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A CurtainUp Review: Epic Proportions

A renewed interest in the early days of movie making has seeded revivals of Mack and Mabel (about silent movie maker Mack Sennett and his star Mabel Norman) and Merton of the Movies (about a long ago Hollywood hopeful). The positive response to both these shows would indicate that Larry Coen and David Crane's mid-80s Off-Broadway spoof of Cecil B. DeMille's gargantuan biblical spectacles is a revival whose time to shine on Broadway has come -- especially, since it has a leading role that seems made to order for Broadway's newest star, Kristin Chenoweth, a comedienne in the Judy Holiday tradition who personifies the adjective adorable .

As Louise Goldman, a grownup Sally Brown (as in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown) who's been charged with preventing unrest among the thousands of extras in Cecil B. De Mille's (oops, make that D. B. DeWitt) latest epic, Chenoweth is indeed adorable. Like Sally she's perky and bossy. She wins you over with the vein of iron beneath the dimpled smile. Her squeaky voice tickles your funny bone. With her marcel waved curly hairdo, sliver-thin eyebrows and array of prim to glamorous outfits she is the perfect golden oldie blonde bombshell -- her not-as-ditzy-as-she-looks persona a delicious blend of naive charm and sexiness.

The 10-member cast lending support to Ms. Chenoweth, while not DeMille-sized, is generous by current nonmusical Broadway standards. As the two farm boys who've stumbled on to the Arizona desert shoot, Alan Tudyk and Jeremy Davidson are contenders par excellence for Ms. Goldman's affections. The two brothers are as different as Cain and Abel. Phil (Davidson) is an aggressive hunk who gets both the girl and a job as the second-in-command to the director. Benny (Tudyk) is an endearing nebbish who gets the worst extra jobs but not the girl -- at least not at first. His "loser" veneer is a perfect foil for Chenoweth's steely-cute little blonde. Ruth Williamson displays her usual mastery of deadpan humor in a variety of roles.

To give this epic technicolor pizzazz, there are William Ivey Long's smart period costumes and the ever inventive David Gallo's bright cartoon of a biblical desert set, with suitable lighting provided by another Gallo, Paul.

Last but unfortunately least, there's the book which has brought all this talent to the stage of the Helen Hayes. Larry Coen and David Crane have dished up a sketch which all the producers' money and all the creative team's hard work can't turn into a substantial comedy, let alone anything aspiring to epic proportions. It all starts out amusingly enough, with Gallo's redder-than-red velvet curtain with its big, fat rope-y gold tassels rising and falling again as the invisible narrator declares that desert colors are not interesting to look at. The opening scenes with Ms Chenoweth-Goldman are also a chuckle a minute. Alas, what starts out smoothly turns into a lumpy, lumbering affair -- a joke that stops being funny even before the midway point.

Maybe a few good tunes (as in director Jerry Zaks' great hit A Funny Thing Happeed On the Way to the Forum), would keep the audience from getting as restless as the extras. Ms. Chenoweth, has after all distinguished herself in musicals, including a stint in The Fantastiks, a show with a record of longevity that is unlikely to be challenged by this sitcom masquerading as a Broadway worthy comedy.

Ms. Chenoweth is said to already be slated for a TV sitcom. One can only hope that she, as well as Tudyk and Davidson who've also proven themselves in Off-Broadway and regional theater ( notably The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told for Tudyk and Quills for Davidson) will land in shows worthy of their talents before they are forever and completely lost to the theater.

Merton of the Movies
Mack and Mabel
You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown
The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told

by Larry Coen and David Crane
Directed by Jerry Zaks
Starring: Kristin Chenoweth, Alan Tudyk, Jeremy Davidson
With: Ruth Williamson, Ross Lehman, Tom Beckett, Richard B. Shull, Richard Ziman.

Set Design: David Gallo,
Lighting Design: Paul Gallo
Costume Design: William Ivey Long
Running time: 85 minutes without intermission
Helen Hayes, 240 W. 44th St., (7th/8th Avs.), 239-6200
Performances from 9/07/99 ; opening 9/30/99
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 10/01/99 performance
Closing 12/19/99
©Copyright 1999, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
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