KPBS AIRDATE: September 13, 1995
The question is: Who’s Going to Do it to Whom? Whether you like your mysteries murderous or erotic, your comedy high or low, you’ll be able to satisfy your penchant for puzzlers on local stages.
On the high end of the humor scale, there’s “A Little Night Music” at Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista. Moonlight glides out of its fifteenth summer season in 3/4 time, with the 1973 Stephen Sondheim musical that is, amazingly, written exclusively in waltz meter.
Based on a Bergman film, with a title borrowed from a Mozart serenade, it’s turn of the century Sweden, and you’re never quite sure who’s been sleeping with whom, or who will wind up with whom. There’s a surprisingly happy ending, although there is the lingering shadow of a young man running off with his 18 year-old stepmother, and a somewhat unnecessary death.
Other than that, this wry, witty comment on the sickening debauchery of the rich is rather superficial and frothy, albeit Sondheim-cynical. The book, by Hugh Wheeler, can’t hold a candle to the scintillating lyrics of Sondheim. When all else fails, you can turn your total attention to those urbane linguistic concoctions. Nowhere else in musical theater will you get a line like “I acquired some position/ Plus a tiny Titian” in the clever retrospective, “Liaisons.” This show also features the composer’s best-known song, the lusciously melancholy “Send in the Clowns.”
But there are other diversions in the Moonlight production. The costumes are lovely, and Ray Limon’s staging is as engaging as ever. As the aging centerpieces, Fredrik the lawyer and his former paramour, Desirée the actress, Jeffrey Rockwell and Patti Goodwin are satisfying. But Bets Malone is a knockout as Petra, the oversexed maid.
Sondheim’s innovative use of a musical Greek chorus is nothing short of annoying here: repetitive and uninspired. And the music isn’t bracing. But oh, that invigorating language! It only increases the anticipation of Sondheim’s latest creation — an all-words-no-music comedy thriller, opening at the Old Globe this weekend.
Speaking of comedy thrillers, Mystery Cafe is at it again, offering a meal with a side of murder. “Win, Place or Die… My Jockeys are Killing Me,” is the latest offering, set at the Thoroughbred Club of Upson Downs, in Hollywood Park. It’s 1946, and everyone who’s anyone is at the post-war re-opening of the track: a mindless malaprop-mouthing moviestar; a toothless gypsy potion-maker; a slimy Senator (is that redundant?); a gabby gossip columnist with her raggy assistant; some stuffed-up Shirley Temple twins; a jockey who’s aiming for the heights; and of course, Casper, your friendly host.
It’s silly and raucous, tuneful at times and frequently below the belt, but it’s an evening of interactive fun. The audience is dragged into the action whenever possible, and laughing at others is always great for a guffaw.
The ensemble is talented and funny — and their ad-libs are often hilarious. The script, by James Pascarella and Patricia Harris-Smith, both lead actors here, is filled with loving references to their late, great cohort, Will Roberson. He will always be missed. But Tom McCorry has directed with a humorous flair. Nothing deep or heavy here. This is simply entertaining — and a really good time for a group. A belly-full, with a belly-laugh.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1995 Patté Productions Inc.