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Glimmer, Glimmer and Shine

Following up on his Tony-winning "Side Man," Warren Leight explores much the same milieu, in much the same theatrical style, in "Glimmer, Glimmer and Shine." There's certainly nothing wrong with sticking with a successful formula, especially when the writer so clearly has a personal connection to this engaging world of jazz musicians. There's still plenty of amusement in Leight's appealing wordplay and his spunky characterization of a lifelong, hard-bitten trumpet player, portrayed with entertaining crustiness by "The West Wing's" John Spencer. But at a certain point here, Leight's storytelling hits a rut from which it never emerges.

With:
Delia - Alexa Fischer Jordan - Jonathan Silverman Martin - John Spencer Daniel - Nicolas Surovy

Following up on his Tony-winning “Side Man,” Warren Leight explores much the same milieu, in much the same theatrical style, in “Glimmer, Glimmer and Shine.” There’s certainly nothing wrong with sticking with a successful formula, especially when the writer so clearly has a personal connection to this engaging world of jazz musicians. There’s still plenty of amusement in Leight’s appealing wordplay and his spunky characterization of a lifelong, hard-bitten trumpet player, portrayed with entertaining crustiness by “The West Wing’s” John Spencer. But at a certain point here, Leight’s storytelling hits a rut from which it never emerges.

After a short first act that sets up some compelling possibilities, the second evades the opportunities with frustrating consistency. Leight gives the characters a situation, but he never really sets them in motion, leaving the audience with some repetitive riffs on familiar notes.

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Set in 1990, the play begins as Jordan Shine (Jonathan Silverman) meets Delia Glimmer (Alexa Fischer) at a Greenwich, Conn., wedding. Jordan, who’s playing trombone in the band, realizes Delia is the daughter of Danny Glimmer, who together with his fraternal twin brother Martin and Jordan’s late father, Eddie, formed a feisty horn section — Glimmer, Glimmer and Shine — for itinerant jazz bands in the ’50s.

Delia, every bit the socialite snob, at first believes Jordan must be making a mistake, but it soon becomes clear she has been purposefully kept ignorant of her father’s musical past and of the existence of her uncle.

The always well-dressed Delia and the slovenly Jordan begin to date, and Jordan introduces her to her uncle Martin (Spencer), whose years on the road, various past drug habits and continuing love of the bottle have made his body frail, although his personality is anything but. Delia tries to tell her father, now a highly successful businessman resolutely going by the name Daniel (Nicolas Surovy), that she’s met his long-abandoned twin, but it’s not until Martin lapses into a coma that she gathers the courage.

As the play continues, the narrative involves revelations about what really happened in the past that ultimately caused Daniel to drop not just the band but his own brother, and deals with whether Daniel will help the ailing Martin as he tries to recover and whether Delia and Jordan can make a relationship work.

There is some fine writing here, particularly in the way Leight manages to create reflections between past and current events, especially between Jordan and Delia’s relationship and that of his father and her mother decades ago. These latter two figures play prominent offstage roles in the story, although Leight also throws in an ill-advised flashback with the same actors playing their parents. But creating evocative reflections isn’t sufficient when the characters we’re following devolve into stereotypes, which, despite a solid performance from newcomer Fischer, is the case with Delia.

Jordan and Delia aren’t really the focus here anyway. The most interesting element of Leight’s premise is the confrontation between the two brothers, one who kept playing despite the ills of the hard life, and the other who “sold out.” This premise seems an embodiment of Leight’s fundamental fascination with the past generation and the choices that confronted them as jazz gave way to rock ‘n’ roll, so it’s particularly disappointing that the playwright squanders the opportunity to explore this conflict with any depth at all.

Martin is exceedingly charming and likable, if extremely grizzled, and there can be no doubt that, by “never settling,” Martin made the superior life choice (“Side Man” certainly wasn’t this simplistic). Daniel is uptight, shallow and just plain dull, and he’s never allowed to give full voice to his point of view. Like Delia, the character of Daniel is a fundamentally unformed one, all social context and no human being. Storywise, the revelation that emerges about the past seems satisfying to Leight as a dramatic denouement, but it comes across as distant and stale.

Spencer never ceases to entertain with Martin’s relentless quips, but they become less and less amusing as they hit a rhythmic monotony. It’s almost as if Leight is using the constant joking as a crutch to avoid getting to the drama, and his writing certainly seems crafted around individual exchanges that generate humor rather than scenes that deepen his tale.

Evan Yionoulis directs with a firm grasp of Leight’s dramaturgical style, with one scene flowing into another. Neil Patel’s set, with a scrim in the back that fuses a photograph of a ’50s jazz band with contemporary scene-setting views, Candice Donnelly’s smart mix of elegant and frumpy costumes and Evan Lurie’s evocative music all help to support Leight’s vision. It certainly isn’t the production here that falls short. It’s Leight’s own flawed composition.

Glimmer, Glimmer and Shine

Mark Taper Forum; 760 seats; $44 top

Production: A Center Theatre Group/Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County and Mark Taper Forum presentation of a play in two acts by Warren Leight. Directed by Evan Yionoulis.

Creative: Set, Neil Patel; costumes, Candice Donnelly; lighting, Donald Holder; sound, Jon Gottlieb; music, Evan Lurie; casting, Amy Lieberman. Opened Jan. 25, 2001, reviewed Jan. 24. Running time: 2 HOURS, 5 MIN.

Cast: Delia - Alexa Fischer Jordan - Jonathan Silverman Martin - John Spencer Daniel - Nicolas Surovy

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