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Stylish, sexy and, yes, sophisticated

THEATER REVIEW

'Sophisticated Ladies' dazzles with song and dance pyrotechnics by an entertaining, enthusiastic cast.

February 20, 2007|David C. Nichols | Special to The Times

The ineffable mastery of Duke Ellington ignites "Sophisticated Ladies," which sizzles its way across the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center stage with enough energy for four shows. What this febrile Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities revival of the Tony-nominated 1981 revue lacks in visual splendor, it makes up for in sheer entertainment.

Director-choreographer Cheryl Baxter pulls nightclub pyrotechnics out of the abstract concept. From the opening, as designer Christopher Beyries' Art Deco drape rises on musical director Steven Smith's first-rate band, to the curtain call reprise of "It Don't Mean a Thing," Baxter keeps the songbook swinging, and her cast of triple-threat talents attacks the material until you hope the fire marshal isn't present.

Take the remarkable Eugene Fleming, who turns Gregory Hines' raconteur role into a personal triumph. Amiably sassy yet vulnerable, Fleming sends his laser-beam voice, moves and persona to the last row, reaching breathtaking peaks at "Something to Live For" and his virtuoso Act 2 tap solo.

Or the sublime Misty Cotton, who bounces the audience into the Misty Cotton Club from "Hit Me With a Hot Note" onward. Her range, whether high belting, scatting with hipster Rob Thompson or channeling Carol Burnett in "Imagine My Frustration," remains astonishing.

Angela Teek brings a potent, trumpeting punch to the Phyllis Hyman material, especially her scorching "In a Sentimental Mood." Carol Hatchett reconfigures the Judith Jamison role in Josephine Baker directions, with far more voice. Lacy Darryl Phillips and Jeffery Williams Jr. toss off Nicholas Brothers moves without blinking, and the boyish Thompson even charms a broom in "Everything but You."

This disciplined troupe intersects with panache, and the ace corps meet their standard, forming a nerve-tapping airplane in "Caravan" and building the Act 1 closer, "Rockin' in Rhythm," to a frenzy. Their versatility and Smith's musicians supply the dazzle.

Although designer Beyries' bandstand set takes Steven Young's lush, palette-spinning lights well, it is largely un-augmented until Act 2, more Newport Jazz Festival than theatrical decor, and the rental costumes echo Willa Kim's originals without supplanting their memory.

Certainly, the spacious venue taxes the show's most intimate aims, and the property is hardly profound. Nevertheless, the numbers drive "Sophisticated Ladies," and their robust renditions here are positively Ellingtonic.

*

'Sophisticated Ladies'

Where: Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach.

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

Ends: March 4

Price: $45 to $60

Contact: (310) 372-4477; www.redondo.org; www.civiclightopera.com

Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes

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