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at Theatre West

This is such an unaffected production it gives one the sense of attending a talent show in a small town. The stage is filled with people who appear to be friends of long standing, and there are at least a couple of people up there you know personally. But, of course, the small town is Hollywood, and though you feel you know Betty Garrett and the increasingly regal-looking Lee Meriwether, and by extension Betty's godson when she talks about him—that little Bridges kid, oh, Jeff—chances are you don't, actually. And yet the illusion is unshakeable. Garrett, whose years number the same as the keys on a piano, has written the lyrics to many melodies through the years, some hers, some written by others, and while Sondheim isn't going to lose any sleep over them, they're generally of a piece with the friendly, accessible quality of their creator (who directed in tandem with John Carter). There are fine voices in the group, but it should be admitted that they are not in the majority. And, you know, it doesn't really matter. It's more about warmth than technique.

Debra Armani, Daniel Keough, Jack Kutcher, Robert W. Laur, Barbara Mallory, and Andy Taylor compose the rest of the cast, and they generate a palpable sense of the familial, with Garrett in the role of favorite, if sometimes forgetful, aunt. The direction tends to favor the acting out, which works against a number like "Dogs," a novelty song that the expressive Taylor could easily sell without all the business that shows us the earthier aspects of our canine friends. Numbers such as the rhythmic delight "Boca Chica" are wonderful. And one, "C'mon Back," an attitude vehicle in which a woman enumerates the prosaic reasons her cad should return, ought to have become a cabaret standard years ago. Two of the numbers began as class exercises and, while interesting and challenging on that level, should perhaps not have been allowed off campus. The costumes (Rachelle Luffy) are pleasantly serviceable, but the decision to carry the romper theme on Mallory into the dressier second act strikes one as a bit silly.

Presented by and at Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. Oct. 27-Dec. 2. (323) 851-7977.

Reviewed by Wenzel Jones

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