DEAR BERNARD

The celebration of youth, beauty, ambition, and the perils of having all three minus a stable set of values is the theme of Heather Reid's (story, lyrics and music) bouncy, maybe prematurely staged musical. It's loosely based on the experience of Reid's mother, who left England at 19 to become an au pair in America, then lived through some amazing and scary expeditions as a print model in search of herself. In the rip-roaring first act, director Christina Cabot crams 20-plus dancers and singers onto the tiny stage, without crowding out the band (Patrick Sugg, Nick Pierone, Dan Thompson, and Fraser Lunney). Katherine Kendall's choreography makes the coming to America joyful and athletic; the Statue of Liberty (Valerie Morehouse) never had so much rhythm. Pubbing it up with the au pairs, in a great number called "Au pair-tunity," is entertaining fun. That's followed by more lively excitement in "Long Beautiful Legs" and "Who's That?" when the ambitious au pair, Chelsea (Reid), meets the handlers of her fate: Jon Meshelle (terrific Kelly Mantle) and commercials producer Richard Stone (Jim Burke, alternating with Brian Callen), for whom she falls—hook, line, and his ability to "make her a star."

Hopes for an engaging second act leave as the play devolves into the formulaic pap of good girl driven by hubris into inevitable downfall, flipping the coin of head-turning success and discovering the real tinsel beneath the tinsel. The search for the real Chelsea is as specious as the concept that becoming a magazine cover will advance the history of mankind. As Chelsea is saved by her father, the eponymous Bernard (Matthew C. Fairchild), and mother (Susie Crippen), and the friends she has discarded on the way up, the song-and-dance quality follows the book into mawkish-land.

Despite the trite story line, there's unrealized promise here; Reid's talent and joie de vivre are set off by Cabot's direction of a cast of pretty, versatile performers, handsomely decked out in Kendall's tasty costume design, with the help of Andrea Campos' simple set design and projections, and Paul Yacono's lighting.

"Dear Bernard," presented by Jorja Fox and Honeypot Productions at the Court Theatre, 722 N. La Cienega Blvd., L.A. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m. July 15-Aug. 7. $20. (323) 960-7782.