Amiable and energetic musical revue of novelty and pop tunes from the ’20s, ‘ 30s and ’40s, which ran for over a year in the San Fernando Valley, falls flat in this two-week engagement at the larger Westwood Playhouse. Uneven performances and amateurish sets undermine what is pretty thin material to begin with.
Billed as a panorama of silly songs over three decades, the revue dredges up such old favorites as “To Hear Veronica Play Her Harmonica on the Pier in Santa Monica,””If I Give Up My Saxophone, Will You Come Back to Me?” and “That Sentimental Sandwich.”
The numbers are loosely structured by topic — songs about musical instruments (“When Gypsy Violins Make Me Cry”), places (“Cuba,””Paducah”) and foods (“Yes, We Have No Bananas,””One Meatball”).
While there is no story and few ideas to interrupt the silliness, the show does evoke some of the playful innocence and good humor of these bygone eras, even as it manages to crunch together the Roaring ’20s, the Depression, World War II and the early post-war era into one musical mishmash.
Although this brand of nostalgic nonsense is an intriguing concept, the evening is undermined by execution, its biggest shortcoming. The cast of four is uneven and mismatched. Mary Gillis has a charming, perky quality but not much of a singing voice, and never really teams up with the other cast members. Pamela Hall, also the show’s director, has trouble making herself heard in this larger venue.
Lloyd Pedersen and particularly Eric Leviton give stronger performances. Pedersen does delightful turns as a bitchy barfly, an Italian cook and in a variety of other roles. Leviton is gifted in the musical vaudeville routines that are at the heart of the show. He engages the audience with a gesture, an arched eyebrow or a sneaked aside, and has a strong, confident voice.
Production values are a big problem with this revue. A couple of handmade signs hanging on the set and some questionable costume choices lend an amateurish air to the evening. Perhaps these touches gave a campy feel to the small theater venue, but they simply read cheap in the bigger Westwood Playhouse.
For the largely older audience at the show’s opening, the revue was an opportunity not only to revisit familiar tunes (many mouths were moving to the lyrics of “Barney Google,””Mairzy Doats” and other standards) but also to poke fun at the silliness of it all.