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THEATER REVIEW

As wicked as they wanna be? Sorry, not quite

Ex-rivals Joan Collins and Linda Evans are game, but `Legends!' mostly lets them down.

January 22, 2007|F. Kathleen Foley | Special to The Times

Gild an old chestnut, and what have you got? A glitzy chestnut. It may look pretty, but the faint aroma of mold lingers.

Surely, the producers of "Legends!," now playing a brief engagement at the Wilshire Theatre as part of a limited tour, must have realized that the late James Kirkwood's showbiz comedy was hardly the stuff of deathless drama. But they seem to have thought that if they bedizened the show with enough sheer glitter, then the audience would devour the chestnut with a silver spoon.

The fact that Joan Collins and Linda Evans, who headline this production, famously feuded during the long-running television series "Dynasty" is no coincidence. First produced in the mid-1980s, the play starred Mary Martin and Carol Channing, an apparently pyrotechnical pairing -- off stage, at least. Critically reviled (one reviewer suggested that Martin should be horse-whipped), the tour tanked before reaching Broadway. But "Legends!" has since passed into -- what else? -- legend.

Anecdotes abound about the backstage battles between Martin and Channing, whose spectacular shenanigans inspired Kirkwood to write a book detailing the dish.

It all gets a bit layered and meta-theatrical here. The characters in the play are also feuding divas of a fabulously temperamental stripe. There's Sylvia Glenn (Collins), an acid-tongued star famous for playing tramps -- and acting like one. Then there's Leatrice Monsee (Evans), notable for her generally saintly portrayals. Oscar winners both, the two are broke and desperate for a comeback. When unscrupulous producer Martin Klemmer (hard-working Joe Farrell, who walks away with the second act), woos them to team for a stage play, they are forced to meet again. And when they do, the glitz hits the fan.

At least, that's what's intended. Why then is the result so colorless? Certainly, Collins and Evans, alone or in tandem, have an innate camp value that cannot be underestimated. But director John Bowab treats Kirkwood's genuinely dreadful play with a tame conscientiousness that disappoints.

The show isn't awful by any means -- and that's a huge part of the problem. The cast, which includes Tonye Patano as a depressingly stereotypical maid, Ethan Matthews as a star-struck cop, and Will Holman as a Chippendales stripper (an impressive if oddly misplaced turn), labors valiantly to sell the characters.

And certainly, the heroically well-preserved Collins and Evans look dashing in their lavish ensembles by fashion icon Nolan Miller, who also designed for "Dynasty." Both actresses are smooth and absolutely workmanlike, delivering their lines without a hitch -- unlike Martin, who notoriously required having her lines fed via an earpiece.

What a shame. The best camp is unintentional and can't be achieved by dint of sheer labor. Die-hard fans may be pleased to see their idols have weathered so well, but beyond that, this star vehicle never quite reaches the requisite level of disastrousness that would have made it more wickedly appealing.

*

`Legends!'

Where: Wilshire Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday to Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday;

1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday

Ends: Sunday

Price: $27.50-$77.50

Contact: (213) 365-3500 or (714) 740-7878, www.broadwayla.org

Running time: 2 hours

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