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LA Theater Review

Is This Any Way to Start a Marriage?

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Is this any way to start a musical? Perhaps. Nowadays, overtures aren't customary, so having a pleasant melody precede the action after the lights go down is a nicely nostalgic touch. Unfortunately, this peculiar small-scale tuner plunges downhill from there. What librettist Carolanne Marano, composer Wayland Pickard, and lyricists Pickard, Perry Lambert, Gina Zollman, and Sharon Weisman have wrought is a stupefying blend of stale sitcom and banal drama, periodically interrupted by poorly integrated songs. The score is a stylistic mishmash encompassing camp ("Giorgio"), gospel ("The Preacher Man"), and wistful ballads ("The Gift of Love"). Likewise, the rambling book suffers from tonal schizophrenia.

On opening night, these shortcomings were further exacerbated by major pacing problems in director Bryan Rasmussen's production. Broadly played songs and slapstick sequences were intermingled with stretches of dialogue so lacking in energy that one wondered if the cast was dozing off between cues.

One can't entirely blame the actors; the retrograde Nick@Nite story is enough to put anyone to sleep. Due to a series of preposterous complications, newlyweds Megan (Kelly Stables) and Michael (Eduardo Enrikez) find themselves locked in the bridal suite with his parents (Kim Story and Austyn Wells) and hers (Dan Spector and Cheryl David) and a goofy bellhop (Daniel Bolero, whose over-the-top portrayal provides equal-opportunity offensiveness to gays and Hispanics). From warmed-over Neil Simon, the piece shifts to soap opera histrionics -- secret pregnancies, bastard sons, combative in-laws -- followed by the miraculous resolution of all problems in a formulaic lump-in-the-throat conclusion.

The actors struggle in vain to rise above the material. Girlish-voiced Stables is an ebullient pixie stymied by the limitations of her role. David knows her way around a punch line, and Spector has good moments as her penny-pinching spouse. Enrikez is buoyant in the lighter moments but seems utterly lost when the script leads him down ludicrous detours into artificial angst. Wells gives monotone line readings, and her performance has a distracted air.

Brian Murphy's conducting and keyboard accompaniment are on target. Victoria Profitt's hotel-suite set is attractive. Otherwise, this troubled Marriage is a prime candidate for annulment.

Presented by Angry Amish Productions at the Whitefire Theatre,

13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.

Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Jun. 1-Jul. 8.

(323) 960-7745. www.whitefiretheatre.com.

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