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LA Theater Review

Graae's Anatomy

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In his new revue -- mixing witty banter and songs -- performer Jason Graae tells the audience that he is often cast as Jews, though he is of Danish-Irish descent; that he was once fired from his ongoing gig as a leprechaun in Lucky Charms commercials, due to logistical East Coast-versus-West Coast complications; and that early in his career he played the gun-toting Chino as a "funny murderer" in West Side Story. At one point, Graae hints that he is about to reveal his biggest secret of all, and then drops the bombshell — "I'm gay." Yet audiences will easily grasp that point prior to this confession — what with Graae's dicey double-entendres and campy gags sprinkled in among more reflective moments.

One of the most popular singer-actors on the L.A. scene — in musical theatre, cabaret, and opera — this transplanted New Yorker, raised in Oklahoma, knows exactly how to capture an audience's attention and hold it for however long it takes — in this case, a little less than 90 minutes. One thing that is surprising — and pleasing — is that the multitalented Graae (who even plays an oboe in the show, which he learned to do before he decided to become an actor) has greatly enriched the mix of elements in his personal vehicles. One way is in bringing in more heartfelt sentiment alongside his zany humor. His poignant ballads, such as a terrific song from Falsettos (which he appeared in on Broadway) and a salute to mothers from the little-known musical Minnie's Boys are artfully delivered and heartwarming. Another plus is the incorporation of guest appearances by different performers each night. On the night reviewed, David Engel and Stan Chandler, two of Graae's co-stars from the original production of the Forever Plaid franchise, joined him for a song. Brief but amusing appearances were also made by Susanne Blakeslee, one of Graae's Forbidden Broadway and Forbidden Hollywood cohorts, and the effervescent Vicki Lewis.

Music director-piano accompanist Alex Rybeck provides first-rate sounds and is a good sport as the butt of some of Graae's uproarious jokes. Graae's rib-tickling and tuneful romp, directed by Heather Lee, is a splendid way to chase the blues away.

Presented by Weddington Street Productions at the El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Mon.-Tue. 8 p.m. May 15-22. (866) 811-4111. www.elportaltheatre.com.

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