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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Sneaky Ole Time
Using 22 songs from Overstreet's catalog as its dramatic through line, Sneaky Ole Time is a diverting if occasionally dopey new musical produced by the Ruskin Group Theatre Co. The Halfway Home bar may not be any man's idea of paradise, but with Overstreet's winning tunes sung by creator/director Michael Myers' cast, it's a fine place to pull up a stool for a couple of hours. Set designer Cliff Wagner brings the joint to life with loving details down to the license plates on the wall. That Wagner is also the leader of the (barely) off-stage house band is somehow fitting.
Overstreet writes of matters romantic and danged if that's not a subject of interest to each barfly in the establishment on this fateful Wednesday afternoon. Owner Janine (played by Amy Motta) is unhappily separated from her husband. Rueful barfly Sheila (Nina Brissey) clings to hopes of finding Mr. Right and considers every man who walks through the door to potentially bear the mantle. Cocksure Lucky (Ken Korpi) is determined to play the field until there is not a skirt left in sight, and he has an envious if supportive wingman in traveling salesman Red (Robert Craighead). Between recurring trips to the head, an Old Man (Dave Florek) also offers some wisdom on the subject of he and she relationships. Ditto the Repairman (Chip Bolcik) who, via an untraceable accent, promises that he will have the jukebox fixed in just a few more hours. Also on the scene is a dishy 21-year old barmaid-in-training named Lexi (Nicole Olney), working her first day on the job.
And what a day it will be. The day's project will be the romantic guidance of Jack (Alxander Hitzig) who wrecks his motorcycle on the street outside Halfway Home and has to wait out the repairs in the bar with the aforementioned honkeytonkers and the broken jukebox. Jack's a musician with an unfinished love song and a diamond ring in his guitar case. When he crashed, he was either en route to sweep his sweetie Maggie off her feet or was driving away from Maggie with breakup on his mind. The Halfway Home-ers take it upon themselves to make the case either in favor of love and commitment, or against it depending on who is doing the arguing.
Overstreet's songs (particularly the ballads) lend themselves easily to this kind of a narrative, and they mix with book writer Stephen Mazur's plot without too much finessing or overstraining. Overstreet devotees will likely delight in the inclusion of songs across the spectrum of the composer's canon from "It's Takes a Whole Lot of Liquor to Like Her" to "The Truth About Men" with a ribald little detour across "Big Balls." Motta, Brissey and Olney throw in a lot of hip-thrusting, shoulder-shaking sass (courtesy of choreographer Tor Campbell) whenever they sing together. Indeed, despite being saddled with a fairly ridiculous role, Olney brings a sweet sultriness to Lexi that can be accidental as well as every bit in-your-face.
Trying as he is to take Sneaky Ole Time out of straight-up jukebox musical revue territory, librettist Mazur has concocted a plot device (not to be revealed here) that is hackneyed and refuses to follow its own logical rules. Still, it's convenient that Oversteet's catalog includes a number called "Country Twilight Zone," a kick-ass full ensemble first act closer that allows Hitzig's Jack to display his considerable musical skills on the violin.
The blend of ribald, boot-stomping numbers and tender ballads nicely showcase the composer's talents as well as the musical abilities of Mayer's cast. Those who may only have heard the composer's work via his "When You Say Nothing at All" featured in the film Notting Hill will find a veritable treasure trove of tunes on display at the Ruskin. And just try to keep a dry eye as Florek's Old Man, looking like five miles of busted up country road, lays into the title track, "Sneaky Old Time."
Bottom line: leave your logic at the door and bring a date.