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Lou’s on First

Any biographical play about an identifiable person has the inherent problem of comparison between the actor and the original. Ironically, this is the only successful aspect of Edwin Gordon's "Lou's on First." Christopher Winfield as straight man Bud Abbott, and particularly Van Boudreaux as the pratfalling Lou Costello re-create these comics with such unwavering consistency and attention to detail that they begin to look like their counterparts by the end of the show. But is it a play?

Any biographical play about an identifiable person has the inherent problem of comparison between the actor and the original. Ironically, this is the only successful aspect of Edwin Gordon’s “Lou’s on First.” Christopher Winfield as straight man Bud Abbott, and particularly Van Boudreaux as the pratfalling Lou Costello re-create these comics with such unwavering consistency and attention to detail that they begin to look like their counterparts by the end of the show. But is it a play?

Sadly, in spite of the solid performances offered by the two leads, the rest of the script, cast and, most sorely, direction is mediocre community theater at best.

The piece is nothing more than a series of the boys’ routines loosely and haphazardly bridged by smatterings of biographical information. The structure and style — both of which exist in abundance, sans substance — are burlesque, which reflects the environment of the pair’s humble beginnings.

Gordon doesn’t know when to cast off the restrictive (and redundant) episodic approach and delve into the inner workings of the two. He pokes and hedges the more serious aspects of these complex men, but just as the script begins to show signs of depth, it’s time for a clumsy line of chorines to high kick some more of Stan Mazin’s unimaginative choreography.

Director Jerome Guardino exacerbates the textual problems by punching up the routines at the expense of the rare moments of pathos. Guardino’s choice to make all the ensemble performances caricatures and cartoons does create a surreal aspect to the show, but decimates any potential for empathy.

Pat Sturges’ costumes provide the time reference for the show, while Lauren Casco’s set and M.J. Mitchel’s lights offer adequate versatility for the shiftingof time and place.

If you would like to re-experience the best of Abbott & Costello’s routines, this show’s for you, but as a play it’s little more than a “Will Rogers Follies” wannabe.

Lou’s on First

(Group Repertory Theatre, North Hollywood; 94 seats; $ 15 top)

  • Production: Group Repertory Theatre presents a play in two acts by Edwin Gordon; director, Jerome Guardino; musical arrangement, Malcolm Atterbury Jr..
  • Crew: Sets, Lauren Crasco; lights, M.J. Mitchel; costumes, Pat Sturges; musical staging, Stan Mazin. Opened March 24, 1995; reviewed April 1; runs indefinitely. Running time: 2 hours.
  • Cast: Lou Costello ... Van Boudreaux Bud Abbott ... Christopher Winfield With: Philip McKeown, Robert Axelrod, Christina Carson, John J. Flynn Jr., Richard Tirrell, Bethany Carpenter, Pat Sturges, Shauna Bloom, Beverly Jo Allen, Renee Gorsey, Patricia Archung, Craig Alpaugh, Phil Olson, Beverly Allyson, Shelly Kurtz.
  • Music By: