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December 6, 2002
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A musical time warp
* "Dick and Don's Fabulous 60's Rock & Soul Spectacular!" is high-voltage entertainment and pure pizazz, and more.
Star power
Star power
(A. Cistaro)

(Michael Powers)

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Despite a few rough edges, "Dick and Don's Fabulous 60's Rock & Soul Spectacular!" at the American Renegade Theatre is a high-voltage entertainment that carries a hefty charge of pure pizazz.

The pretext for the show is slim but functional. As 1969 ends, good-natured rivals Dick Clark (Mike Dolan) and Don Cornelius (John Moody) get together to host a musical retrospective of the previous decade. Hipster DJ Murray the K (Joe Komarinski) is also on hand to help introduce the acts -- '60s icons spanning the spectrum from Motown stars to vintage crooners to acid rockers.

Celebrity impersonations range from dead-on to approximate. Terrah Bennett Smith, the show's director, does double duty as Tina Turner, romping through a scorching rendition of "Proud Mary" that almost ignites her stiletto heels. As Dionne Warwick, the dulcet-voiced Marla Douglas does a lovely job with the wistful "Message to Michael." Perhaps the strongest singer of the evening, Alicia Cox brings down the house belting Dusty Springfield's "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me," a '60s hit that redefined the notion of the torch song. Other "guests" include Elvis (Kevin Wixted), Fontella Bass (Nikea Gamby-Turner), Tom Jones (Rick Dano) and a comically inarticulate James Brown (Eric Henderson).

Early on in the show, Tony Novell sets the pace for the evening with a supercharged version of Jackie Wilson's "Workout." La Trice Harper is an amusingly diva-esque Diana Ross, while Komarinski and Christina Wickers are perfectly paired as Sonny and Cher. Rounding things out with a flourish, Jerry Giles performs Neil Diamond's "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show," a rousing number that leads into an ensemble finale from "Hair."

Some annoying faked guitar playing aside, the rich blend of synthetic, live and taped music is ably presided over by Dion Smith, the show's sound designer and primary musician. An ebullient presence throughout, Smith is an
able craftsman whose contribution is essential.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

"Dick and Don's Fabulous 60's Rock & Soul Spectacular!" American Renegade Theatre, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends Dec. 22. $20-$25. (818) 763-1834. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes.

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A turkey with tasty trimmings

"Becoming Eleanor," at the Long Beach Playhouse's Studio Theatre, is billed as a "comedy-drama." The question is, how did playwright Marsha Lee Sheiness' interject comedic elements into a historical drama about the life and times of Eleanor of Aquitaine? The answer is, she didn't.

Theater review -- A Friday Calendar review of "Becoming Eleanor" at the Long Beach Playhouse omitted the name of set designer Charles Erven.

The "comedy," such as it is, has been laboriously layered onto the play by director Diane Benedict, whose antic staging of Sheiness' dry lecture is an unfortunate hybrid that bears little interest. About the best that can be said for this West Coast premiere is that it features a wonderful set by Vincent Roca, evocative lighting by Dan Weingarten and beautiful costumes by Donna Fritsche -- elegant period gowns that drape just so. Apart from those consummately professional elements, the play is a misfire from jump.

Eleanor of Aquitaine, she of "A Lion in Winter" fame, was born in 1122 and lived to the ripe old age of 82. Initially married to Louis Capet VII, king of France, Eleanor later divorced her royal husband and married Henry Plantagenet, soon to rule England. Certainly, Eleanor was a vibrant figure, but this woefully expositional recapitulation, set primarily during Eleanor's reign as queen of France, reduces Eleanor and her contemporaries to dull caricatures. Eleanor (Jenn Robbins), an educated and independent young woman, weds Louis (Laurent Monteskior) -- a desirable union on the face of it. However, Eleanor is hot to trot, if not gallop, and Louis, a repressed religious fanatic, would rather pray than play.

That, apart from Eleanor and Louis' crusade to the Holy Land and a few clashes with the Pope (Roberto Branco, doing a Don Corleone impersonation that is particularly meretricious), is about the extent of the plot. A game Robbins strives to inject life into lines like "My parents educate my sister Petronilla and I far beyond the norm for the lesser sex." Unfortunately, she is undone by the phony French accent that Benedict has imposed upon the majority of the performers, who wind up sounding like Maurice Chevalier as channeled by Monty Python. Eleanor finally achieves connubial bliss with the virile Henry (Kent M. Lewis) -- a coupling underscored (and undermined) by Ann Reid's cheesy original music. As for the audience, satisfaction is more elusive.


"Becoming Eleanor," Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Jan. 12, 2 p.m. Ends Jan. 18. $20. (562) 494-1014. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

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Look who's acting up now

If the characters in "Waiting for Guffman" -- small-town would-be actors -- ever make it to Hollywood, they would be prime candidates for Beverly Winwood's acting classes.

She's the fictional impresario who's the host of the rollicking "Beverly Winwood Presents the Actors Showcase," which has moved from its original home at the Groundlings Theatre to expanded quarters at the Canon Theatre on Monday evenings.

A broad lampoon of atrocious acting, conceived and directed by Tony Sepulveda, "Beverly Winwood" is a series of scenes from famous scripts, enacted by thespians who appear unaware of how pathetically inappropriate they are for these roles.

The program has changed since the move, and one of the new scenes is one of the best. It's from the Captain (Tim Bagley), a retired shoe salesman from Ohio who moved to La Habra to pursue his Hollywood dreams. He appeared in the previous version of the show but not by himself, as he is here.

The Captain performs an excerpt from an anthology called "Scenes For Student Actors," which he apparently believes is an actual play title. In fact, his excerpt is the ending of "The Glass Menagerie." He recites it from his wheelchair, gamely attempting to add a little atmosphere by lighting candles, never shedding his sea captain's hat.

The laughter he evokes is irrepressible. But the Captain is so deluded that a twinge of guilt over that laughter also arises -- an emotion that deepens the experience beyond the easy gag.

Also new at the Canon: Lorelie Bailey (Cheryl Hines, though Wendi McLendon-Covey filled in last Monday) and her baby's painfully shy nanny (Mary Jo Smith). Lorelie, a blond society dame, has drafted her equally white nanny as her partner in a scene from "The Color Purple," in which they play two black women. And Mindy Sterling and Michael Hitchcock show up as the red-sequined Sanchez siblings, doing a "Hair" medley.

Still, the biggest laughs of the evening belong to Jennifer Coolidge, continuing her role as the toughest Laura (also from "The Glass Menagerie") ever.

Arrive early enough to thoroughly relish the promotional photos and hilarious resumes of the characters that are distributed at the door.

--Don Shirley

"Beverly Winwood Presents the Actors Showcase," Canon Theatre, 205 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills. Mondays, 8 p.m. Ends Dec. 16; may return early next year. $25. (310) 859-2830. Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes.

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