Review: ‘Blame It on the Movies!’

Originally presented in 1987 at West Hollywood's 99-seat Coast Playhouse, the fourth manifestation of this unabashed celebration of songs from the silver screen expands quite nicely onto the Pasadena Playhouse's stately stage.

Originally presented in 1987 at West Hollywood’s 99-seat Coast Playhouse, the fourth manifestation of this unabashed celebration of songs from the silver screen expands quite nicely onto the Pasadena Playhouse’s stately stage. Co-creator/director David Galligan guides a superb seven-person ensemble through an irre-pressible musical survey of over 70 songs culled from close to 60 years of moviemaking.

Grouping the tunes into thematic sections (the ’40s, the War Years, Foreign Films, Saturday Matinee, Oscar Losers) that are linked by the joyful and irreverent original “Blame It on the Movies” themes of co-creators Ron Abel and Billy Barnes, Galligan masterfully sets up each tune within an emotion-stimulating context.

Aiding this process is the impish, energetic theater usher portrayed by the talented Cindy Benson, whose superb comedic abilities are reminiscent of such movie comediennes as Betty Hutton, Nancy Walker and Martha Raye.

This is especially apparent as she rips through such movie novelty tunes as “I Get the Neck of the Chicken” and “The Woody Woodpecker Song,” as well as an extravagantly farcical take on the supposedly dramatic ballad “Full Moon and Empty Arms.”

What really makes this Hollywood musical marathon work is the vocalizing by Benson, Charlia R. Boyer, David Engel, Daniel Guzman, Tami Tappan, Bill Hutton and Christine Kellogg, the latter two being veterans of the original production.

They’re supported immeasurably by the sensitive and intuitive accompaniment of the instrumental trio led by music director/pianist Brad Ellis as well as the unobtrusively correct sound reinforcement of Philip G. Allen.

The ensemble demonstrates harmonic skills with such tender ballads as “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Dream” and “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing.” The group also demonstrates comedic flair with a hilariously staged medley of such Western movie fare as “The Ballad of Cat Ballou,” “Blazing Saddles Theme,” “Mule Train” and the theme from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

Benson, Boyer and Tappan fill every corner of the theater with their stunning outing on the earthy “Miss Celie’s Blues” from “The Color Purple.”

Despite all the ensemble numbers, the most rewarding aspect of the show comes when each member of the company is spotlighted solo. Guzman offers a haunting rendition of “Laura,” enhanced by Kellogg’s dancing. Kellogg later combines her singing and dancing talents on “The Blue Pacific Blues.” Hutton’s soaring tenor envelops the World War II tear-jerker, “You’ll Never Know.” The same can be said of Boyer’s deeply emotional outing on “Can You Read My Mind.”

Tappan’s vocal abilities are aptly demonstrated on “An Affair to Remember” and “A Town Without Pity.” And Engel, a refugee from the original cast of “Forever Plaid,” demonstrates the epitome of the art of crooning with his rendition of “My Foolish Heart.” At the other end of the emotional spectrum, Benson treats the rip-roaring “Something’s Gotta Give” as if she were giving a martial arts lesson.

Complementing all the onstage activity is the cinema-evoking modular set design of Dorian Vernacchio & Deborah Raymond and the economical but buoyant choreography of Yehuda Hyman, as well as the suitably flamboyant costuming of Zoe DuFour and the lighting of Michael Gilliam.

Blame It on the Movies!

Musical revue; Pasadena Playhouse; 686 seats; $42.50 top

Production

The Pasadena Playhouse presents a musical revue in two acts compiled and conceived by Ron Abel, Billy Barnes and David Galligan (from an original idea by Franklin R. Levy), directed by Galligan. Original music and lyrics by Barnes; original musical direction and arrangements by Abel. Musical direction, Brad Ellis; choreography, Yehuda Hyman.

Creative

Set, Dorian Vernacchio & Deborah Raymond; lighting, Michael Gilliam; costumes, Zoe DuFour; sound, Philip G. Allen. Opened, reviewed March 22. Running time: 2 HOURS.

Cast

With: Cindy Benson, Charlia R. Boyer, David Engel, Daniel Guzman, Bill Hutton, Christine Kellogg, Tami Tappan.
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