By F. Kathleen Foley Special to the Times
19 Feb 2008
"Twice Upon A Time"
Broadway verteran Millicent Martin as Mrs. Clarke
If you are in the mood for an old-style musical, smartly done, you should take in "Twice Upon a Time," the world premiere produced by the Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities. A farcical fantasia featuring music by Chris Walker, lyrics by Mary Stewart-David and book by Ray Cooney, "Time" is so memorably retro, you just might exit the theater humming a tune or two.
Of course, Cooney, who also directs, is the author of numerous British sex comedies, such as "Funny Money" and "Run for Your Wife." Now in his 70s, he is a master theatrical mechanic who knows how to craft a whirring entertainment machine. And if the works get a bit rusty in the second act, it's still in its early days. There's time to oil the cogs before the show moves to the West End and Broadway.
The humorously far-fetched plot concerns Steven Tancred (Brandon Michael Perkins), a barrister about to be married to his associate Barbara Pilsworth (Jennifer Malenke), the boss' daughter. When Steven consults hypnotherapist Dr. Patel (Danny Bolero) to stop smoking, his treatments plunge him into a past life as Johnny May, a low-level Chicago gangster, in 1929.
In the present, Steven's erratic behavior wreaks havoc not only with his impending wedding but also with his employer (amusing Robert Machray). In the past, Johnny falls for Ruby (Misty Cotton), the moll of mobster Bugs Moran (dapper Sam Zeller), who turns deadly when he learns of Johnny and Ruby's dalliance.
Act 2 introduces Emily Clarke (Millicent Martin), a cuddly oldster facing eviction whose cause Steven champions. A veteran musical celebrity, Martin still charms, but the belated emphasis on her character seems like a star turn that Cooney shoehorned in for an old friend. The introduction of Al Capone (David R. Gordon) is also problematic -- although Al and his lieutenant's gleeful tap dance through the victims of the St. Valentine's Day massacre is a highlight.
Glitches aside, the score is hugely winning, and Cooney's staging is near-faultless, as is the choreography by Karen Nowicki and the musical direction by Dennis Castellano, who also conducts the Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities orchestra. Karen L. Cornejo's handsome costumes range from flapper glitz to contemporary chic. Darrell J. Clark's lighting and John Feinstein's sound are superb, and Christopher Beyries' splendid sets are a high-water mark for this already proven organization.
Spearheaded by the excellent Perkins and Cotton, the cast, which includes hilarious Monica Smith as a boozy mother of the bride, sparkles. Given a few tweaks, this "Twice"-told tale could bear repeating.