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Lame

Scripter-helmer Rich Nathanson has envisioned a tuner spoof he likens to "How to Bring It On and Save the Last Dirty Flashdance When You're a Coyote Ugly Footlooser With Saturday Night Fever Looking for Fame." The basic concept has possibilities, but this production is undermined by an amateurish book and score, woefully unfocused staging, undernourished production values and an ensemble that doesn't perform up to the supposed talents of the characters they play.

With:
Murray - Michelle Merring Bacon Swayze - Doug Steves Orson - Peter James Smith

Scripter-helmer Rich Nathanson (who wrote “Penn & Teller’s Sin City Spectacular”) has envisioned a tuner spoof he likens to “How to Bring It On and Save the Last Dirty Flashdance When You’re a Coyote Ugly Footlooser With Saturday Night Fever Looking for Fame.” The basic concept has possibilities, but this production is undermined by an amateurish book and score, woefully unfocused staging, undernourished production values and an ensemble that doesn’t perform up to the supposed talents of the characters they play. The one thing this one-acter does live up to is its title: “Lame.”

The show-opening tableau gives evidence of the comical possibilities of Nathanson’s premise, as three star-struck youths head to Hollywood, determined to win the ultimate talent competition, the LAME (Los Angeles Music & Ego) Contest.

Still-bereaved Indiana transplant Bacon Swayze (Doug Steves) recalls the tragedy that occurred after he convinced the town council to lift its ban so the senior class could hold its dance. In a drunken spree following the dance, the minister’s daughter, Baby, is killed while trying to ride atop two cars at the same time. Swayze carries Baby’s ashes in a trophy because, as he says, “Nobody is going to put Baby in a box.”

Also in the competition is Murray (Michelle Merring), an exotic dancing welder from Pittsburgh, who left her wealthy but decidedly elderly husband, Rick (Jackson Varady), in order to follow her dream, and ends up at Coyote Ugly.

The third member of this star-search team is would-be thesp Orson (Peter James Smith), who firmly believes he is a Greg Kinnear look-alike, even though he was named after Orson Bean.

As Bacon, Murray and Orson team up to compete against the unsavory win-at-all-cost shenanigans of former child star Harrison DeVille III (also Varady), Nathanson imbues their misadventures with nonstop showbiz references that usually fail to click due to the helmer’s chaotic staging.

Murray is constantly drawn to her welder’s mask. Bacon is visited by the “ghost” of Baby (Juliette Storace). In one of many Tinseltown bottom-feeder segments, Orson loses his virginity to now-adult Mary-Kate and Ashley Olson (Mauri Bernstein and Jenny Powazek, respectively), who have nothing better to do.

The four-tune score, which includes full ensemble takeoffs on “Footloose” and “Fame,” is undermined by an under-amplified, prerecorded sound track that sounds as though it’s being piped through a weak transistor radio.

Evita Arce’s choreography looks more like a first rehearsal than a performance.

Merring projects impressive power on ballad “Eyes Wide Open,” but her vocals suffer from poor intonation.

Nathanson’s concept might have looked good on paper, but a serious rethinking and extensive planning need to occur before it has legs for any kind of serious staging.

Lame

Stages Theater Center, Hollywood; 48 seats; $18 top

Production: J&H Prods. presents a musical play in one act, written and directed by Rich Nathanson. Choreography, Evita Arce.

Crew: Sets, Spencer Benedict; lighting and sound, Alec Campbell. Opened and reviewed May 20, 2004; runs through June 26. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.

Cast: Murray - Michelle Merring Bacon Swayze - Doug Steves Orson - Peter James SmithEnsemble: Mauri Bernstein, Jenny Powazek, Juliette Storace, Tyler Tanner, Jackson Varady.

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