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LA Theater Review

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Good news indeed! Downey Civic Light Opera unearths buried treasure in this seldom-produced vintage musical, bringing it to life with such consummate skill that it will make even the most cynical denigrators of old-fashioned fare cry uncle. The fun starts with a score overflowing with fondly remembered classic ditties: "The Best Things in Life Are Free," "Button Up Your Overcoat," "Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries," and especially "The Varsity Drag." The magic spell is completed courtesy of director Marsha Moode's ebullient staging, driven by splendid performances and Miriam Nelson's showstopping choreography.

The setting is the campus of a small Northeastern college in 1928. Who will end up with whom romantically? Will the hunky star player Tom (Sean Williams) stick with the haughty daughter (Erin Rettino) of the college's high-powered benefactor, or opt for true love with his sweet, down-to-earth tutor (Jennifer Marshall) instead? Will the daffy flapper Babe (Stephanie Wall) be able to cement her romance with Bobby (Ben Hensley) before her rejected ex-boyfriend, the hulk Beef (James W. Gruessing Jr.), makes mincemeat out of him? Will the coach (Richard G. Rodgers) and the newly arrived professor (Susan Hoffman) be able to reignite their long-extinguished flame?

There's not a weak link in the cast. Wall is an effervescent imp, and, as the goofiest couple, she and Hensley make the most of their funny repartee and delightful duets. Jeff Asch contributes inspired comic antics as the high-strung trainer Pooch, leading the jocund jocks in a smashing rendition of "Keep Your Sunny Side Up." Williams and Marshall sing beautifully and elicit charm as the romantic leads. As the college staff members stumbling through a rocky road to a relationship, Rodgers and Hoffman have us rooting for them all the way, especially when they croon the scintillating duet "You're the Cream in My Coffee."

Production values are solid, with sets and costumes rented from Music Theatre of Wichita. Music director窶田onductor Eddy Clement brings the golden-oldies score by Ray Henderson, B.G. DeSylva, and Lew Brown to glorious life, shamelessly basking in nostalgia. More than a bowl of cherries, this sinfully delicious confection is enriched with a frothy layer of cream that rises straight to the top.

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