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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Old-Fashioned Musical for a Modern Depression

Minsky'sWhen you have an economic disaster like the one facing California and the nation, you need to laugh. If you're lucky, you'll be able to snag some cheap tickets for the world premiere production of "Minsky's" at the Ahmanson.

Based on the 1968 musical comedy movie, "The Night they Raided Minsky's," this new musical harks back to the hold musicals of yesteryear and has plenty of girls and glamour along with happy-feet tap dancing numbers.

If the movie (original book by Evan Hunter) changed the story of the real April 1925 raid, this musical's plot is a further departure. It is still about burlesque and a gorgeous girls whose dance numbers are pushing the boundaries of obscenity laws, but in Bob Martin's book has Billy Minsky (Christopher Fitzgerald) falling in love with the daughter of the politician, Randolph Sumner (George Wendt). Mary Sumner (Katharine Leonard) is straight-laced and serious while the girls at Minsky's are fun and putting Minsky's out of business would put these girls out of work.

Of course, there will be a happy ending. In a modern twist, both Mary and Billy visit therapists to resolve their blues--what they need is "Someone." With the two doctors and their offices side by side, the doctors and the two lonely people sing of that yearning for love. We know what's in store and Charles Strouse's music and Susan Birkenhead's lyrics make it a merry, though predictable journey. Who can resist a song that asks the rhetorical question: Why do girls need men when they have bananas?

The dance numbers are suggestive but squeaky clean. Casey Nicholaw's direction and choreography gives us high energy and glamour as well as an innocent romance. Think "42nd Street" type of energy and "Guys and Dolls" type of innocence. According to Roger Ebert's review of the original movie "Burlesque was essentially vaudefille plust sex, and in the early days the sex was direct, naive and almost innocent."

NIcholaw and Martin were on board for another Valentine to the old musicals, "The Drowsy Chaperone," while Strouse composed "Bye, Bye Birdie" and "Annie." Birkenhead wrote lyrics for another Centre Groupe Theater success story, "Jelly's Last Jam." Together this team has produced a crowd-pleasing winner.

If people needed ultra-optimistic musicals during the Great Depression, then this modern musical comes at the right time and if you can scrape up the cash, take some time for this tonic for a few moments of happiness. Go quickly. This production closes March 1.

"Minsky's," Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Downtown Los Angeles. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays 2 p.m.; Sundays, 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Additional matinee performance on Feb. 26, at 2 p.m. No evening performance on March 1.
by Jana Monj

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