Civic Light Operas owe their livelihood to revivals of Broadway classics and
more recent hits.  Rarely if ever do they attempt something brand new. Thus,
Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities is taking quite a bold step in presenting a
world premiere musical, Twice Upon A Time, with book and direction by Ray
Cooney. Though the results are somewhat mixed, James A. Blackman III and
company deserve major props for venturing into unknown territory.

Twice Upon A Time borrows a bit from On A Clear Day You Can See Forever,
another musical tale of past life regression.  Just as Daisy Gamble traveled
back in time to become Melinda, so does hotshot British lawyer Steven
Tancred time-travel to 1929 Chicago to recall a previous incarnation as rookie
hoodlum Johnny May.

In the present, Steven is engaged to be married to Barbara, the boss’s
daughter.  In the past, Johnny falls for gangster’s moll Ruby. When a woman
looking just like Ruby turns up in the present, things get even more
complicated, especially as Ruby-look-alike Linda turns out to be the
granddaughter of Mrs. Emily Clark, the lone holdout in selling her land to a
large shopping center developer. Steven, you see, has been assigned to make
certain that Mrs. Clark sells her cottage, which happens to be sitting smack
dab in the center of the already under construction shopping center.

Whether Steven will choose Linda over Barbara, whether Johnny and Ruby
can escape being gunned down during the infamous 1929 Valentine’s Day
Massacre, and whether “being” Johnny will give Steven the guts to stand up
for himself are among the questions around which Twice Upon A Time’s plot
revolves. Though any musical theater lover with an ounce of experience with
happy endings can guess that our two pairs of heroes and heroines will live
happily ever after, the fun is in the getting there, and there is a good deal of
fun, as well as music and dance, in Twice Upon A Time.

What CLOSBC’s production has going for it most is a crackerjack cast of some
of the best musical theater performers in the Southland, all at the top of their
craft. (18 of the 27 performers are Equity, a much higher number than I can
recall seeing in a CLO production.)

As Steven/Johnny, relative newcomer Brandon Michael Perkins is a talented
and ingratiating singing/dancing boy-next-door, a Donald O’Connor for the
new millennium.  Misty Cotton, Ovation nominated for her sensational turn in
CLOSBC’s Sophisticated Ladies, brings her triple threat talents to the dual roles
of Linda/Ruby, and treats us to the haunting solo “Deep In My Heart.”
Gorgeous blonde Jennifer Malenke, as Barbara, is a musical superstar waiting
to emerge, with quite possibly the most beautiful soprano around.  In the role
of Steven’s boss and Barbara’s father, theater vet Robert Machray reveals
that he is not only a commanding actor but a good singer as well.  Sam Zeller
makes for a perfect tough guy gangster as Bugs Moran.  Danny Bolero has
loads of fun as South Asian therapist, Dr. Patel, whose stop-smoking hypnosis
first connects Steven with his past as Johnny May. Carly Nykanen’s charming
turn as secretary Miss Dixon makes one hope to see her in leading roles. Kevin
Symons, Monica Smith, and Jeffrey Rockwell all do their accustomed fine work.  
Finally, there is West End/Broadway legend Millicent Martin, stealing scenes as
dotty but feisty Mrs. Clark.

Kudos to the supertalented ensemble: Matt Bezmarevich, Jennifer Brasuell,
Chris Ciccarelli, Travis Davidson, David R. Gordon, Lloyd Gordon, Merissa
Haddad, Carolanne Maranao, Heather Mieko, Joseph Marshall, Marc Oka,
Chris Redondo, Stephanie Renz, Jesse Rhodus, Glenn Shiroma, and Rachel

Chris Walker’s music (with lyrics by Mary Stewart-David) is bouncy and tuneful
enough to make one wish that a cast recording were already available. One
listen is not enough for songs like “The Truth About Ruby.” (“With Barbara you’d
write her a letter, with Ruby you’d write her a song”). As always, CLOSBC’s
orchestra, under the direction of Dennis Castellano, can give any Broadway
orchestra a run for their money. Karen Nowicki has choreographed some
snappy dance numbers, including the Charleston infused “You’re Gonna Love
Chicago,” “The Rat-A-Tat Rag” with its the machine-gun-totting, tap-dancing
gangsters, and the seductive tango of “He’s Having An Affair.”

As expected from a Roy Cooney play, there are many laughs and crazy
situations, though not nearly as many as might be expected from the author
of such farcical gems as Move Over, Mrs. Markham and ICT’s recent Tom, Dick,
and Harry. Some of the biggest laughs come from a running gag that Steven
need only see an object waved in front of his face (e.g. his boss’s letter opener,
a catering manager’s soup ladle, a priest’s eyeglasses on his wedding day no
less) to fall into a trance and regress to his past life.  It’s very funny to see
Steven, suddenly returned to the present, discover himself in the midst of
kissing the secretary, or later, when he attempts to send himself back into the
past by waving a letter opener in front of his eyes, somehow end up in a clinch
with a man, on his boss’s desk, with an audience of office workers looking on.
There’s also a funny sequence near the end where Dr. Patel keeps getting
punch after punch aimed at other people.

Still, for a show with Broadway aspirations, Twice Upon A Time will need more
than just a little tweaking to get there.  The show needs a hands-down slam-
dunk show-stopper or two, the kind that gets audiences cheering. I’d like to
feel more invested in Steven’s present dilemma and that of Johnny in the
past.  Hopefully a way can be found to make transitions from past to present
(and back again) happen more smoothly and swiftly. (I can’t recall a musical
where the audience so often sees actors scurrying offstage at a blackout or
onstage to take their positions for lights up.)  And if you cast the beautiful
Jennifer Malenke as the girl Steven doesn’t want, for goodness sake a) give her
a solo and b) give us a better reason why he should want to get out of
marrying her.  I’d love to see what one of our local superdirectors (e.g. Nick
DeGruccio, Troy Magino, or Steven Glaudini) could do in upping the pizzazz
and emotional impact of this show.

I was hoping to love Twice Upon A Time.  I ended up finding it an enjoyable
and entertaining show which gave me the chance to see a couple dozen of
the best musical theater performers around.  Certainly a good thing, but this is
a show that could be even more.

Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, Redondo Beach.

–Steven Stanley
February 19, 2008
Photos: Alysa Brennan

Comments are closed.