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Bingo

Like Jell-o sculpture or boy-band pop, the new musical "Bingo" is a well-crafted bit of inane flotsam. Though it boasts a tiny bit of audience interaction -- a few unexciting rounds of the title game and some tame patron-baiting -- this is less "Tony and Tina's Wedding" than an exportable small-theater concoction a la "Forever Plaid."

With:
Vern - Liz McCartney Patsy - Janet Metz Honey - Liz Larsen Minnie - Chevi Colton Sam, Frank - Patrick Ryan Sullivan Bernice, Marilyn Russo - Klea Blackhurst Alison - Beth Malone

Like Jell-o sculpture or boy-band pop, the new musical “Bingo” is a well-crafted bit of inane flotsam. Though it boasts a tiny bit of audience interaction — a few unexciting rounds of the title game and some tame patron-baiting — this is less “Tony and Tina’s Wedding” than an exportable small-theater concoction a la “Forever Plaid.” It’s likely to collect some tourist dollars in New York before shipping off to the red states, and there’s no danger of losing its fizz en route; it has very little to lose.

Following a trio of fortysomething “bingo chicks” through a dark and stormy night at their favorite local hall in fictional Hammerin County, the book by Michael Heitzman and Ilene Reid uses a rough “Golden Girls” template: scatterbrained Patsy (Janet Metz), who accessorizes every game with superstitious talismans; slutty Honey (Liz Larsen), who wears enough hair product to fuel a lawn mower; acerbic, imposing Vern (Liz McCartney), who guards her cards, and her emotional availability, like a lioness. Not quite written into the Estelle Getty grandma role is dotty Minnie (Chevi Colton), who runs the hall along with hunky, bingo-calling lug Sam (Patrick Ryan Sullivan).

The broad strokes occasionally strike their target, as in a giddy white-trash love ballet between Sam and Honey, “Gentleman Caller,” whose tune nods to “The Girl That I Marry.” A climactic ballad of reconciliation between Vern and erstwhile best bud Bernice (Klea Blackhurst) satisfyingly exploits the bingo card’s most obvious pun, “B4.” And there are enough winks and intentional, over-the-top absurdities sprinkled throughout to cue us that the authors know what kind of silliness they’re up to. But a knowing grin is not the same as a well-earned laugh.

There is one crowning exception in the shameless interpolation “Ratched’s Lament,” definitively rendered by lanky, loony, laser-focused Beth Malone. Introduced on the thinnest of excuses — that her character is an actress rehearsing for the “Off Off Off Broadway” production of a musical version of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” — the number has its share of easy parodic wit, but it is Malone who puts it across. To hear her belt out the unsingable words “health care” is just about worth the price of admission.

Elsewhere, this dark-haired, Disney-cute performer brings more conviction to her character’s cornpone contours than would seem possible. Malone clearly is one to watch (she’ll debut on Broadway in February, in the Johnny Cash anthology “Ring of Fire”).

Indeed, the entire cast is embarrassingly overqualified for this piffle. The score (credited to authors Heitzman, Reid and David Holcenberg) is mostly bouncy, competent pastiche, played back on a slick recording orchestrated down to the last pluck and sparkle by music director Steven Bishop. Eric Renschler’s frumpy bingo hall set has a few surprises up its sleeve, while Carol Brys’ costumes are as broad and primary colored as the writing.

There’s a cheesy instructional segment about the inventor of modern bingo, 1920s-era toy salesman Edwin S. Lowe, whose large portrait smiles on the proceedings. Audiences are likely to smile, too, at the low-rent charms of “Bingo,” in roughly the same way one might smile at a brightly lit junk-food snack machine in a church basement.

Bingo

Theater at St. Luke's; 175 seats; $79 top

Production: An Aruba Prods. and Buddy & Sally Prods. presentation of a musical in one act by Michael Heitzman and Ilene Reid, with music by Heitzman, Reid and David Holcenberg and book by Reid. Directed by Thomas Caruso. Music direction and orchestrations, Steven Bishop. Choreography, Lisa Stevens.

Creative: Set, Eric Renschler; costumes, Carol Brys; lighting, John Viesta; sound, Lewis Mead; vocal arrangements, Susan Draus; production stage manager, Gregory Covert. Opened Nov. 7, 2005. Reviewed Nov. 4. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.

Cast: Vern - Liz McCartney Patsy - Janet Metz Honey - Liz Larsen Minnie - Chevi Colton Sam, Frank - Patrick Ryan Sullivan Bernice, Marilyn Russo - Klea Blackhurst Alison - Beth Malone

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