tale its class

The 1983 musical is resurrected in all its drippy Gershwin sweetness, but it's the stars who mop up the anachronistic mess.

September 08, 2006|David C. Nichols | Special to The Times

Under the old MGM studio system, Rachel York and Michael Gruber would likely be household names. They carry "My One and Only," which opens the 10th anniversary season of Reprise! Although this revival of the 1983 Gershwin rehash has its liabilities, its stars aren't among them.

In "My One and Only," very loosely based on the 1927 Fred and Adele Astaire vehicle "Funny Face," York plays English Channel swimmer Edythe Herbert to Gruber's guileless Texas aviator, Capt. Billy Buck Chandler. They elevate the pasteboard roles originated by Twiggy and Tommy Tune.

York owns the house from her first entrance atop Bradley Kaye's functional set, rising like an Art Deco Venus in Heather Carleton's glittering era couture. Playing blackmailed Edythe with dry insouciance, York is a knockout, peaking at her heartfelt "How Long Has This Been Going On?" Similarly, the engaging Gruber devours tap-happy Billy with assured finesse, sending his Act 1 interpolation of "Strike Up the Band" past the parking lot. Their mutual regard is delightful, whether meeting cute ("He Loves and She Loves"), splashing in a wading pool (" 'S Wonderful") or selling the nuptial finale ("Kickin' the Clouds Away").

These and other George and Ira Gershwin tunes benefit from director-choreographer Dan Mojica, who gets high-voltage hoofing from his valiant corps. Musical director Gerald Sternbach and his sleek orchestra are exemplary.

Clinton Derricks-Carroll gives the minister/speak-easy proprietor his usual verve, and the "Ritz Trio" (Richard Bulda, Venny Carranza and Wilkie Ferguson) has collegiate zeal.

However, the show's pastiche book by Peter Stone and Timothy S. Mayer remains a muddle, reminding us that "My One and Only" had a famously bumpy trek to Broadway. Certainly, harebrained twists are de rigueur in a '20s show, but anachronistic profanity and slaps at Morocco weren't that funny in 1983, let alone now.

The chief casualties are Vicki Lewis, underused as Billy's airplane mechanic, and Richard Israel, who assumed the role of Edythe's Russian nemesis on three day's notice. Both are first-rate talents, and it's a relief when they can drop the "Carol Burnett Show" groaners and cavort in "Funny Face" with rubber-mugged aplomb.

With so thin a property, physical presentation is paramount. Despite Carleton's wit and designer Tom Ruzika's candy-colored lighting, this feels like a glorified concert. Still, when the ageless Betty Garrett turns the title number into an object lesson in stealing a show without trying, you may forgive "My One and Only" for not being quite as scintillating as its wonderful headliners.

*

'My One and Only'

Where: UCLA, Freud Playhouse, Westwood

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays

Ends: Sept. 17

Price: $70-$75

Contact: (310) 825-2101

Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes

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