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A PIECE OF TIN

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at the Lyric Theatre

In this world premiere musical (book, music, and lyrics by Rhett Judice), Queen Victoria's chief dresser recalls personal bits of Her Majesty's life while preparing the coffin for the queen's funeral. This production was not slapped together with indifference to a knowledgeable audience. The designs were created by some of L.A.'s finest. The actors were given coaching in all areas of stagecraft. History was hewn to where dramaturgically possible and essential, while enough was probably imagined to keep the story theatrical. But one cannot stop focusing on each slip 'twixt cup and lip that keeps this production from its potential.

The piece of tin is the metaphor that ties all together: a locket Victoria apparently commanded her servants to secretly place in her hands post mortem. Mary Tuck (Mary Sutherland), who dresses the queen and is probably closer to her than any other person—save, reputedly, John Brown (Kelby Thwaits)—takes charge, at a cost.

Harmonies are pleasant, lyrics competent but on the bland side, but the musical hurdle that could be readily fixed is the use of prerecorded accompaniment. An offstage piano or small combo with a music director would remedy sluggish tempos and offer the singers a bit of kinesis. As of now, only in the lively, amusing, large group number about a séance do we not notice the underscoring.

Douglas R. Clayton directs with apparent respect for the subject matter and for Judice, but too many flaws spoil the total effect. Set designer Dan Jenkins bothered to gather "old" furniture. Seated at one of these desks, Victoria's youngest (Andrea Paquin) is told to pen a letter dictated by her siblings; Paquin comports herself like a princess, then delicately grasps a ballpoint pen. That's just one of many tiny showstoppers. On the other hand, while the servants drink from a serviceable tea set, the royal children drink from another, grander set—nice touch.

Dorrie Braun balances the regal and human sides of Queen Victoria. Among the servants, Terra Taylor is fun and sturdy. With bits of facial hair and differing postures and walks, Dan Wingard creates a tidy clutch of real-life characters: the queen's physician, private secretary, and dean. But even those of us not quite old enough to remember Disraeli (Thomas Colby) could safely bet that his most overt quality was his burning intelligence and not any dandyism.

Presented by and at the Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. Apr. 24-May 25. (323) 939-9220. www.lyrictheatrela.com.

Reviewed by Dany Margolies

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